Today is an important day in history, a hundred years since women got the vote. A hundred years is still just about within living memory which is pretty mind boggling for an activity most of us take totally for granted. I am deeply grateful to those women and men who fought for the rights we benefit from today. But the battle sadly continues in many areas of civilisation, running being one.
Bill Smith documents the history of fell running in his iconic book Stud Marks On Summits (1985). He describes how it was very rare to find a woman in a fell race right up until the 1970s, and even then they were very few and far between. Many race organisers simply didn’t allow female competitors as such activities were not deemed suitable for a woman to participate in. It is incredible to think that if my mum had been a fell runner in her twenties, she may have had to fight to enter a fell race, something which I take totally for granted. As time went on and more women began to attend races to support their husbands and friends, a demand to compete began to grow. Around this time, a small number of races like the Fellsman Hike and the Lake District Four 3k Peaks Marathon did allow female entrants.
One of the first unofficial races to allow female competitors that was organised under Amateur Athletic Association rules was the Edale Skyline in my beautiful Derbyshire. Ahead of its time, go Derbyshire! This is a race I did myself last year and the thought of not being allowed to enter because of my gender is ludicrous to me. Back then there were 3 female starters in a field of roughly 100 runners; Lesley Evans (retired), Lynn Mitchell (55th) and Katharine Peek (71st). In the autumn of 1975 an article in the Fell Runner highlighted the “Growing Demand for Women’s Races”, yet race organisers still put up much resistance.
Smith reports that it wasn’t until 1977 that the first official races to allow females to enter under Athletics Association rules were introduced but even then, female races were often shorter, on a different route and held separately. 1979 saw the first female British Fell Running Championship alongside the men’s Championship (which started in 1972). Even more shocking, is finding out that there was no marathon event in the Olympics for women until 1984, a mere 88 years after it was introduced into the Olympic programme for men! Women were simply not deemed physiologically capable to race such distances. Can you believe it?
Thankfully equality for women has moved on a fair bit in a relatively short space of time, but the fact that such restrictions were apparent so recently is a truly scary thing. Sadly inequality in sport does still exist and there are still races where prize money for male and female competitors differs.
I am happy to say that I have never felt discriminated against in the races that I have attended but I have heard a few derogatory comments like, “you’re pretty fast for a girl”. Probably said tongue in cheek, probably no harm meant by it, but it’s casual sexism like this which maintains the notion that to run/throw/hit/punch/kick like a girl is somehow a bad thing. This brings us right back as to why my blog is called fellrunlikeagirl. Yes, I do run like a girl. Hard, fast, up hill, down dale, through mud, bogs, puddles and streams. I don’t care about getting muddy, wet, tired, scratched and scraped. Does this make me a tomboy or any less feminine? No! All it means is that I love to run and race and experience the exhilaration of pushing myself in the great outdoors amongst friends and peers, males and females alike. That is what it means to me to run like a girl. Gender should never limit what we feel capable of and it certainly should never be used to restrict your actions or hold you back.
So thank you again to all those brave souls who gave up so much for the liberties that I experience today. Heroes
Happy running x