One of the reasons I was reluctant to run when I was younger was because I didn’t think I had the body of a runner. The stereotypical image I had of a runner was someone who was tall and thin. I did not inherit the light bone structure of my Welsh grandparents, though I did get the short stature of my female Welsh relatives. I am more like a fire plug, thanks to my German roots. But when I started running, I saw that runners come in all shapes and sizes, all ages and capabilities, men and women. I think that is one of the things that makes running so wonderful – it is a sport that is very inclusive.
Races recognize the differences among runners by having separate age divisions for men and women, and for hand cycles and wheelchairs. The divisions make it easy to compare similar runners. For example, I can see how my race results compare to other women in my age bracket. If my performance was only so-so, I sometimes compare my results to women in the next older age bracket (it gives me an idea of where I might be in a few years). I am considering looking for races with divisions where my age will be an asset – divisions such as the Masters (aged 40+), Grand Masters (50+), and, in a few years, Senior Grand Masters (60+).
There are also two lesser known divisions that take the size of a runner into consideration: the Clydesdale division for men 200+ pounds, and the Filly division for women 140+ pounds (also known as the Athena division). The divisions are not based on any assumptions about fitness levels of the athletes. The divisions recognize that a larger build means the runner must expend more effort for the same result. With these divisions, larger fit athletes have a way to compete. Comparing a larger runner’s performance to that of a smaller runner would be as unfair as comparing a 55-year old runner to one that is 20-years old. The weight cutoff can vary race to race and there may be a requirement to weigh in, just like jockeys do in horse racing. Larger races like the Marine Corps Marathon are more likely to offer the Clydesdale and Filly/Athena divisions than small local races.
The USA Clydesdale & Filly Racing Federation is an organization that supports “big fit athletes” who enjoy competing in running, cycling and multisport events. Their web site lists events that offer the Clydesdale and Filly/Athena divisions. For triathletes, in 2014 USA Triathlon held the first USA Triathlon Clydesdale and Athena National Championships as a standalone National Championship event. I think it is terrific these athletes have a championship event dedicated to them.
There is one division that race organizers might want to add – a division for athlete who run with prosthetic legs. I think it would be more equitable for them to have a way to compete with runners who have the same challenges. I got the idea after seeing a Foot Locker commercial for the 2014 New York City Marathon that focused on a man who ran with a prosthetic leg.
The bottom-line is that no matter who you are, what size you are, what your physical limitations are, man or woman, old or young, fast or slow, you can be a runner. The running community has a spot for you. So no more excuses about not having the right body to run. If you want to run, all you need to do is put on a pair of running shoes and head out the door.