Monday, 26 July 2010

"I'm not fast enough"

I had an interesting conversation with a young, strong and talented female racer recently. She's racing in a team with some strong guys for Swazi Xtreme, her first multiday event, and she is concerned about not being fast enough (keep in mind she is faster than 90% of female participants). I - and most other girls out there - know exactly how she feels.

Girls, firstly, if you are racing in a team where you are as fast and strong or faster and stronger than your male teammates then you are racing with guys who are too weak for you (unless you're in it for the social scene). Move on and find yourself a stronger team. Your male teammates should be faster than stronger than you in a majority of the disciplines. Sure, if you're a specialist mountain biker, runner or paddler you could have an edge on the guys; but, even so, if you're stronger than most of your teammates, find another team.

Genetics - being what they are - dictate that the guys you race with should be stronger physically (mentally is another issue entirely, and not for this post) than you. Full stop.

As such, you will have to work damn hard - harder than the guys - most of the time. But, that said, when it comes to distance and endurance events, women are able to hold their own, especially as the race progresses.

This is the second thing: Women are good at endurance; remember this. Indeed, women have won tough ultradistance running events OVERALL (most notably, ultrarunners Pam Reed and Ann Trason).

I hate the first day of any race in a team because I suffer, especially on the bike, which is my weakest discipline, especially compared to guys who most frequently favour mountain biking over running as their primary disciplines. I can't wait to get on to the trekking legs. But then, by the time Day 2 draws to a close and Day 3 begins, I really start settling in; and by this stage they've slowed down a lot.

The third thing is that tow ropes are a reality of competitive racing; not only for women but also for slower male team members. Yes, those women in international teams, who we so greatly admire - Robyn Benincasa included - are towed on foot and on bike because the guys in their teams are such superb athletes. And, indeed, navigator extraordinaire (awesome on foot too) Ian Adamson admits that Mike Kloser has towed his butt across multiple continents. Lots of guys get towed too; we see this at Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge too.

Towing is not about the towee being 'weak'. Towing serves to up the team's average speed. By using the tower's superior speed and strength, the towee gains additional speed without having to work any harder. That is an important point: towing is NOT meant to burn out the towee by making them work harder or to make them as fast as the tower. It's a transfer of energy and power from the tower to the towee to even things out.

Girls, let them tow you. It is no reflection on your abilities. Even the best female athletes in the world get towed.

And for the guys: You need to realise how scary it is for a woman going into your team where you are determined to go balls-to-the-wall. How would you feel joining a team where everyone else is faster than stronger than you? My bet is that you wouldn't... Guys, be considerate. Reassure your girl that although you're going to race hard, you'll be there to give her a hand.

Girls, your obligation (and that of every team member) is to race to the best of your ability and to accept assistance (or ask for it) for the benefit of the team. So, work hard but don't let the guys intimidate you or put you down. If they're pushing you around, tell them so. Racing should be a rewarding and satisfying experience; not something you dread.

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