“She’s way too thin!”
“She needs to wear more clothes. She only does that for attention.”
“You don’t fit the image we’re looking for.”
“That tattoo is a tramp stamp.”
“I can’t believe she’s wearing so much makeup for a race.”
“How do you run so fast weighing so much?”
Truthfully, I wish I’ve never had gotten the idea for this article or that I was making up the above quotes. While the stories I’m about to share will make for an interesting and possibly emotional read, the idea for this only came about because there have been female trail runners that were the targets of negative comments. It’s not exactly a fun process to read the stories of inspiring trail runners who have witnessed firsthand the downsides of being a female athlete. Yet, I believe this topic has to be further discussed and the following stories need to be shared.
The Madeira Ultra Skymarathon is a 55 kilometer race that climbs and descends over 13,000 feet. The race websites states that “technical climbing expertise” is required. In others words, it was a course perfectly fit for Hillary Allen. The Speedgoat 50k course record holder lived up to her nickname “Hillygoat” once again on race day, placing second in a competitive women’s field. That’s a result to be proud of and celebrated, right? Well, Hillary was happy with her race, but her mood changed quickly after a question was raised by a male racer. He asked, “How do you run so fast weighing so much?” In that moment Hillary said, “I felt awkward, singled out, and the fact that I had to explain my body type and strength to him was insulting.” While the men’s field had a variety of body types as well, the male racer decided that fast women had only one type of body type, a frame that Hillary didn’t have despite her second place finish.
“I am still criticized daily about my size and youthful appearance,” expressed Kaci Lickteig who placed 2nd at the 2015 Western States 100. “I’m very aware and self-conscious about what people post not only to me, but to others. It only takes one remark to cause someone to fall into that downward spiral.” Kaci knows this from experience. In high school she was walking with her best friend when a girl came up and remarked how “thin and good” Kaci’s friend looked. When the girl turned towards Kaci she only smirked. “That’s when it started, the downward spiral.” Soon enough Kaci was trying to hide the fact she had lost 40 pounds, developing anorexia nervosa and exercise bulimia. Kaci remembers hitting rock bottom on July 4th, 2003 and found the courage to tell her mom everything. A week later she was admitted to the hospital, nearly on her deathbed. While the female anorexic runner seems like a common story, Kaci better represents how running can heal and help someone find their own inner strength. “I am strong and I am healthy. If I weren’t then I wouldn’t be able to do what I am doing.” If you take a quick look at her Strava or race results, I think anyone would agree with her. An unhealthy runner would have fallen apart after a few ultras, but Kaci has been running strong for years. Yet, even today when she posts a picture to social media she says “I tend to cringe knowing that someone will surely say something about how I look.”
Last summer, my facebook feed was flooded with posts concerning an ad that featured three well known female ultra runners. Stephanie Howe, one of the females pictured said, “The goal of the ad was to show us as strong, powerful women, not just runners. Many themes were discussed and we finally settled on a Charlie’s Angels theme where we would be shown in black dresses, not running clothes for once… I was actually thrilled to be shot in a black dress, showing another side of me.” It was an ad the girls were proud to be in, but as the comments started rolling in, the initial excitement of the ad quickly diminished. At first negative comments were about the ad itself and that could be understood, but then comments started popping up about the women featured. Stephanie remembers one comment in particular. “Stephanie looks terrible. She looks scrawny.” The picture was taken 12 hours after Stephanie had placed third at Western States 100, but that shouldn’t matter. “It was one thing to point out the ad style in general… But it was a whole different thing to read people’s comments on my personal appearance. It really knocked down my self-esteem a few notches. I could not believe the harsh comments people were making.”
In the summer of 2013 I was experiencing my worst depressive episode since college. To me, paradise is Summer in the mountains, but at that point I struggled to find joy in anything. Still, knowing my mind was in no place to race, I decided to start the Speedgoat 50k. I felt awful and I was searching for anything to bring something positive to my mind. My boyfriend was racing as well, so a few times throughout the race I asked how he was doing since knowing he was running well lifted my spirits enough to keep going. As I crested the top of a steep climb, a point that was crucial in the race, I saw there were a couple of people sitting there so I asked how my boyfriend was doing. I read one of the person’s facial expressions as “why do you care?” and foolishly blurted “he’s my boyfriend.” I say “foolishly” because my boyfriend was winning the race and my simple, silly statement was not interpreted very well. About a week later, I was horrified as I was shown a blog that mentioned me, stating that I had to tell everyone that my boyfriend was winning the race. The author, one of the people sitting on top of the climb, even went on to comment about me on someone else’s blog. While I’m sure my friends would have laughed at how ridiculous it was that someone would portray me that way, it was my social anxiety’s worst nightmare coming to life. Between my social anxiety and depression kicking in at full force, I went from being a somewhat functional human being to someone who couldn’t get out of bed. Ultra-running had once offered me a community that made me feel accepted and supported, but the experience ended my honeymoon period with ultra-running.
As I prepared to write this article I asked a number of women if they think that women get more harshly critiqued than men. The unanimous answer was yes. Our bodies get critiqued like objects, we have to present the right image in addition to being the right age, too much makeup is a bad thing but not enough clothes and a tattoo makes you a tramp, and we may even get judged for a silly thing we say on top of a mountain above 10,000ft.
One thing I’ve heard multiple times within the past few years is that how a woman’s looks can attract or turn away sponsors. Being fast doesn’t always cut it. A little after winning Western States 100, Pam Smith approached a certain company about a sponsorship. After getting no response from the team manager she asked a friend at the company if he knew anything. The response, “You didn’t fit the image they were looking for.” Pam said she isn’t “sure what that means- “young, fast, hot?”, but she wasn’t it.
As I discussed clothes, or lack there of, with my friend Silke Koester, she brought up the point that while women may get comments like “she only does that for attention” it’s a different story for men. “I’ve never heard anyone say the same thing about male runners who run half-naked. Have you ever heard someone say that Tony (Krupicka) does it “for the ladies”.. Really, it’s no one’s damn business how much or little clothes anyone wears or why they do or don’t dress in the way they do.” I couldn’t agree more.
While the sports fan in me is frustrated of the damage that the negative comments and critiquing of women has on women’s sports as a whole, the most harm is often directly done to the women on the receiving end of the judgement. It’s easy to get caught up in the trail running world and think that it’s a huge community, but the truth is that it’s pretty darn small. When a comment is specifically made about someone, there’s a good chance that person is going to see it. Stephanie Howe sums it up well, “How would they feel if I commented on a photo of them saying they looked bad? That’s kind of hurtful, right? I think social media takes away personal accountability and thus people say things without thinking and without consequence.” As much as I would like to believe that hurtful words don’t mean much, most of us know that it’s often the hurtful comments that stick with us the longest.
I was once told that the comments we make about people aren’t actually a reflection of them, but instead a reflection of us. While I feel that is true, the last thing I want to do is make someone feel guilty for having previously made an insensitive comment. After all, to be human is to make mistakes and sometimes say some really idiotic things. I’ve been there and it’s been immediately followed by a guilt hangover, but I acknowledged it and I’d like to think I’m a better person now. I think we’d all rather be the person who makes someone feel good by our comments instead of being the person who hurts someone’s feelings, or as Kaci mentioned, starts that “downward spiral” for someone.
There’s at least one person out there is thinking “these women just need thicker skin.” While I truly admire people who are unscathed by harsh comments, I’ve witnessed first hand that being sensitive can be a strength and huge asset to the world. For instance, because the women mentioned in this article know how horrible it feels to be hurt by people’s comments, they actively seek to make other people feel good while building a stronger sense of support and community for women. In a way, for women not born with thick skin, I think choosing to stay sensitive is part of what makes them so brave. It would be easy to simply think “People can be real jerks sometimes!” and then build up a defensive wall. However, it often takes a lot more courage to stay true to being a sensitive person. The realization that kindness and empathy can stem from that sensitivity, can actually be a huge asset to the world.
Asking for a running community where all women feel safe, supported, and encouraged is a tall order. Some may even say it’s idealistic. Maybe it is, but isn’t it worth a shot? All of us know how running in the beauty of nature has changed our lives for the better, so don’t we want more women to experience that? Can trail running be that sport where women learn to feel truly comfortable in their own skin? What if for every negative comment, there were ten positive comments? Could that make people think twice before saying something hurtful? I sure would have liked for that guy who asked Hillary, “How do you run so fast weighing so much?” to have been immediately confronted by 10 women. He’d never say anything like that again! So call me a dreamer, but there is one thing I’m sure of…there’s nothing more powerful than a group of women, along with supportive men, that come together for a common cause.
Hi Sandi, I’m an avid follower of you and your boyfriend, also bought the 50km program for your site and watching all your youtube videos.I understand your feelings and when someone makes a comment you can answer: "wow, that’s just a downward spiral comment" and then see their reaction… :-)RegardsCasper
"Asking for a running community where all women feel safe, supported, and encouraged is a tall order. Some may even say it’s idealistic. Maybe it is, but isn’t it worth a shot?" – this should not be a tall order, and it saddens me that it is one! It should be a given, as everyone deserves respect for pursuing their dreams and participating in a sport that they love and care passionately about. Your passion comes out in your words and your actions and you can certainly be proud of that. I, for one, certainly admire your strength- keep chasing those crazy ideas 🙂
Great writing. These types of articles always make me uneasy because of the potential to divide a wonderful community that prides itself on women and men participating together. It also seems to be focused on the more elite runners which is a foreign world to most of us. To add to the balance, elite male runners like Ryan Hall and Jared Hazen have long been criticized for being way too skinny. Scott Jurek on the AT last year, same thing. Thankfully, I’m far away from the elite world where sponsorship, magazine covers, and photo-shoots matter, and instead have a back-of-the-pack perspective where we believe what a wise friend told me at the finish line of a 100-miler at about hour 27: "Runners come in all shapes and sizes". No female vs. male qualification needed.
Great article and an important issue, but one that definitely affects men, too. You mention Tony K as an example of someone who doesn’t get any flak for running shirtless so much of the time, but that’s not quite true. In fact, Tony once wrote on his blog that he knew he was approaching race fitness when the "Eat a sandwich"-type comments became sufficiently common out on the trail. Your main message, though– that no one should be judged or demeaned based solely on their body type or physical attractiveness– is spot on, and I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for the article!
Great article Sandi, As if running mile after mile is not hard enough, these trolls come out to speak their piece. Stay positive and continue to work in your field. You and Sage are doing great things for the running community. Don’t stop the momentum.
Thank you Sandi!! Ultra trail girls rock!! I run with some of the badest runners I know and they are women. This weekend I ran a 9 mile leg of an Ultra relay #UndeadUltra with a woman in her 50’s we wore about the same almost nothing and I could barely keep up. I love my runner girls HRL (Healdsburg Running Ladies). Again thank you for all that you and Sage do for our running community.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read the article, comment, and for your overall support. Brent and Pete, you are absolutely right that males experience the same issues. There is definitely negativity on both sides. Hopefully Sandi’s article can serve as a reminder that trail running/running/any outdoor activity should serve as place of community, acceptance, and just general positive inspiration to and for all.
Thanks for your comment Gina, I was going to say the same thing. Also, thank you Brent and Pete for bringing those topics into the discussion!I completely agree that males have similar experiences and I think it would be great to read an article on it. Honestly, I didn’t think it was my place to write about male experiences and I also specifically wrote this article for Trail Sisters, a site geared towards female trail runners. Pete, I hope you see that my intent was to bring more positivity into the world, not to divide the community. In my opinion, having intellectual discussions and always recognizing the feelings of others is what brings unity. In my personal experiences, I feel divided from people when I receive negative comments, but feel supported and accepted when I receive positive comments.
I think Sandi Nypaver brings up a real legitimate point, and it is not just on the trail. Listen to the comments in the gym, or on the road. As humans, we seem driven to categorize people, places, and events, and that "first impression" sense of ours (no matter how bad it really is) doesn’t help.
Let’s start off by telling people that are awesome that they are… "Awesome!" The more pats on the back that we give and get, the fewer the verbal jabs will affect us.
This topic is really important, on and off the trail. People are so quick to put down women (and sadly usually it’s coming from other women) for being too this or not enough of that. I learned my lesson when a gal showed up to a 50k race with a lot of make-up on. I quickly dismissed her authenticity as a trail runner. She then proceeded to kick my ass. I am glad she did as it taught me a valuable lesson. I try my hardest never to judge or disregard women (or men, for that matter) based on their appearance, whether that’s their size, apparel, or decision to wear make-up. I do weird shit to make myself feel more confident and I shouldn’t judge others for doing what makes them feel good.
Thanks for writing about this topic.
LOVE THIS SANDI! You cover so many specific, yet diverse points/examples that the article is relatable to nearly Any woman who reads it. I found myself thinking, "Exactly!" multiple times throughout. I’m sure your words and anecdotal experiences will help a lot of women not feel so "alone" when they find themselves on the receiving end of such criticisms. Nice work, gal!
It seems so stupid that we would bother to care about our appearance while we’re getting as sweaty, filthy, bruised and cut up as can be, yet that insecurity remains embedded in us even when we’re not trying to look good or pretty. I like to think I don’t care what others think of me but even recently I posted a pic that I liked from a race but the felt the need to preface it with a "i know i look chubby" joke. It was dumb of me, but I wanted to say it before anyone else. And the dumbest, saddest part is that no one would have said a thing. I’m the one that made it about that. We learned quickly though, that social media and opinions don’t always go so well together.
I just wanted to take the time to say thank you for the discussion and all of the positive comments. It truly warms my heart to see such a great response as well as the respect for the stories shared. This kind of support and acceptance is what I feel like the trail running community is all about. Sincerest thanks to everyone!
It’s hard to keep perspective with increasing profit motive in the sport on all sides, but why we run is a far more important question to ask ourselves than how we look doing it. I tend to notice gear worn by happy runners, the ones who come through aid stations looking pleased with themselves. Likewise a runner asking about the progress of a training partner rather than a competitor. Running to win is laudable, but inevitability impossible. Running to have fun, see something new, to swap stories, or simply as a peaceful escape is always possible. Advertisers should take note, if we don’t ‘win’ in your gear, you might be held accountable. Perhaps you should focus on us having amazing personal journeys.
Social media is the new frontier of bullying. There seems to be no consequence to beating the shit out of someone with comments. There is a mob mentality that follows, soon "everyone" is bashing another human being for something they feel is beyond them or that scares them. Everyone is flawed. I believe everyone wants to be/do better. Haters gonna hate, try to let it roll off and focus your time on what "works!" A bad day of running beats a good day of anything else!
Wonderful article, Sandi. You have hit the nail on the head. I hope the world gets to read this article.
Absolutely yes, women are more harshly criticised than men…and absolutely YES to your wonderful article, the beautiful ad, and especially YES to strong, sensitive, brave runner girls!!
Great article Sandi! And very evocative writing. I certainly agree with your last paragraph and feel there should definitely be more equality in the sport. In the end we’ve all covered the same thousands of feet of climbing, rocks, tree roots and should expect the same respectful and kind treatment from our community members regardless of gender. Thank you for shedding light on this topic!
Thank you Sandi! Such a much needed article for all of us to read and think about.
I love your gift of writing and your love and passion for trail-running and so many other things.
With your words you are reaching and touching more people than you know!
Keep up the wonderful work and never lose that shining spirit within and around you!
Well said. When my son started training me to do a Tough Mudder with him, I commented that I was tired of 18 to 20 something women dressed provocatively as my inspiration memes. I wanted women covered in mud, or older than 40, or, or, or…real women any shape ans size not sprayed down to look shiny but natural and strong. I stuggled as I looked at myself in the mirror, wonder who would judge me as to old to be out there. or to big to be out there. My son actually was the one who put my mind on the right track for me. (everyone has a different track) Now I take so much pride in my personal accomplishments because I have met those strong ladies and know that each one offeres her own strength to the racing scene. I am not out to win anything, or be at the top of the heap, I just want to do better than last time when I go out. Stay strong, and show those trails who is boss!
Wow, I really never knew this was going on. I have admired the women I’ve been running with on trails. Of course I’m 63, from an older generation that I hope respect women, at least I do. I’m not thin, muscular or really fast but I’ve had women of all ages run with me and at the finish I always tell them,"good run" or "thanks for being my white rabbit". Compliments always are encouraging and I try to encourage others.
Big fan of everything inside of this piece. I’ll take it with me.
So sad that as far as we’ve come, we couldn’t bring everyone with us. Great article, will continue to encourage all runners and praise them for their efforts
I have learned we must love ourselves and realize words from those who don’t understand and lack the knowledge and wisdom to have more supportive comments. As an Ultra Runner, reach down inside and realize you are stronger mentally and physically than 99% of the population. Most are afraid of what an Ultra entails, let alone the tough ones.
I have mixed feeling reading this. Comments that make other people feel bad are idiotic in general, period. But they happen, as this artical shows. Still I think I might be the "we should have a little thicker skinn" type of guy.In my opinion one can simply ignore negative stuff written in social media and on the web. This is so fast paced, the next day its probably forgotten allready.When it comes to sponsors, I think it is every day bussines that they are looking for certain types and reject others. Of course they should have the decency and courage to tell this the athlet.In the end of the day, the opinion my family and friends have is what counts to me and not what some guy sitting in a chair on top of a mountain I have never met before tells me. And remember, these negative comments come from a small porition of people. By far most people are suportive and nice even though they might not always say it out loud!
I personally think you make much more of it then it is. People will always comment to other people, wherever you are. Especially when you are a more known on Social Media. Especially people who are not comfortable in there own body will criticize you for looking the way you look, but you got to understand it’s not personal. They will criticize anybody and anything, your new car, your new boyfriend and the new color in your hair. screw them and do not let it affect you.
I think when you are doing something amazing, you will always have stupid negative comments come your way. If you weren’t amazing, there would be no comments. People that are not doing anything with their lives, don’t have anything better to that sit around and talk about other people. And you are right, people define themselves by the comments they make about others. People project what they don’t like about themselves onto other. Keep running. Keep Smiling.
Sandi, I’ve been really inspired by your post. Thank you for sharing it as it means a lot. Stay strong. 🙂
I always think "How beautiful she is" whenever I see a serious female athlete in action; no matter what her body type. I find it hard to say though, as I am concerned that the message may be misinterpreted. Reading this makes me think that I need to find a way to deliver that positive message, so as to lift those up that I have so much respect for. It is disheartening to learn that people who you like and admire so much still go through this, despite their success.
The majority of criticism about women, comes from women. This article is trying to portray the battle that we women face, but fails to mention that the battle is being fought by women against women. If Pam Smith didn’t "fit the image", that’s because a woman said that, AND, any sponsor is 100% entitled to that opinion. You don’t have to sponsor someone just because Sandi says you should. If they didn’t think Pam Smith fit their image, then that’s fine. They may not think Anton fits their image either. I’ve read a lot of your posts, and I think you’re incredibly close-minded and think people deserve whatever they think they earned, and that’s simply not the case. You get what people are willing to give.
Hey Leslie, I agree that there is certainly plenty of women making the types of comments that Sandi spoke about in this peice. Although she doesn’t come straight out and say it, I think the stories she shared and her general dialogue exhibits that this indeed is a big issue amongst women (example; when I read the paragraph about Kaci; where the girl smirked at her as a way to belittle her after making a seemingly postive comment to her friend; I immediately recalled seeing scenarios quite like this when I was teaching middle school; where girls used passive aggressive behavior to break another girl down). I agree a sponsor is intitled to their opinion and can pick the way they portray their brand, but doesn’t this at least in part come from what they percieve the community is looking for? And if so, wouldn’t that only bolster the argument that kindness and exceptance is the best image to portray, rather than "toughen up", so that the sponsors would recognize this is the image they want ot market?
Great post Sandi! Happy to see Ultrarunner Podcast push this one out to the running community. The thing that sticks out the most to me about this post, and I hope people take it to heart, is people cannot often simply "toughen up" or "get thicker skin" on the spot. Certainly not when depression is present. People cannot control in the moment how a comment is going to make them feel. It’s like asking someone to change who they are or develop a new personality. What people can easily control is what they say to others. I hope whether people fall into the "toughen up" or "sensitive" group that this can be considered.
Awesome article Sandi! Thank you so much for posting it!
The person below who had the gall to call someone "incredibly closed minded" is showing everyone that THEY are the one with the problem.
I am in total agreement.Sadly, if ladies like you and Kaci and the rest are considered fat by some then I must be a whale 🙁 🙁 :(I try not to post anything that would get the attention of people like that, but I love reading articles like this. Society really needs to stop with the "idea" body of women of certain sports or careers.
Great article, well written. I have a girl with autism who loves to run and hears these types of comments from other kids. She’s only in 5th grade. Thanks for shining a light on a real problem confronting all women, but especially our women athletes.
This was so beautiful and so perfect. THANK YOU for writing this Sandi! I’m a huge fan of Sage and now you too! I absolutely love the positivity and hope you left us with at the end of the article. Hugs and kisses. <3
Sheryl Wheeler – I’m one of those mountain goat northeasters that does pretty well for my age(53)… and yeah, I’m pretty stout(sturdy) – 145-150 lbs, depending on what I ate that day. If someone made that comment about me – "how do you run so fast as heavy as you are…." I’d immediately say -"and I’m really fast for an old bag, as well!" No one has ever said that to me, though….
Great article I hope people can be more flexible in their thinking about what represents the ideal female runner.
I’m so glad this conversation is happening more often.I’m a 178cm 70kg woman who has felt ‘big’ all her life, in spite of very rarely being even close to being overweight.Trail running changed my life for the better and yet, for years I contented myself with being at the back of the pack.I’m ‘big’, and big girls don’t run fast.Well, funnily enough, once I got rid of that limiting thought I started to actually GET faster – at my age!I wouldn’t even have thought to try though, had I not seen wonderful examples of other women who didn’t fit the mould, out there achieving great things.So keep talking about it.
I have to say after running with the girls high school cross country team the last few years I have realize how sensitive they are to thoughts of expectations. I believe it is our job as teachers, parents and coaches to reassure them they are good enough and that they need to accept them selfs first. In this world of instant notifications of what is wrong with you or what you should change it is important that we are that much more bold about praise and encouragement for both girls and boys.
It’s a tough pill to swallow at times the things people say.I have gone beyond caring what people say or think, unless it’s close family.I do want I want for me, free from opinion and enjoy every challenge I can.I went from a petite 1.68m 52kg 19yr runner to a 70kg uunhealthy 22yr+ and now back to a more muscle/power based 68kg 34yr multi sport female with all the comments in between!So chins up and do it for your self with a smile ;)Best Wishes for future eventing!Fi
Thank you for your beautiful article. It hits home to a lot of us. Recently, I read a Walt Whitman poem called ‘Song of Myself’. It’s about coming to terms with your own self. I highly recommend it to you if you haven’t read it. I loved a line in it so much that I had it tattooed on my arm – "I exist as I am, that is enough". Keep being great ladies! You are an inspiration to us back of the packers. Hugs!
What a great read! Thank you!
You’re such a beautiful person inside and out , it makes me mad to read how journalist misrepresent truth just to gain popularity ( I know you wild never say hey my BF is winning the race , that’s not your personality especially while you are racing ) we are judged by what we wear way more then men so I make sure to wear what makes me happy .. I suggest we all do the same and I refuse to apologize for having a great body because I love running and not afraid to show it..
Love this. Thank you
Love your story! My comment to you-YOU GO GIRL!!!! You do what others can’t even dream of for themselves! You are out there "doing" and enjoying living while they are sitting by watching life fly by them! Don’t give them the satisfaction of what they are missing out on for the contentment, peace and joy that running brings you and your friends! Keep it "the best kept secret"! FYI-it’s not just about the running but the friendships and loving support given from those that "GET YOU"! Embrace those that build you up and appreciate that God put you on the path-the journey trial we call life! Keep your eyes and heart focused on what matters to you and nothing else should matter! You have a genuine heart and I am sorry that you have experienced such harshness and human cruelty of how hurtful, painful and scarring that words can be. Your "badazzling" smile tells your story! Let that be the salt in the wounds of the people who have tried to break you down! You are a "Charlie’s Angel"….say no more!! Bless you for trying to defend the reasoning behind such unhappy people who send out negative energy-you and I both know the spirit within us won’t allow that negative energy to enter our power field! I was so very touched by your vulnerability and honesty-I agree that our sensitivity, kindness, compassion and empathy are gifts God has planted in us to use as super powers to fight off the evil in His world! You my friend have SUPER POWERS beyond leaps and bounds! Use the super powers that have been given to you to continue to make the world around you a better place-wait….you have already done that! Keep on keepin’ on GIRL!!!
All Female Ultra Runners are beautiful!
I’m so sorry people think that words don’t hurt. You are such an inspiration and I hope you know that you are beautiful inside and out! Hugs! Janice