I’m a big believer in the big things are the big things–which, triathletes, you all could stand to remember. Swim, bike, run. Stop worrying about everything else so much.
But I spent a lot of last week listening to the heads of triathlon talk about all the big changes that need to come to the sport. They needed to do things totally differently to attract more women, more minorities, more newbies. We must think big!!
Maybe you need women-only events and manicures and non-threatening shorter swims. Or maybe it’s actually in how you do all that in the first place. Maybe it’s in the small things.
I raced a Spartan Race down in Temecula on Saturday. Obstacle course racing has, generally, done a really good job marketing itself. There are other broad social reasons its participation is skyrocketing (and is definitely going to surpass triathlon or running, if not already), but one of those reasons is that it’s done a really, really good job creating a distinct culture that both frames itself as incredibly challenging and also inclusive of anyone willing to try hard.
I thought about this as I was racing the women’s elite heat. When you’re in the women’s elite heat, you pass a lot of guys at the back of the men’s elite heat. Like, a lot. And almost all of them will move out of your way, if they can, and let you pass. Because, seriously, this is a culture that is basically like: Hey, dude, get the fuck out of the way of that woman who started 15 minutes after you and is totally kicking your ass; have some goddamn respect. They usually cheer for you too, in an aggressive sort of way.
Then, towards the end, I was running fairly hard again — there was a period where I was definitely NOT running hard — and was about to catch another girl. Both of us were wearing tight spandex, because that’s the most reasonable thing to wear in mud and barbed wire, and both of us had just run past a couple of guys. And as I passed the two guys, when I was barely 10 feet ahead, one said to the other, “That’s why I like to watch them go by, so you can get the view from behind.” Ewwww.
See, that’s a little thing that matters.
No, it doesn’t really change my opinion of myself. No, random dude doesn’t stop me from wanting to do another race. But. BUT. Random dude does make me feel sort of weirded out and gross for a second. It’s weird to say something like that generally. And it’s super weird to say it as if I couldn’t hear them. There were lots of hot shirtless guys at the race, and it never even occurred to me to comment on them. And I really didn’t feel the need to comment while they were right there, as if they weren’t real people with ears.
If I was the kind of woman all these endurance sports are trying to attract, it’d be little things that would make me feel welcomed and comfortable. Or not.