On Monday night, I was on the Facebook page for Run the Bluegrass (I was there checking the progress of my submitted medals in the 2014 Medal of the Year bracket that is going on – vote for Oak Barrel and Navy Nautical 10 Miler) and noticed something strange. For this year’s race, the RD has decided to incorporate Clydesdale and Athena categories. For those of you that do not know, these categories are geared for larger runners. Clydesdale is for male runners in excess of 220 pounds, and Athena is for female runners checking in at over 165 pounds.
These are USAT certified divisions, but they are most often seen in triathlons, not half marathons, marathons, or any other running only events. Personally, I think that it is a neat wrinkle to this year’s event, and as a “Clydesdale”, I would be pumped to place in that division. However, the topic seemed to be very polarizing in the comments section (like everything on Facebook seems to be) and as of last night, tempers were flaring. After reading through both sides, I decided to post my thoughts on here so as to share with all of you, and not stoke the flames over there anymore. I just found the debate interesting.
On one side, you have a growing number of runners not cut from the traditional mold. They are heavier and less athletic looking than what a layperson would expect when they hear that the person is a runner. Several are on amazing weight loss journeys, some are deceptively large and will smoke you on the course, and some are out there achieving a goal, and quite possibly embracing a new lifestyle. This group very rarely gets to feel the joy that is associated with a podium call, and the additional accolades and swag that might come from the accomplishment. Often they are in the group of the back of the pack finishers that many spectators and fellow runners forget about once the medals are handed out, and the post race beer is enjoyed. They are running the same course as everyone else, but often feel like they are running a different race.
On the other side, by classifying someone by a weight class can be demeaning. Being teased for my weight virtually my entire life, whether it be from family, friends, or foe has left some very real marks on my psyche. A major race labeling their in a manner that will only heighten the attention on this group seems off-putting, and in many ways cruel. Just because a runner is larger, does not mean that they should be forced to wear a scarlet letter as one more reminder of their size! This is just another form of fat-shaming and any race director that supports it should be ashamed of themselves!
And of course, there is also the notion that just because one’s weight is over a certain threshold, does not mean that they are fat! Their BMI (which in itself is a flawed metric) could be in a very favorable range, and they could be quite tall, thus adding weight without adding girth. There are several scenarios at play, and therefore pigeon-holing people into categories is wrong, and should be abstained from.
Honestly, after reading the comments, I feel that in no way, shape, or form are the staff from Run the Bluegrass trying to fat-shame, embarrass, or ridicule anyone over the weight thresholds. Rather, they are simply trying to find ways to enhance the experience for ALL runners of the event. The fact that a race is trying to give this group a little extra incentive for the event, and maybe help boost their self-esteem, especially in regards to their running, is commendable to me. And honestly, as I told Susan last night, I wish more races would offer these categories for people like me! Who knows, I could be earning quite a few podium calls if they did!
This post was written a little over-the-top and dramatic for effect. I do not wish or intend to offend anyone, but simply lay out what some extremes of both sides of this debate might be. I would love to hear any input or insight that you might have about this topic.