Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Men and Racing.

As I go about my daily life, I feel that I am not a sexist person. However, I think that one's most honest thoughts and feelings come out when in the throws of lactic acid and oxygen deprivation in the middle of a race (racing is not unlike being drunk in that respect). I am ashamed to admit that I am often sexist when racing. I`ll be running along, doing my thing and I approach and pass a man and very often, he`ll glance over, see me and speed up. My first thought is very often... male chauvinist, doesn't want to be passed by a woman! Which is really unfair and sexist of me. I am willing to bet that 90% of the time (ok, maybe 80%) the guy doesn't care that he is being passed by a woman... I bet, as a runner, he either a) cares that he is being passed by a PERSON or b) wants to use the person passing him to run a faster time which is, after all, what racing is all about. In other words, I bet I am usually the one inserting gender into the equation, not this poor, unsuspecting guy who is being subject to horribly, venomous thoughts inside by lactic acid addled brain. Very often when I do pass a guy, once I am obviously past him, he will cheer for me or tell me what place he thinks I am in (insert the shame spiral here). So, anyway, this sexist presumption of mine is something I am trying to work on.

On a related tangent, I had a strange experience at my last race - the 12 km. With about a mile to go, I was closing in on this man and had been using him for awhile as a motivator to keep me going. As I caught up to him and passed him, he immediately picked it up and started running with me. So at first I made my usual, horrible assumption that he didn't want to be passed by a woman but then I noticed he was running right next to me, practically matching me stride for stride. Then I wondered if he was trying to help me but it was a really windy day and if he really wanted to help, he should have run in front of me but he was stuck to my side. Anyway we had less than a km to go and I felt this weird pressure having him RIGHT there (definitely in my personal space) and also like he was raining on my parade as I had run most of this race alone. So I decided to try to drop him and started surging a good 800 m from the finish line and I am talking finishing kick speed... and he stayed RIGHT THERE, stride for stride, in my personal space. I couldn't maintain that speed for long so I dropped back and he dropped back with me and stayed RIGHT THERE. So, for the first time ever, I deliberately slowed down almost to a walk, I was just desperate to get rid of him (really not sure why) AND HE DID TO! Finally I rasped at him: "Dai, dai, lasci me... fai la tua gara!" which the part of my brain that speaks Italian thinks means "Go go, leave me alone, run your own race." He looked very surprised, a little hurt and off he went.

I am not sure why he elicited such a strong reaction from me (and I think I would have had the same reaction to a woman... it wasn't a gender thing, it was a person thing). It was just so intensely irritating. It reminded me of the imitating thing kids do to annoy each other, you know: "Stop COPYING me!" "Stop COPYING me!", "Mom, she's COPYING ME!", "Mom, she's COPYING ME", "You're a BIG DUMB STUPIDHEAD", "YOU'RE a BIG DUMB STUPIDHEAD." (Why did it take me 30 years to figure out the correct strategy is to say: [Insert best friend's name] is a big dumb stupidhead??) Anyhow after my little temper tantrum with 500 m to go, I finished about 3 seconds behind him. I found him at the ristoro (isn't that a great word for refreshment??) table and apologized. He also apologized and was a bit confused (by both my bad Italian and the situation) anyway it was all good - though I couldn't help but notice that he made a big deal about how he's not in good shape right now :).

All that to say, I am working on my mid-race presumptions and attitudes. File THAT under: goals, qualitative :)


  1. Interesting post. As a man, I will say that it must be nice to be a woman in mixed races. You get all these guys to draft off, who aren't really in your race. A smart woman can definitely gain a lot of time by using the men around her.

    I remember racing with a woman once. It was a 5000m, where a woman and her two male pacers were clearly going for 16 minutes, which was my goal time, too. After a few laps, it became clear that she was going too slowly. I waited much too long to pass her, as I was scared that she and her helpers would reel me back in.

    Racing with women freaks most men out, which is only natural.

    Tracy got beaten by a 12-year old buy in a crosse country race this winter and she hated it. It was kind of the same thing.

    Then you have ultramarathons, which is another discussion altogether. As you probably know, women tend to be almost as fast as men in the really long races. I think few men care about being passed by women in ultras, and there is often a unique camaraderie because of this leveling of the playing field.

    I remember being passed by several women at a 50 mile race, while I was walking and cramping. Then a guy started passing me, and I thought "hey, he's a guy. He should be as tired as me!" and I tried to keep up.

  2. Some men really do hate getting "chicked" in a race; they're usually about 20 years old (at least emotionally). My blogroll of "girls allowed to beat me in ultras" was meant as a joke and I really expected some complaints, but it's become a way that some of them find each other!

  3. FB - yup, give me mixed road race over a women's only any day. the average woman makes a far less effective wind block than the average man.
    steveq - i think the word "allowed" makes it pretty clear you are joking. i bet it is a huge honour to be on that list.