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On The Run: Should women be allowed to run the same distance as men?

PUBLISHED: 09:00 31 January 2018 | UPDATED: 17:47 01 February 2018

Competitors in the senior women's race at this month's Suffolk County Cross Country Championships, held at Culford School. The women raced over 8K, while the senior men tackled a 12K course. Picture: ANDY ABBOTT

Competitors in the senior women's race at this month's Suffolk County Cross Country Championships, held at Culford School. The women raced over 8K, while the senior men tackled a 12K course. Picture: ANDY ABBOTT

Archant

In the current climate, with all the talk of equal pay and gender inequality in the work-place, as well as in the sporting world, it is perhaps fitting to cast an eye over our own sport of cross country.

Sally Eastall, in action at the Suffolk County Cross Country Championships at Culford School earlier this month, in the women's 8K (the men ran 12K). Eastall competed over the marathon at all four major championships, including the Olympic Games. Picture: ANDY ABBOTT Sally Eastall, in action at the Suffolk County Cross Country Championships at Culford School earlier this month, in the women's 8K (the men ran 12K). Eastall competed over the marathon at all four major championships, including the Olympic Games. Picture: ANDY ABBOTT

We on the Archant sports desk received an interesting, and thought-provoking e-mail, from an Emma Elvidge this week, highlighting the discrepancies between men’s and ladies’ cross country races in our region, at certain events.

Some Leagues, for example the Suffolk Winter League and 53-12 League, host senior events with the men and women running in the same race, over the same distance.

Other leagues have longer distances for men, than women, as do the major Championship races in Suffolk, Essex, and further afield at the regional and national championships.

Emma writes: ‘Did you know that in some cross country running events in East Anglia women pay the same amount to enter as men, but are only allowed to run a shorter distance?

‘Women around the county train for and enjoy running these events, but are being denied the opportunity to compete across the same distance range as men.

‘This set up upsets both men and women: I have spoken to men who would like the opportunity to cover shorter distances and women who would like to cover longer distances.’

She adds: ‘Outside of cross country, this situation is not the norm. I have taken part in running events on three continents and have never seen an event marketed in this way. Then there’s the Olympics, where both women and men compete at the same running events, from 100 metres to the marathon.’

This is in fact a burning issue, at the moment.

At last weekend’s South of England Cross Country Championships, staged at Brighton, where some runners from Suffolk and Essex were in attendance, the senior men raced over 12K and the women over 8K.

Likewise, at next month’s English National Championships, to be held at Parliament Hill Field on Hampstead Heath on February 24, the 130th staging of the men’s race will be over the same 12K distance, and the 85th staging of the women over a shorter 8K.

These are the traditional distances, but should they be overhauled to accommodate both men and women competing over the same number of kilometres?

It is only in recent times that women have been officially allowed to run in marathons.

In fact, before the 1980s, there were no women’s distance races at all in the Olympics – the longest female race at the Moscow Olympics of 1980 was the 1,500m.

On the marathon stage, women were barred from competing in the 26.2-mile challenge until the 1970s. The world’s most famous old marathon, the Boston Marathon, permitted female entrants for the first time in 1972.

The first Olympic Games marathon was eventually hosted by Los Angeles in 1984, and was won by Joan Benoit.

The 5K and 10K distances on the track have been permanent features of the men’s timetable at the Olympics for over 100 years, since the 1912 Olympics of Stockholm.

Yet the women’s 10K was not introduced until the Seoul Olympics of 1988, when Great Britain’s Liz McColgan won a silver medal, and between 1984 and ’92 women competed over 3,000m until the 5K was instigated at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

To me, therefore, it seems about time that women should be allowed to compete over the same distances as men, in all cross country events. This does not seem to be unreasonable.

I’m not saying that all senior ladies should suddenly be required to toil around 12 kilometres of hills and cloying mud on Hampstead Heath, alongside the men. Rather, that they should have the choice of running one of perhaps two distances, just as the men should be able to perhaps tackle the 8K rather than the longer 12K test.

As I say, this is a burning issue and a current hot topic of conversation.

Gender inequality, in cross country, has been the subject of a recent online petition, demanding distances to become the same for women as men.

The petition was started by Maud Hodson, using the twitter hashtag of #RunEqual, and has been attracting a lot of interest, and support.

And as Emma Elvidge went on to say in her e-mail: “Inequality hurts everybody. You may think this is a tiny issue. But these tiny issues add up to form the deafening sound that tells both women and men what their supposed place is within society every single day.’

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