Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Alpine Challenge 100km: Race Report

A dusting of snow up on Mt Bogong a day after the race

In order to give context to the race I need to start on the Wednesday and Thursday prior, where it snowed up at Falls Creek. It dumped around 10cm, which meant when I arrived on Friday there was a lot of speculation as to what the course would end up being. In the end Paul, the RD, decided to change the course so that it didn’t go up to the top of the mountains and made it into a loop of approx. 35km’s with around 700m of elevation.
Elevation profile of laps 1 and 2
This is in comparison to the original course that was one big 100km loop and had around 4000m of elevation. In the end, I think this was the right call to make as there was a lot of snow on the ground on Saturday morning and it only warmed up to a maximum of 7 degrees during the day. To do any other course apart from the one that we ran would have been, quite simply, dangerous. It still sucked though as I’d been training for hills over the past 8 weeks and instead the entire course (minus one small climb up Mt McKay) was runnable. After talking to a lot of other runners on the course though, everyone was in the same situation. And what was also unfortunate was that the afternoon before the race I wasn’t feeling very good. This meant I couldn’t eat much during the night and I ended up vomiting just before I went to bed. This is exactly what I wanted to happen the day before I attempted to run my first 100km race!

The start line
When the race started on Saturday morning, due to the night before, I was feeling lethargic and this meant I had to stop to walk a few times during the first 5km’s. The first 8km’s though were slow going as a lot of the trail was covered in snow, which meant walking didn’t lose me much time. 
Where's the trail? Photo credit: The Eventurers (
Eventually though I was able to get some calories into me through my usual method of Trail Brew and by the time I saw my dad, who was crewing for me, at the first checkpoint 13km’s in I was starting to get a bit of my energy back. I also dropped off my poles as they definitely weren't needed. And for the next 15 kilometres or so everything went smoothly. I was able to continue to eat and drink calories without any stomach problems and the checkpoints were every 5km’s or so, which meant I was able to see my dad and quickly pick up or drop off stuff. I was also able to tag along with a good group of people who were running at my pace, which made the kays pass quickly. The only minor downside was the beginnings of a blister on my foot due to how wet the ground was. 
In saying that though, I was glad to see Mt McKay around 28km in; being able to switch from running to walking was a welcome relief! Annoyingly on the way back down the hill the front of my right knee cap started to hurt, but since little niggles are a part of running a long distance, I didn’t worry too much about it. 
What a lot of the course was like, snow and flat. Photo credit: The Eventurers (
 Then it was a short run along some more snow covered trails and back down to Falls. After a change of socks and some sports tape to cover the blister on my foot, I went to head back out. This race was also the first time I had ever had a support crew, and having my dad help me at all the checkpoints was amazing. Unfortunately, there was a bit of miscommunication and he didn’t realise that due to the course change, each loop was in reverse to the one before it. So since the first lap was clockwise and the second lap counter-clockwise, he wasn’t able to help me until I saw him at the last checkpoint for that loop, and by then my race wasn’t going so well. 
When I ran down Mt McKay for the second time during the 40th km the pain in my knee shifted to the outer-side but it still wasn’t troubling me too much, yet. 55 km in, however, was a different story. I had to do what I did at last year’s race and I adopted a long interval style of running where I walked 200m and ran 300m. But where earlier in the day I was able to do 6 minute kilometres along the same section of the course, I could now only do 8 minute kilometres. And since my knee was hurting I tried to compensate with my other leg, which meant as I made my way into the last aid station before Falls Creek I was seriously hurting. I also finally saw my dad after not seeing him for the last 22 km’s which meant I could stock up on nutrition. 

The next 13 km’s back to Falls were really tough as the pain in my knee worsened, forcing me to stop running completely about 5km away from the start line. My first lap took me a bit over 3.5 hours, by the time I finally reached Falls Creek my second lap took me over 5.5 hours. When I arrived back the first thing I did was go and see the medic and hope that he could do something to help the pain in my knee. Unfortunately, he diagnosed the problem with what I thought it was, an inflamed ITB where it attaches to the outside of the knee (commonly called a ‘runners knee’). Unfortunately, this type of acute injury only gets worse as time goes on and the medic gave me 3 options: I could walk the entire last lap as that wouldn’t make the injury too much worse, I could take ibuprofen and run the last lap with the risk making the injury a lot worse or I could take the option that he recommended, drop-out. So I walked back to the start line to where my dad had all my nutrition laid out, munched on a bit of food, looked across to my mum (who was volunteering at the recording desk) and with my knee reminding me of how much it hurt, I dropped out.
Only 5 seconds later a few people who were standing around me started trying to convince me that I should go out for my final lap, and it worked. I asked my dad to give me my poles and I set off again. The first couple hundred metres of the lap were uphill and my knee didn’t like it, and then we had to go along a flat section for another few hundred metres and I tried to break into a jog and my knee really didn’t like that. Luckily, we had to cross the main road leading into Falls around 1km into the 3rd loop and I saw my dad waiting in the car at the crossing, and unbelievably for the 4th time this year I couldn’t finish a race. 
After I got in the car we drove back to our accommodation and I jumped straight into a shower to try and warm up and clean all the dirt from my body. Instead I sank to the ground in defeat and stared blankly at the wall. In my mind then I just thought about how I failed. Not just for this race but for every single other race I entered this year as well. Never before in my life had I set so many goals, and missed. Running a long-distance last year was something I was good at, something I brought up in conversations if someone asked if I did anything interesting. Running long distances was something I liked doing, or so I thought. In that shower, with yet another DNF, I thought, ‘why am I wasting my time’. When you spend over 15 hours a week training and all you get to show for it are 3 letters, I thought, ‘what was the point?’

Since Saturday and after talking to so many people and getting so much support from everywhere, I’ll be honest, I still haven’t quite found the answer to that question. I have found answers but I’m not sure if I’ve quite found the answer I’m looking for just yet. But I do know I love the trail and ultra-running community and I know that I’ll be back attempting to do my next ultra, sooner rather than later. 
With a lingering disappointment about the race that could’ve been, I now have an entirely blank racing calendar, which is great! I’m taking a forced recovery right now as I’m writing this, working long days at the Great Victorian Bike Ride which means I don’t have any time to train. By the time the bike ride is over it’ll have been one week on from the race and hopefully my ITB’s inflammation would’ve gone down and I can get back to the basics: run every day except Monday (the sacred rest day), hit the gym and eat healthy, nutritious food. By the time December is over hopefully I’ll have some goals for the new year.
As always, thanks to the volunteers and ASAR for making the day safe and as enjoyable as it could’ve been given the circumstances. And huge kudos to Paul for changing the course literally the night before the race so it was still able to go ahead! And I didn’t get lost this year, so that’s always a bonus! And thanks dad for crewing for me, I really appreciate you following me around for over 9 hours!


Saturday, 28 July 2018

Female Participation and Leadership in Sport and Trail Running

For university I recently had to take a sociology subject, and one of the issues we looked at was female participation rates in sport and the rates of women in sports leadership positions. Being a part of the global trail running community there's also been a lot of discussion recently regarding these topics, so I've decided to add my voice to the conversation. 
As part of my assessment I had to write a 1500-word essay addressing the statement, 'Identify and critically examine the key factors underpinning the varied levels of sports participation and sports leadership in the UK, in relation to gender'. After receiving feedback from an expert in this field, I've edited and improved my original essay, and then added on a paragraph on how my essay relates to trail running. For those of you who might be new to this topic, I highly recommend heading over to Ultra168 and reading these three articles (Article 1Article 2Article 3) and then continuing your reading from there. I've also included my reference list if you're interested in digging into the academic literature.

Society’s views of gender impacts on the participation levels of women in sport and the number of women in sports leadership roles. Gender is first discussed in relation to broader society. This gives context to discuss participation rates in sport across the UK, and some of the reasons why females are not participating at equal levels as males. Focus then turns to sports leadership, and the factors behind why there are not as many women in the boardroom as men.

Sport is directly influenced by society and the way gender plays a role in sport reflects how gender is seen and practiced at a broader societal level (Hylton & Totten, 2013). Gender and sex are often seen as interchangeable terms, but whereas sex refers to a person’s biology, gender refers to “the attitudes, feelings, and behaviours that a given culture associates with a person’s biological sex” (Fisher, Knust & Johnson, 2013, pp. 1). This has traditionally resulted in a binary classification model where gender is generally expressed through “masculine” traits if a person is a boy or “feminine” traits if a person is a girl (Coakley & Pike, 2014). Gender is learned over a person’s lifetime and a person’s gender then influences how men or women are supposed to behave and what roles they are supposed to play in society (Appleby & Foster, 2013). The traditional “mode” of action a boy might learn to associate with masculinity is to be assertive, aggressive and competent, whereas a girl may learn constraint, restraint and passivity (Fisher, Knust & Johnson, 2013). These traits are set up to be in opposition to each other and lead to the traditional belief that being male and “masculine” is better than being female and “feminine”, which in turn has contributed to forms of overt and covert sexual discrimination (Fisher, Knust & Johnson, 2013). These beliefs are slowly being challenged and changed over time, from women being allowed to vote in the early 20th century, to more recently with the #metoo movement, which campaigns against sexual harassment and assault. However, societal views on gender are still impacting on how women participate in sport as well as levels of women in sports leadership positions.

Women have historically been underrepresented in youth, community and elite sport in the UK, which is starting to improve, and can be explained through several factors. In the school/youth setting, a report by the Women Sport and Fitness Foundation (2012) found that while there are similar physical activity participation rates of boys and girls in primary school, there is a decline in girls being active in the transition to high school. The boys who were surveyed were twice as active as the girls at the ages of 14 and 15. More recently, the Active Lives Survey (2015/2016) found that 78.2% of males and 74.5% of females aged 16-24 were active for at least 150 minutes a week, while 97.5% of males and 98.1% of females aged 16-24 participated in sport at least once during the past year. The Active Lives Survey also found that in a community setting of everyone aged 16 years or older, 59% of women are likely to be active compared to 63% of men. What also became apparent is the gendering within sports as women were more likely to participate in fitness and informal based activities, such as leisure walking, whereas men were more likely to take part in team sports (Sport England, 2015/2016). Two themes become evident when regarding female participation at an elite level. Regarding the Olympics, major inroads have been made. In the first Games in 1892 women weren’t allowed to compete (Appleby & Foster, 2013). Since then there has been a gradual increase in female competitors, where in 2012, for the first time, all 26 sports were open to both genders (Appleby & Foster, 2013) and at the 2016 Games, approximately 45% of all athletes were women (IOC, 2018). Regarding professional sport, such as women’s basketball, football, etc., funding levels, number of competitions, and overall spectators are gradually increasing, but have not yet reached the same levels of male professional sport (Pfister, 2013). One of the reasons why female participation is lower is due to sport reproducing patriarchal relations, where men are deemed as superior and women inferior (Giulianotti, 2016). This has led to male sport being prioritised, with government backed media campaigns such as ‘This Girl Can’ only just recently being established to try and encourage women to be physically active. According to Appleby and Foster (2013), women have said that a lack of role models keeps them from engaging in sport, which is in part due to the low levels of female sports players being reported on in the media. And when there is female coverage, it is predominantly in a (hetero)sexualised manner, emphasising their femininity (Appleby & Foster, 2013). Sports have also been traditionally a “masculine” domain, where “masculine” traits are valorised (Appleby & Foster, 2013). This has led to a notion that there are appropriate and inappropriate sports for men and women, which isn’t based on what the human body can do, but instead what society “thinks we should (or should not) do” (Appleby & Foster, 2013, pp.14). To help reduce the masculinity associated with sport, female-only fitness centres have opened (Appleby & Foster, 2013). This raises the question though; are women unknowingly reinforcing societies idea of femininity by exercising in a female-only fitness space, even though it makes women feel more comfortable, rather than taking part in more traditionally male activities such as team-sport? There is also an intersectionality of identities, where people identify as a gender as well as an ethnicity. Females who come from a background that is not White-British have lower participation rates in community sport (Sport England, 2015/2016), due to variety of factors such as the stigma attached to females playing sport within their culture, patriarchal relations and issues around dress-code, particularly regarding women from a Middle-Eastern and south Asian background (Appleby & Foster, 2013). Intersectionality of identities, the masculinity of sport and patriarchal relationships continually need to be addressed to help encourage women of all backgrounds to participate and engage in physical activity and sport.

Female sports participation rates in the UK have continuously been improving over the past few decades, however this has not been reflected in the number of women in sports leadership positions. Historically and currently, women have been under-represented in sport management positions (Adriaanse & Claringbould, 2016). This is exemplified in a global context within the Olympics movement. The International Olympic Committee set a target that by the end of 2016 all National Governing Bodies (NGB’s) belonging to the Olympic movement, National Olympic Committees, and International and National Federations must have a minimum of 30% of women in decision making positions (IOC, 2018). On the IOC board, 27% of its members were women as of April 2017 (IOC, 2018), but 85% of all the NGB’s boards had all-male leadership teams and only one NGB had an all-female leadership team (Burton, 2015). This is broadly reflected in the UK, where in the past decade women in sports leadership roles have been slowly increasing but, in publicly funded governing bodies, have recently plateaued at a 30% average (BBC, 2017). There are three key factors why there is yet to be gender equality in management boards in the UK. One of these is a woman’s role in broader, patriarchal society, where they are expected to be responsible for the caretaking of a child and other household duties (Claringbould & Knoppers, 2012). If a woman were to assume this role, this leaves little time to take part in a demanding managerial/executive job, which often involves working long, inflexible hours, and this can cause women to leave the management sector altogether (Claringbould & Knoppers, 2012). Furthermore, upper management is an environment that reproduces and emphasises masculinity, which reduces access for women (Burton, 2015). Rationality, efficiency and being a ‘heavyweight’ are qualities associated with being a good leader but are also qualities that are associated with masculinity (Adriaanse & Claringbould, 2016). This has meant women have had to co-opt masculine traits to gain leadership positions, to fit in with the ‘norm’ (Burton, 2015). Or, Burton also argues (2015, p.158) that to keep within gender boundaries of what is acceptable, women are given positions on a board that involve clerical/administrative work. This is further exacerbated by gendered recruiting practices, where the men who control the board often recruit new members by personally asking male friends and colleagues, which maintains the ‘maleness’ of upper management (Adriaanse & Claringbould, 2016). There have been some measures put in place that are designed to increase the levels of women in sports management roles, such as the IOC’s targets mentioned previously, along with UK Sport and Sport England’s own targets. In the UK, as stated in the Code of Sports Governance, a minimum of 30% of each publicly funded sport’s board must be women, to keep receiving exchequer funds (BBC, 2017). However, Lusted (2014) has argued that many equality policies have been written in the past in the UK, yet only minor improvements have occurred, so only time will tell whether this new policy will increase the number of women in sports management. Hopefully it will, as having a greater number of women in sports leadership roles “benefit(s) women, men and sports organisations” (Adriaanse & Claringbould, 2016, pp.563).  

Patriarchal views and the masculinity of sport and upper management have influenced why women are represented less than men in sports leadership and in sports participation. Pfister argues, “gender is not something we have or are, but something that we permanently do” (2013, pp. 175) and until gender is done is such a way where female accomplishments, talents and abilities are viewed as equally as males, there will continue to be an unequal representation.

Based on the above, how can we apply this to the world of trail running and ultramarathon? We know that there aren't as many female ultra-runners as males and I feel this can be broadly related to the reasons mentioned above. Male performances in this sport are still, for the most part, more celebrated than the female performances. This is gradually changing though, due to the efforts of reporting sites like Ultra 168 and irunfar, which report performances in equal measure. And with the continued growth of social media there are a number of strong female trail runners that are providing leadership and being role models, which women (and men) within the sport can look towards. And I think luckily that since ultra-running has only recently grown in popularity, there isn't so much of a stigma that women shouldn't and can't complete these distances compared to men. Team sports still have a long way to go compared to ultra-running in that regard.
In sports leadership, trail running doesn't really have the same structure compared to 'mainstream' team-based sports. Trail running does have a governing body, and after having a look on their website, of the 86 representatives I think there are maybe 7 or 8 women (there could be more or less women but I'm unable to tell as a lot of the names come from different languages and I'm unable to identify the gender of the individual). 9% of all the representatives are women. Let that sink in for a moment. I'm not sure what the ITRA actually does for the sport, but considering it's still a governing body, that's appalling. I think a simple fix is to adopt the IOC's targets and aim for 30% female representation. But I think in this sport the majority of the power doesn't come from the ITRA, but from race directors. And while I couldn't find any statistics, anecdotally I know that the male/female ratio of race directors is nowhere near 70/30 (if we want to compare race directing to the IOC’s targets). This is something that could potentially be improved too.
I'm acutely aware that I'm a male writing about problems facing women. I know that I've only just scratched the surface of some of the problems, and I'm not going to offer any solutions as I feel that I'm not adequately qualified. I just hope that the more people who talk about it, the more the conversation can lead to productive, long-term solutions of bringing more women into trail running and sport in general.

The TRN 

ADRIAANSE, J., & CLARINGBOULD, I. (2016). ‘Gender equality in sport leadership: From the Brighton Declaration to the Sydney Scoreboard.’ International review of the Sociology of Sport. Vol 51 (5), 547-566

APPLEBY, K. & Foster, E. (2013). ‘Gender and Sports Participation.’ in ROPER, E. A. (2013) ‘Gender Relations in Sport.’ SensePublishers: Rotterdam (Chapter 1: pp. 1-20)

BBC, 2017. ‘Women In Sport: Number of women in top jobs at UK sporting bodies declining, says study’. [online]. [viewed 18/05/2018]. Available from:

BURTON, L. (2015). ‘Under-representation of women in sport leadership: a review of the research’. Sport Management Review. Vol 18, 155-165

CLARINGBOULD, I. & KNOPPERS, A. (2012). ‘Paradoxical Practices of Gender in Sport-Related Organizations’. Journal of Sport Management. Vol 26 (5), 404-416

COAKLEY, J. and PIKE, E. (2014) ‘Gender and sports: is equity possible?’ in COAKLEY, J. and PIKE, E. (2014) Sports in Society: Issues and controversies (2nd edition). McGraw Hill. (Chapter 8: pp. 221-260)

HYLTON, K. and TOTTEN, M. (2013). ‘Developing Sport for All’ in HYLTON, K. ‘Sport Development: Policy, process, and practice: Third Edition.’ Routledge: London and New York (Chapter 3: pp. 37-79)

FISHER, L. A., KNUST, S. K. & JOHNSON, A. J. (2013). ‘Theories of Gender and Sport.’ in ROPER, E. A. (2013) ‘Gender Relations in Sport.’ SensePublishers: Rotterdam (Chapter 2: pp. 21-38)

GIULIANOTTI, R. (2016) ‘Gender sexuality in sport: playing against patriarchy’ in GIULIANOTTI, R. (2016) ‘Sport: A Critical Sociology’ (2nd edition). Polity Press: Cambridge. (Chapter 6: pp 96-115)

LUSTED, J. (2014) ‘Equality policies in sport: carrots, sticks and a retreat from the radical.’ Journal of Policy Research in Tourism, Leisure and Events. Vol 6 (1), 85-90

PFISTER, G. (2013). ‘Developments and current issues in gender and sport from a European perspective.’ in ROPER, E. A. (2013) ‘Gender Relations in Sport.’ SensePublishers: Rotterdam (Chapter 9: pp. 163-180)

WOMEN’S SPORT AND FITNESS FOUNDATION, 2012. ‘Changing the Game for Girls-Report’. [online]. [viewed 11/05/18]. Available from:

SPORT ENGLAND, 2015/2016. ‘Active Lives Survey’. [online]. [viewed 11/05/18]. Available from:

INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE (IOC), 2018. ‘Women in the Olympic Movement’. [online]. [viewed 12/05/18]. Available from: