Where Are the Women?

Ultramarathon mindset coach Susan Donnelly is one of few women in the Moab 200-mile race

Last July, I ran Cry Me A River 100-miler, in Illinois.

I decided to run it at the last minute so my 100th 100-mile race would be at Superior Sawtooth 100 in September. I emailed the race director and she said to show up.

The night before the race, I arrived at packet pickup and signed up.

At 5 a.m. the next morning, I stood at the starting line of the 100 with, I think six, other guys. No other women. I was a little alone but that’s not unusual.

We were running a two-mile loop and a longer out-and-back, five times. 

At 7 a.m., the other races started - half marathon, 50k, and 100k - and a slew of other runners began appearing on the trail.

As the day wore on, we spread out on the course making it hard to tell who was running what distance but one thing stuck out. Despite the number people now on the course, way more than the original seven, I was still a little alone.

Where were the women?

Every time I saw one, I was cheered. They were out there, determined and working hard. They made me proud.

But it certainly wasn’t an equal field of men and women. And this race is no exception.

Ultrarunning Magazine says more women are participating than ever before but as encouraging as that sounds, the detailed data also shows two things. 

  • More people overall are finishing ultras, so the percent of women finishers to men hasn’t changed drastically over the years (a 7.6% increase over the past 10 years), and

  • The percent of women finishers declines as the distances grow (35.23% for 50k, to 21.93% for 200 mile).

Why weren’t there six other women lining up with me that morning?

There are certainly many reasons but one I encounter often is limited self-confidence.

This is one of the things I want to fix. I routinely see women doubt their ability to run 100 miles and, ironically, miss out the very type of experience that builds confidence in their ability. I remember what it was like to think about running my first 100-miler but I also know how taking the leap of faith to run a hard-to-imagine distance like 100 miles expands your understanding of who you are and what you’re capable of in all parts of your life.

The women I saw running at a high level when I was young - Joan Samuelson, Greta Waitz, Mary Decker - opened my eyes to what could be possible for me. Someday, when I can’t run 100s, or even ultras, I want to know I’ve done the same, and passed the baton to a world of women who will stretch their limits and surpass me.

But I can’t do it alone.

If you’re a woman running any kind of endurance event, I challenge you to do two things:

1. Recognize that you’re a leader to some other woman. It may be a friend or a co-worker, or the little girl with her family in the park who sees you running tired, covered in mud, blood down your knee, with a race number on and powering confidently on.

2. Lead by example. Get brave and stretch your own limits. Do something this year that scare-cites you and you might fail at…but you also might succeed at. You never know who’s watching.

Lift another woman up. Show her what’s possible for her.

Use your running to change the world for the better

If you want help running your own longer distance, like a expert pacer who’s finished over 100 of these, help planning out the details of your own race, or simple, practical tips you can use on race day, check out DON’T GO HOME WITHOUT A BUCKLE. It’s made to help you be one of those finishers. Email me if you have a question about it or want to see if your race date is available.

Please share this with other endurance women you know so we can all lead. 

Until next week,

Signature favorite.png