“At some point I’m going to have to pull my finger out here,” John Ellis said with a little laugh as he strode down the dirt path that crossed the ski station. He stretched his arms out away from him like a human plane, weaving back and forth a bit on the trail as he listened to tunes. John should have been ahead of me at this stage in the race, even though we were only 15 or 20 km into the Eiger Ultra Trail. Frequently on the podium at races in Hong Kong, John was suffering from the altitude out here in the Swiss alps. But it didn’t seem to be killing his mood.
It’s no big surprise that women are hugely under-represented in ultrarunning – I’ve seen estimates ranging from 30% in some of the shorter 50km ultras down to 8% or less for the bigger ultras like the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB). But stats aside, all you have to do is show up to the start line of any ultra and you can see it for yourself. You’ll immediately notice that the lineup snaking out of the men’s washroom goes for miles, while the female washroom lineup is virtually nonexistent (score!). But aside from this one obvious perk, having a low proportion of women in the sport sucks. It means less mentorship opportunities, less media attention (based on the fallacy that the women’s field just isn’t as competitive as the men’s), less sponsorship opportunities (because of less media), and less clothing and gear options (due to the small market size that makes it less profitable for many companies to produce women-specific products).
Nothing is ever perfect going into an ultra. No matter how intense or careful the preparation, murphy’s law dictates that something will pop up in the days or weeks leading up to race day. In my case, I usually manage to self-sabotage by overtraining, over-racing or ‘over-life-ing’. As my friend Leah would say, you can’t put ten pounds of shit in an eight pound bag. Despite knowing this to be true, I inevitably find myself covered in a couple of pounds of shit hours before race start with a look on my face that says ‘again?’