What it Means to Be a Female Runner Today
By Dimity McDowell
Behind the steering wheel, you pass her on your way to the grocery store. She’s wearing colorful capris, has her phone in one hand, and is bobbing along, lost in her own thoughts.
Or maybe you notice a pair of them as you carpool your kids to soccer. You’re riding the brake down a steep hill, and your quads wince as you see them grinding up the incline, not letting themselves off the hook.
Or you could see her as you head to your office, when the sky is just pinking up. She’s waiting at a stoplight. Her gray tee is mostly soaked, her headlamp is still blinking. She’s covered some serious ground in the dark.
These women could be 22, 43 or 65 years old. They could be new to running or have crossed 24 marathon finish lines. They could average 8-minute miles or 18- minute miles. They could be one of the 9.7 million females who, according to Running USA, finished a road race in 2016.
Really, though, the numbers don’t matter much when you consider the whole. Collectively, they are Female Runners today, a time when two things dominate the estrogen-laced running landscape: a team mentality and an appreciation for the places—often beyond the finish line—that running takes us.
If you are female, and you run, you are part of the tribe of Female Runners today. Welcome! As cofounder of Another Mother Runner, I am delighted to be a part of this movement, as is Sarah Bowen Shea, my fellow co-founder.
We won’t deny that race finishing times continue to matter; part of the allure of running is the crispness and objectivity of numbers. But perhaps a bigger part of the allure of running is the human connection the simple movement provides. Today, mind-spinning news assaults us 24/7; most work hours don’t have a hard start or stop time; and we spend (at least) 75 percent of our days over the steering wheel or the keyboard. Ultimately, running is a salve that soothes us step by step, mile by mile.
Breathing fresh air and listening to our footfalls, running connects us back to our physical bodies and wandering spirits. And it intimately bonds us when solo runs become group endeavors, whether that means logging miles side-by-side with a friend, heading out with a pack at a run club or chatting in the starting corral before you begin a race. You’re among people who get you, who understand your motivation for (reluctantly) rising in the dark for a Monday morning sweat session and (happily) going to bed at 8:45 p.m. on a Friday night before Saturday’s long run. They understand why going faster is worth hours of analyzing your GPS, even though you’ll never win the race—or your age group. No matter how long it took to finish that 5-mile out-and-back, the post-run, parking-lot chatter with your fellow runners makes you feel accepted, loved, part of the cool crowd. (Feelings, it should be noted, that are harder and harder to come by these days.)
Although running isn’t immune to the social media sheen (how many pictures did you take before you posted that one selfie?), it vitally glues us together. You can grab and give kudos on Strava for a new personal best, cheers on Twitter for a first 10K, and likes on Instagram for frost-covered eyelashes on a January morning.
Yes, consistently refreshing your feed is a dopamine-laced procrastination tactic, but it’s well worth the flick of your thumb. Validation and praise, especially coming from fellow female runners, is ridiculously motivating. And, as plenty of women who meet #IRL can testify, the connection formed on the Internet is as solid as a friend you’ve known for years. Running is simultaneously basic and challenging enough that those who stick with it are intimately bonded.
Social media also reminds us that the uniforms of today’s team are not one-size-fits-all. Shalane Flanagan, a whippet in bun huggers who won the 2017 New York City Marathon, and Mary Sutter, who recently lost 170 pounds and finished the same 26.2 miles in 9+ hours, are both vital parts of this movement. Thankfully, we are steadily chipping away at the idea of a stereotypical profile of a runner’s body; female runners today are curvy and lean, sizes XS to XXL, well-endowed or not so much, and pretty much everything in between.
READ MORE: Ugly is the New Pretty
More importantly, aspects of both Sutter and Flanagan intimately resonate with today’s range of runners. All of us, if only for a few seconds, have summoned the grit Flanagan did at mile 24 when every cell in her body was screaming STOP! (Better yet, who hasn’t exclaimed—or at least felt—that “F*ck Yeah!” sentiment she did while approaching the finish line? I’m all “F*ck Yeah” after 3 miles around my neighborhood!)
Similarly, we’ve all experienced Sutter’s determination to not quit, to simply complete what we start. “I bought the finisher shirt, so I didn’t want to return it,” she told ABC7 News. We hear you, Mary; we wouldn’t want to return it either.
Some of us amass finishers tees, while others rarely cross a finish line. No biggie; the most valuable aspects of being a runner are available on any road, trail or treadmill and appear at any pace. You just have to show up and go.
Every mile you run leaves an impression on you. It could tighten a bolt on your confidence and loosen your grip on an unyielding (false) idea you have about yourself. It could remind you of your ability to pick your own path and generate your own power. It could fast forward you to your future self, and rewind to show you how far you’ve come. It could provide much-needed clarity. It could give you space to be present, to be grateful, to be raw. It could saturate your spirit with love.
Are those things taking place for the fellow female runners you see trotting around your neighborhood? Likely. Did they occur during Flanagan and Sutter’s marathons? My guess is yes. Will they come to pass when you lace up—and possibly post on social media? Absolutely. #goteam