Saturday, April 23, 2011

Women of the Race Trails

As I ate my supper at the Lodge last night, Abbie West pointed out something I had overlooked.  It's not so bad that I overlooked it, but that it's been overlooked by other mushers, the press and apparently by the RGOs (race giving organizations) as well.

During her rookie Yukon Quest race of 2010, Abbie set a new record for the fastest race by a woman in that race's history.  As you'll recall, Abbie finished the race in 9th place, with a time of only 10 days, 9 hours and 45 minutes.  In 2008, Michelle Phillips finished the race with a time of 10 days, 9 hours and 41 minutes.  Both ladies outran Aliy Zirkle's championship run of 2000, when Aliy claimed her well deserved crown with a run of 10 days, 22 hours and 57 minutes during a year when trail conditions were considered pretty slow.

That's a very considerable accomplishment, yet it has been under-recognized in the sport.  Jessie Royer's accomplishment as the fastest woman on the Iditarod Trail for the past two years has also been largely ignored.  One can't help but ask "What's with THAT?"

Susan Butcher ran her last Iditarod in in 1994, and last won the race in 1990, over a decade ago.  Libby Riddles earned the distinction of being the first woman to win the Iditarod in 1985.  For the next decade Alaska was known as "the place where men are men, and women win the Iditarod."  Time flies, and though it is sometimes hard to recognize, those days have been history for nearly 20 years.

There are very few sports in which women compete directly against men.  In the Olympic Games, these include equestrian, badminton and perhaps shooting (I'm not certain of the latter).  Women have also competed directly against men in sailing in some races, though are segregated in others.  Off the top of my head.  With the help of "google" I learned that women compete very well against men in the sport of "ultrarunning", essentially the human runner's equivalent of long distance sled dog racing.

So far, I'm not aware of any pressure or movement toward establishing separate women's divisions in long distance mushing.  Originally established as a women's only race, the Gin Gin 200, adopted a separate men's division very early in the race's development.  I don't recall the issues surrounding that decision though there was some relatively serious banter about reverse discrimination at the time.  Although some sprint sled dog races still separate men's and women's division, the sport of long-distance mushing seems to be a well established ground in which women can compete against men, and at least in the past beat the guys on the same trails.

I hope it stays that way.  I kind of miss the days when Alaska was the place where men are men, and women win the long distance races.

OK, I've finished my morning coffee.  It's time to feed the dogs their breakfast, then feed the big primate and continue my spring cleaning.  Today I need to start on the 'hallway" downstairs, where all that winter clothing and dog mushing gear tends to accumulate as I run in and out the door.  Winter gear needs to be laundered, dried and put into storage for a few months, and rain gear needs to be placed more conveniently, especially my "break up" boots and rain pants.  

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