Trail Running faces gender equality and inclusion challenges


A closer look at Trail Running gender disparities

Trail running, a sport that combines the values of health and nature protection, has seen an exponential growth in Europe and around the world in the last few decades.

The project Green Trail Concept (GTC), co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union, seeks to improve the governance of trail running events by incorporating environmentally, socially, economically, and ethically sustainable practices in the management of mountain running events. When focusing on the social pillar of sustainability, the project has gathered relevant information about the status of the trail running sector regarding gender equality and inclusion. The information has been recovered through research involving meetings, interviews, co-creation sessions, and questionnaires with the sector’s involved stakeholders (organizers, runners, volunteers, audience, local administrations, related NGOs and other organizations).

This research has allowed to identify that the people participating in trail running events (either as runners, audience or involved in the organization and logistics) respond to a very specific profile: normally male, single, and with a high income. Therefore, there is a need to reach other groups and make trail running more inclusive and diverse.

When looking closer into inclusion and equality regarding gender, it is easily recognized that in trail running men are overrepresented compared to women due to systemic inequalities and imposed cultural stereotypes. The biggest difference is found in the very long distances (ultra), where there are very few women (less than 10%). As the distance is reduced, a greater representation of women is seen.

Gender challenges faced by women runners

When analysing the organization of trail running races, few measures are found to address gender equality. There is currently a lack of initiatives aimed at facilitating the balance between family responsibilities and trail running events, which stands as one of the key factors discouraging women’s participation in the sport.

This situation can be explained by a lack of awareness from the runners, audience, organizers, and other stakeholders regarding social issues, especially regarding topics like gender and inclusion, identified by the GTC’s exchanges. The absence of awareness of the stakeholders on gender equality in trail running leads to unidentified and unquantified problems that result in limited measures implemented to address them.

Adding to the situation, factors like systemic and cultural biases and other social complexities, and social aspects like gender equality, become the main challenge of trail running events and races. Therefore, there is a need for raising awareness and establishing measures to break stereotypes and eliminate systemic inequalities that discourage women from participating in trail running races.

Key measures to improve the current situation

One of the primary barriers to women’s participation in trail running is the challenge of reconciling family responsibilities with the time demands of the events, as they are commonly the ones more involved in childcare. To overcome this issue, the race organizers should propose activities for children, allowing parents to attend the races with their children or even run the race while teachers and educators are overseeing the children.

Another important factor that may deter women’s participation revolves around culturally imposed behaviours, biases, and perceptions regarding womanhood. These factors can potentially influence women’s interest in sports and create environments that may not feel welcoming to them. There is a lot of room to implement actions to fight this situation, including:

  • The promotion of successful women runners that can be a role model for young runners, that break stereotypes and increase women’s confidence.
  • Put more care on the language and images used to publicise the races, as well as the channels used for communication, so they can be more welcoming and appealing to women and can reach a broader target than conventional messaging.
  • Propose new race modalities that fit into a broader range of interests and preferences, thereby promoting inclusivity without perpetuating gender stereotypes.

After the analysis based on surveys and interviews carried out within the framework of the Green Trail Concept project, we realize that from the trail running race’s organizations, to guarantee and to give relevance to the inclusion of this group with all their rights and guarantees, work must be done more deeply on the implementation of protocols that address any type of discrimination based on gender identity and/or sexual orientation, as well as any type of violence and sexual abuse.

Finally, cooperation between actors (race organizers, runners, audience, staff, suppliers, sponsors, local organizations, and the administration) is key for ensuring the effectiveness of all these changes and solutions to be implemented. The systemic complexity of the topic requires a strong will and cooperation between the different stakeholders to raise awareness on gender and inclusion issues, promote best practices, and foster changes in mentality and paradigm.