Do the same barriers stop men and women participating in ultrarunning?

A couple of months ago, after some debate about why female participation in ultra running remains low, I asked female runners to complete a survey looking at why more women don’t take part in ultras. The results of this were very interesting and will hopefully help race directors and others involved in the sport to consider measures which may encourage more women to participate. However, I thought it would also be interesting to ask male runners to respond to the same survey to see whether there were differences in barriers to participation along gender lines.

1,272 women responded, compared to 541 men. Of the women, 534 (42%) had already run an ultra, compared to 372 male respondents (69%). Unfortunately only a relatively small proportion of the male runners who responded had not already run an ultra (31%).

Would you like to run an ultra?





The male runners were significantly more likely to have run an ultra (69% of men compared to 42% of women). 82% of women runners surveyed had already run an ultra or would like to, compared to 93% of men. This suggests that while there is currently a greater inclination among men to run an ultra and considerably more male respondents had already run one, a high proportion of both genders would like to do so. A large number of the female respondents (39%) would like to run an ultra but haven’t run one yet.

What factors stop you running an ultra?





Lack of time to train was the biggest factor stopping both genders running an ultra (55% of women and 49% of men). However, there was a clear divide along gender lines in relation to other factors, with many women citing obstacles relating to confidence such as not being good enough (38%) or feeling intimidated by other runners (24%). These factors were much less significant for men, with only 14% feeling they were not good enough and only 4% feeling intimidated.

In the other reasons category, women runners also frequently mentioned worries about being too slow or failing to meet cut off times, which were only mentioned by a very small number of men surveyed. Some male runners cited the impact on their partner as a significant factor.

Both genders also cited concerns about the cost of entry to races and injury problems.

What is the biggest obstacle to your training?




The biggest obstacles to training are common to both genders. For both men and women, work is the biggest obstacle to their ultra marathon training (45% of women and 46% of men), followed by being injury prone (13% of women and 14% of men). Women were generally more affected by a lack of childcare, while men were more concerned about the burden of training on their relationship with their partner.


What would make you more likely to run an ultra?





For both genders, knowing friends who have run an ultra would make them more likely to run one themselves (35% of men and 36% of women). For male runners the most significant factor was cheaper race entry, while large numbers of women would like to see more generous cut offs (38%), something that was not a significant factor for men (13%).


Many of the barriers to participation in ultra running are unsurprisingly common to both genders. The biggest obstacle stopping both men and women running ultras is time to train as a result of work, family and other commitments.

Men were more focused on logistical and practical barriers, such as the cost of race entry and being able to train without getting injured. They also worried about the impact of their running on their family and were concerned about placing a strain on their relationship with their partner.

Women were much more likely to cite barriers relating to a lack of confidence and self belief. Large numbers considered that they were not good enough to run an ultra or felt intimidated by other runners, while stating that they would be encouraged to run an ultra by more generous cut off times. These reasons were only cited by very small numbers of male runners.

Many men were bemused to be asked about barriers to male participation: “Interesting perspective, I never thought ultra running had any barriers for male runners.” Many also used the additional comments section to express a desire to see more diverse fields in ultra running: “Every event I go to is overwhelmingly male (and white) and we need to do more to address that.”

While many of the barriers to participation in ultra running are not gender specific, these surveys suggest that a more equal gender balance in ultra running fields could be achieved by giving more women the confidence that they are able to participate in ultras. In many cases their perception of what it takes to be an ultrarunner is more intimidating than the reality of ultra races.

I would love to hear about any races that have implemented initiatives to achieve a more even gender balance, or are attracting high levels of female participation – please tell me about them in the comments below or via social media.


8 thoughts on “Do the same barriers stop men and women participating in ultrarunning?

  1. I feel the use of the word ‘ultra’ is confusing and intimidating to many. Yes, they are hard but far from extreme or impossible and you don’t need to be super fit to complete a mid-distance one. Also there’s no need to be intimidated by other trail runners, from my experience we’re more friendly, relaxed and open that the guys that stick to road races.


  2. Interesting poll study. Interestingly, our ultramarathons in Georgia have had an increasing number of women, some that have actually won the races. I would say we have several groups of women runners in GA that actually run races and train together. I think this sense of connection and similar running speeds has led to a larger number of women runners here. I wonder how much of this might be regional?


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