The Future is Female

Over the last decade, there’s been a major shift in running. You may think I’m referring to types of shoes worn or training ideologies, but no–I’m talking about gender.

Starting in 2010, women began dominating men in the number of participants for road races. While many point to Oprah’s completion of the Marine Corps Marathon in 1994 as the kickoff to the women’s running phenomenon, there’s a lot about running that appeals to women, and I would argue this is especially true for women in the 30-60 year age range.

For starters, running is one of the lowest barriers-to-entry sports. While a pair of decent shoes and a supportive sports bra aren’t cheap, you don’t need a lot of special equipment, access to fields/courts, or any kind of organized team. Most people can step outside their door and start running, by themselves, at almost any time of day (more on women’s safety in another post.) This low level of preconditions makes running easier to access for many women, especially busy moms, caretakers, and professionals who don’t have a lot of time to themselves.

Running is also a very social sport, which attracts many women. Working out while catching up with your friends does double-duty for your health while making the most of your time. You can’t really chat as much while playing softball, soccer, or swimming, but you can talk and run for hours together. The bonds runners form is unique, as I often find myself and other runners sharing so much with each other while running. Running groups become support networks and close friends, cheering each other on at races and encouraging each other to reach their goals. Who doesn’t want their own cheerleading team?!

The endorphin boost from running may be one of the biggest appeals. Running (usually) makes you instantly feel better about yourself, more energized, and more confident in your abilities, not to mention helps you sleep better and may just guide you into making healthier eating choices since you know that donut won’t be enough fuel for your 10-mile run. For women battling depression, anxiety, stress, etc., the endorphin-boost from running may be a crucial component to their well-being. Despite the high percentage of runners with injuries every year, running becomes addictive, giving people a satisfying “runner’s high” that keeps them coming back for more.

So it’s a no-brainer why so many women are attracted to and participate in the sport of running, but now that women dominate the sport, what changes need to be made to keep us there?

Quality healthcare. With anywhere from 50% – 80% of runners injured each year, quality healthcare is a must. Mom runners are even more susceptible to injury, thanks to the changes pregnancy brings to our bodies. Pregnancy can cause all sorts of changes, but most notably: ligaments loosen, center of gravity shifts, your pelvis widens, your core becomes weaker, and your pelvic floor muscles take a beating. While most women are cleared to resume exercise with no restrictions at 6 weeks postpartum, there needs to be more education around what has happened to your body and what steps should be taken to ensure you return to prior activities safely. Every woman is different, with some resuming running with no issues, while others (myself included) needing a lot more rehabbing to run again. In my opinion, every new mom should have access to a pelvic floor physiotherapist to get a full assessment of what changes have occurred to her body in pregnancy and what she should do to safely return to such a high-impact sport like running. This will vary from woman to woman, so it’s essential that new moms have these 1-on-1 appointments with a specialist who can meet their specific needs. This should be covered by insurance companies and childcare should be provided. Women need quality healthcare to keep them healthy and thriving so they can continue to care for their families and loved ones.

Damn good sports bras that don’t cost a car payment. After a recent trip to my local running store, I’ve been kind of obsessed with the impact a sports bra can have on a female athlete. The manager of the store is also a local high school girl team’s running coach, and he was telling me about Brook’s sports bra initiative, the 27.1 or 27.2 project (can’t remember now, #mombrain). While researching, I couldn’t find any details about it, but from what he said, Brooks basically found that women who run a marathon without adequate support for their chest wound up expending more energy because of the bouncing, leading to them putting in the work for the equivalent of an entire extra mile. A WHOLE EXTRA MILE!!!!! That was pretty shocking to learn. While there’s little equipment required in running, for women, a decent sports bra that’s also affordable is a must.

Fitness FACTS, not fiction. There are a ton of ways to get fit, and a ton of programs out there to do so. There’s no 1 right way, but there are a lot of wrong ways, and many of them target women, drawing on social expectations of body image and outdated pseudo-science. Women weren’t included in major scientific fitness studies until the mid-1990s because it was just presumed that they were similar to men. And while we are similar, we are also very different. Science is still catching up on the decades of not studying women’s bodies for the purposes of improved health and wellness. There are some basics that are agreed on, however:

  • Lifting heavy weights won’t make you look bulky (in fact, it’s really hard for women to get bulky, and it requires a mix of consistently really heavy weights, a strict diet, and genetics). Lifting weights will make you a stronger runner, however.
  • Peeing your pants during exercises is common but NOT normal. Peeing during exercise or when you’re sneezing, coughing, etc, is a sign that your core and pelvic floor muscles aren’t working together like they used to do. There are exercises you can do to help them reconnect, yet another reason moms in particular should see a pelvic floor physiotherapist.
  • Eating quality fats won’t make you fat. Eating excess calories day in and day out that you don’t use will make you fat. You need quality fats in your diet to ward off stress fractures and illness.

I could go on and on, but these are some of the big myths I see, especially in regard to female runners. This is why I love Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky’s cookbooks, Run Fast, Eat Slow and Run Fast, Cook Fast, Eat Slow. This is also why I love the organization Girls Gone Strong, which produces quality resources and research on female fitness. This is why I became a female running strength coach. Strong female runners strength train, eat well, and practice good running form, which often comes with overall strength and proper body mechanics.

The future is female, and I’m excited to help female runners continue dominating and changing the sport for the better as the next decade unfolds.

What changes would you like to see in running? Comment below!