On a bright summer morning in Los Angeles in 1984, an announcer’s voice rang out across television sets world-wide, broadcasting that women had just run farther than ever before in the Olympic Games. The event on the screen was the inaugural women’s marathon, and the women had not yet crossed the 2-mile mark.
Up until 1984, the farthest running event contested for women in the Olympics was the 3,000 meter run, while distance events all the way up to the marathon had been a part of the men’s program since 1896.
As a professional athlete born in 1989 and racing collegiately from 2007-2011, I had little awareness or regard for the plight of these early women until I closed out my senior year of cross-country. At the time I was running about 30 miles per week farther than the top three men on the team, yet was only permitted to race just over half the distance they did at the national meet. On the flight home from nationals, it suddenly struck me how injust that was.
The fact is that over 30 years have passed since the playing field was leveled in the Olympics and yet, the NCAA races men at 10 kilometers at the national cross-country championship and women at 6K. This is an outdated oversight by the NCAA and more importantly, a slap in the face to women who have the same desire to test their legs over the long haul as did those in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s without an opportunity or a voice to do so.
This is my voice, this is my petition; bring equality to the sport of distance running in the NCAA by hosting a 10 Kilometer cross-country championship for both men and women.
When women leave the collegiate ranks to race professionally on the road and challenge for Olympic team spots on the track, this disparity does not take place. Every road race, every opportunity to race on the oval and every major marathon I’ve run has allowed me to earn my stripes mile for mile alongside other powerful men and women who cover the same course, the same distance.
Even the argument that it takes women a few minutes longer to run a 10K than men falls short because the 10k is contested for both genders at the outdoor track and field championships. Is the Boston Marathon cut three miles short for women because it takes them 20 minutes longer than men to finish? And beyond this, the female body performs better and burns fuel more efficiently than its male counterpart the farther it is tested.
For the rest of my career I will look back on the unequal distances I raced at the cross-country championships as wrong and archaic. I cannot go back in time, but I can fight for the young women who have yet to enter college, those who need to be told, you can run as far as the boys, there is no reason to stop short.
By equalizing the distance, you will tell these young women in their first few years of adulthood that they can and should run every last meter as far as the men. By leaving things unchanged because that is the way they have always been done, you will tell them that they cannot.
Change isn’t always comfortable and often comes with backlash, but every woman who crossed the finish line of that marathon in 1984 will tell you it is worth it.