Women's Running


Ellie Pell blazed across the finish line of the 2019 Green Lakes Endurance Run—a 50K trail race—in 3:58:37, nearly eight minutes ahead of second-place finisher Richard Ellsworth.

Race organizers were so surprised a woman bested the 90-athlete field they didn’t even have a trophy for the top male runner. Pell, then 27, carried home two wooden plaques bedecked with greenery, one for the overall winner and one for first-place female, while Ellsworth’s was custom-made and shipped to him later.

In some ways, you can’t blame the race directors. At nearly every distance from the 100 meters on up, the fastest women tend to finish behind the fastest men.

And though records of women swiftly covering significant ground appear in history—in 1,000 A.D., for instance, a Scottish slave named Hekja would reportedly run for days on end on missions from her master—modern times haven’t always offered them the opportunity to try. As recently as 1968, women were barred from running more than 800 meters in the Olympics, lest their reproductive organs tumble out or their frail bodies fall apart.

But from another perspective, Pell’s victory shouldn’t have come as a shock. Joan Benoit Samuelson claimed victory in the first Olympic Marathon in 1984, and women haven’t stopped pushing their limits since, including in distances that far exceed 26.2 miles.

As the sport of ultrarunning increases in popularity—according to a large study earlier this year by RunRepeat and the International Association of Ultrarunners, participation has exploded by a factor of more than 16 since 1996—more women than ever are claiming spots at the starting lines. Female athletes now make up 23 percent of the more than 600,000 ultrarunners annually, up from 14 percent in 1996.

And increasingly, women are finding themselves first to the finish. Ann Trason may be the pioneer of the trend: Back in 1989, she claimed the 24-Hour National Championship outright by logging 143 miles, about three and a half more than second-place

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