Someone shared an article yesterday on my local ultrarunning group’s Facebook page that provoked a visceral response in me. It was a female blogger/runner who talked about her experience lining up for her 99th 100 mile race and seeing only men at the starting line. She then went on to discuss the dearth of female runners on the ultra scene, particularly as distances get longer, and then correlating this to a lack of self-confidence. I am oversimplifying the article a bit, but that’s the essence. There was no discussion of time, economics, etc. As a full-time working mom with a 6- and 8-year-old and a husband that travels every week, who is struggling with training for her first 50 mile race, her overly simple “self-confidence” response really got under my skin.
Perhaps this hit a nerve because it popped up in my Facebook feed right after a post where someone (in a women’s running page) asked about how they fit in training for ultras and the answers threw me. There were a huge variety of answers, from stay-at-home moms to single moms to folks who just worked long hours, but I saw multiple posts about getting up to run at 3 or 4 in the morning on treadmills to accommodate family schedules. I even saw a few posts about partners who resented their training and actively working to sabotage them.
And I thought, THIS, THIS is what women work against. It’s not just about self-confidence and believing you can run 50 or 100 miles. It’s also about all the millions of things women are expected to do in families that wears us down and nibbles at our hours. There have been countless articles about “the invisible work of motherhood.” Go ahead and Google it. It details how–even in supposedly equal partnerships–the mental burden of running and maintaining a household primarily falls on women (These issues would probably be just as applicable for women who are primary caretakers of aging parents as well.). So even though your partner might say they are willing to “help” you with something, the semantics of that word “help” implies you are still the primary actor in it. You are still the cruise director.
Case in point, even as I’m out running 20 miles, my children use the land line to call me on my cell phone to ask when I’m coming home, whether I’m bringing donuts, whether their friend can come over, whether they can play on their iPad, all while there is another parent unit at home (usually sleeping, but sometimes not).
So I would challenge the pat answer that it’s lack of self-confidence that drives smaller numbers of women lining up for 100 mile races, but the very real demands that are placed on women to “have it all”–which in my experience translates to “have a whole lot of things to do half-assed and berate myself for not doing better.” And while I believe that some women DO struggle with self-belief and the self-confidence to think they CAN do something as difficult as 100 miles, I take issue with a post that doesn’t at least begrudgingly give a nod towards other reasons women may struggle with showing up. I’m not trying to make excuses or demand any kind of gold star, just a simple acknowledgement that some of us are hustling out there just to keep moving.
And just because I can’t write about being a mom without including at least one photo of the ankle biters, here’s the youngest being smushed under a mattress by her older brother (cuz he “told me to”).