Blue Ridge Relay 2017:
Has bro culture taken over the blue ridge relay? This was my fourth blue ridge relay in the last five years, after missing last year due to my Ironman training schedule. I am fully aware that I participate in endurance events that are majority white, wealthy, and depending on the race distance, male. Despite that, this relay has always had what I thought was kind of a fun mix of teams: college cross country teams, running clubs, master’s groups full of fast older gentlemen and women, all dad teams, all mom teams, and plenty of kind of random teams like ours- a mix of spouses/friends of original teammates that emerged out of the UNC pharmacy and medical schools five years ago.
Below I detail a few incidents and observations from this year’s relay made me really think about who is entering this race- and therefore feels welcome at the race- and my own future participation in it.
- So many F3 teams: F3 stands for faith, fitness, and fellowship and bring teams from all over North and South Carolina. I have nothing against the individuals that I met on those teams, I met and ran alongside some super nice guys, some were running together in groups and it was actually kind of inspiring camaraderie. But, there were so many teams and they were all male-only teams. Someone told me there were over 60 F3 teams registered out of the 200 teams that participated. That is a huge segment of the field taken up by all-male F3 teams!
- Rape culture jokes on vans: All of those F3 teams really would not have offended me that much except that written on one of their many, many vans was a subtle rape joke: “Shhhh, just let it happen.” Seriously?
Van decorating and double-entendres, puns, and team jokes are all part of the experience. (We had unmarked white vans until Paul wrote “The White Album” on the side of one of them.) Usually they veer towards potty humor, literally about poop. (In previous years I’ve been on teams that keep track of our PRDs or our “pre-race dumps.”) I just really took issue with a faith and fellowship organization writing the above line on their van. It made me really start to look around and open my ears to what people were talking about.
- Creepy headlamp dude: Night legs are when the faster teams often start to take over the mid-pack teams like ours. I was running at a decent clip on my last leg, a nine mile one I started at 5 in the morning. It was not only still dark, but also a rather misty morning so my headlamp only lit up small sections of the road in front of me. Feeling good I actually passed quite a few people and only got passed by two, but one of them really pissed me off. I thought I heard footsteps coming up behind me but didn’t see a light. All of a sudden this fast, young looking guy is right behind me and then passing me. His headlamp was so dim that I pretty much had no warning that he was there, creeping behind me.
After my heartrate settled back down and I saw he was a fellow runner, I said “Dude, your headlamp is really dim!” Instead of an acknowledgement/apology of “I know, my battery is low, sorry if I scared you” he says to me “Yeah, that’s the way I want it. So you can’t see me coming.”
What the hell you predator?! Why is that okay to say in any situation? Even more, why is it okay to say that to a female runner in the middle of the fricking night?!
I’ve had people scare me out on the road before, drivers saying things to me, hikers coming off a trail and suddenly appearing, even an encounter with a crazy dude asking me if I’d seen his dog. I’ve also made plenty of jokes about relays being the only time a slow moving white van is comforting instead of frightening. This was the first time that a fellow runner really creeped me out.
Do these three observations make a trend? Not necessarily. Does they make me wary? Absolutely. When the writing on relay vans start to look like online comment sections, I get wary. When a guy thinks it’s okay to tell me he wanted to creep up on me and other runners in the middle of the night, I get wary. But what can I/we do about it?
- Should the race director cap the number of all-male (or all-female) teams or somehow incentivize mixed teams?
- Should they monitor what’s written on vans or penalize vans with offensive writing or images? Then who is the judge?
- Should there be a reporting mechanism for incidents like the one that happened to me? I have no idea what team he was on or his race number to even try to report him.
I don’t have the answers but I think they are valid questions that really center around how we can make the endurance community more welcoming to everyone- not just wealthy, white males.
My Quick Race Recap:
I opted to take the longer legs due to my ultra training plan, plus took on an extra leg so my overall mileage totaled over 30 miles (and thousands of feet of climbing…) As usual in these relays, the competitive team spirit got me running faster than I do in training. I’m super pleased with my times on hilly/mountain climbing roads and had a blast with my team Scut Monkey!
- Leg 3 5.1 miles in 8:34’s
- Leg 6 6.6 miles in 9’s
- Leg 15 Grandfather Mountain 10.3 miles in 8:50’s
- Leg 27 9.5 miles in 8:37’s
- Overall: 31.4 miles, at a sub 9 min mile pace