8. Women in Obstacle Course Racing

Date: 19 September 2022
Women in Obstacle Course Racing

Women in Obstacle Course Racing


Why do women not compete in sports that men are predominant in? Well, here is why!  This Blog is a 7- to 10-minute read.


Whilst there are women in OCR, there are not as many as should be. Let’s take a look at why? In Layman’s terms: I have taken snippets from various articles on Women in endurance sports and consolidated them:


Women don’t work as hard and the Pay Gap Problem

Because the races are shorter and the stages are fewer, professional female athletes don’t put in the same amount of training hours that men do. Since there is no equal work, there should be no equal pay. The counter-argument to this is that athletes insist they do indeed train as hard, but that they lack equal opportunities to prove themselves alongside men.


Women aren’t as popular

There is a lack of market appeal to women’s endurance, and ultimately the market determines how much an athlete should get paid. Spectators don’t want to pay to watch females race. The counter-argument: The perceived lack of market appeal exists because the media doesn’t cover female racing equally.


Women don’t get enough sponsors.

Sponsors help pay salaries and women don’t get enough. Companies aren’t interested in female athletes because they don’t have as much exposure. It’s not sexist; it’s just a business decision. But, if women have trouble getting sponsors, it’s because they face handicaps in media and race opportunities. It is not true that female sports are a bad business decision.


Women aren’t big enough, fast enough, strong enough.

Biologically, men are built better suited for sport. You can’t overlook the fact that men are simply stronger. They work harder and faster than women. The counter-argument observes that smaller athletes use different tactics and techniques than larger ones, but that doesn’t make them any less athletic, gifted or entertaining. Bigger is not always better, especially in endurance.


Women don’t get enough media coverage.

Why do people consider women’s sports as less deserving than men’s?

Many people think that if there was to be more media coverage or sponsorship of women’s sport it would be more popular with audiences. The media says that if women’s sport generated more interest in the first place then they would invest more time and money into it.

Most people agree on what it takes to make a sport successful: commercial appeal, interest from the general public, and media coverage. The fact is that sponsors are less likely to promote teams or individuals who don’t have lots of media exposure, and not many women in sports do. The Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation found that in 2013, women’s sports received only 7% of coverage and a shocking 0.4% of commercial sponsorships.

The lack of sponsorships and advertising campaigns also contributes to the increasing gender gap. Even though multiple brands and companies hire athletes to promote their products, few brands hire female athletes to become the faces of their campaigns: most companies give preference to male sports stars.

The same is noted in mainstream media: much more time and space is invested in the lives of male stars as well as men’s only competitions than in women’s sports.

For these reasons, female athletes have less support, are less popular, have less of an audience, and the problem becomes a fish that bites its tail. The origin of inequality in sports is found in gender stereotypes and prejudices. Research conducted by Sant Joan de Deu Hospital in Barcelona indicated that 80% of young girls do not meet the recommended amount of physical activity by the World Health Organization.

Hence, to change the historical injustice of women in sports, we must start by changing today’s young generation of women.

Female Endurance isn’t news. The public just isn’t interested. Since 50% of the public isn’t interested in women’s sports, they shouldn’t get half the coverage. Countering this, it can be argued that it’s impossible to measure interest when there is little coverage, and few opportunities to see women play.

Women have less competition.

Because fewer women are racing, the competition is soft. A woman who gets the first female because she’s the only female does not deserve the same prize money as the first male who had to best hundreds of his competitors. But, female athletes should not be penalized because other women choose not to race. Especially at the elite level, both genders have put in comparable time and training. Female participation is growing. Remember that women have only been allowed to participate for a short amount of time.


What can we do to improve these glaring inequalities? Here are some ideas courtesy of The Women’s Sports Foundation:

  • Attend women’s sporting events;
  • Support companies that advocate for women’s athletics;
  • Encourage television stations and newspapers to cover women’s sports;
  • Sign up to coach a girls’ sports team, whether at the recreational or high school level;
  • Encourage young women to participate in sports; and,
  • Become an advocate: if you are or know a female athlete who is being discriminated against, advocate for her rights.


These are not women’s issues. These are societal issues of deep concern to both men and women. We don’t just need women fighting this battle—inequality lowers the quality of sport for us all, not to mention diluting the spirit of camaraderie and competition. We need to change this together.

In her book, As Good as Gold, Kathryn Bertine says that many devoted ESPN readers have promised to print out her columns and give them to their daughters to read. Kathryn thanks them, but suggests they also share her words with their sons. She writes:

I believe the beauty of athletics knows no gender boundaries, as stories of loss, triumph, underdogs, and superstars all ring true to male and female athletes alike. Giving boys articles on female athletes will have an incredible if the subtle impact on gender equality. Straight from the womb, many girls, like boys, have innate athletic drive and ambition. Imagine what strides could be made—what female athletes of all ages and abilities could achieve—if women’s sports were given equal coverage and attention to men’s.

The Female Body

We’re not shaped like men, so we don’t run like them. Here’s a look at some of the biological differences that can work for and against female endurance racers.



Women tend to be more flexible than men, which can be both a good and a bad thing for endurance sports. The extra flexibility is a result of a woman’s body structure and function — our hips are wider and our hormones allow our tendons to stretch for childbirth. We also have less muscle mass, allowing our bodies to move more freely.

Flexibility can be good in an athlete because it means that your body is moving slightly differently with each stride, and not putting the same load of pressure on your joints every time you stride and land. This can protect against injuries. “If you load exactly on the same point of your joint the same way over and over again, it’s going to place a lot of stress on it. With more flexibility, you’re not going to load the tissues in exactly the same way every time,” says Dr. D.S. Blaise Williams, director of the VCU Run Lab at Virginia Commonwealth University.

But flexibility is also a weakness. Looser connective tissues return less energy with each stride. It’s like having a lax rubber band — pull it and it doesn’t snap back. The top athletes tend to have extremely tight hamstring muscles, which allow them to generate more energy during each stride. So flexibility may reduce injury risk, but it also means that you are slower.


Most athletes are heel strikers, and women are more likely to be heel strikers than men. Heel striking is believed by many athlete experts to cause higher impact than landing near the middle or front of the foot, possibly contributing to an increased risk of injuries. In one of the few women-only fitness studies, scientists decided to study injury risk among 249 experienced female athletes, all of whom were heel strikers.

Remarkably, 21 of the athletes not only did not become injured during the two-year study but also had not had a prior injury. The researchers found that the never-injured athletes, as a group, landed far more lightly than those who had been seriously hurt. Not everyone can land as softly as this unusual group of athletes, but experts have this advice:

  • Consciously think about a soft landing. Some athletes, especially those with a long history of injuries, might want to experiment with landing closer to the midfoot, since many — but not all — runners naturally land more lightly when they don’t lead with the heel.
  • Consider, too, slightly increasing your cadence, which is the number of steps you take per minute, a change that also tends to reduce the pounding from each stride.
  • Imagine that you are running over eggshells or, even more evocatively, are a water strider, moving gracefully and weightlessly across the pond.


A woman’s extra body fat may be an advantage for endurance runners. Not only do women have more body fat reserves, but some research also suggests that a woman’s body may be more efficient at using body fat and conserving glycogen, which is the main way the body stores glucose and fuels exercise. For now, men overall are stronger and faster, but women are physiologically well-suited for endurance events.

Of course, there is a downside. While our body fat gives us more endurance for the long haul, it also can hold us back in the shorter races, slowing us down and making us work harder to run at a given pace.


In general, women seem to be better at pacing themselves during a race than men are. A Marquette University study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, gathered data about the finishers at 14 marathons and 91,929 participants, almost 42 percent of them women. Researchers found that at the midpoint of each race, men slowed significantly more than women racers did. In aggregate, men covered the second half of the marathon almost 16 percent slower than they ran the first half. Women as a group were about 12 percent slower in the second half. Far more men than women fell into the markedly slower category, with about 14 percent of the male finishers qualifying versus 5 percent of the women.

Heart Size

A woman’s heart is smaller than a man’s. A bigger heart can pump more oxygenated blood around the body. This is one reason men can run longer at top speeds. It’s worth noting that women’s hearts enlarge and remodel with training as much as men’s hearts do, but they start out smaller so also remain smaller.


Women tend to get more injuries than men, in part due to differences in the shape of a woman’s hips and pelvis that put more stress on our bodies. Compared to men, women tend to have less strength in their hips and core. Women also tend to have strong quadriceps — the big muscle that runs between your knee and hip — and weaker hamstrings — the muscles that run down the back of your thigh. This makes women “quad dominant,” says Dr Williams.

This imbalance affects the stability of the knee. Together, weaker hips, cores and hamstrings can cause a woman to run with a collapsed posture where a female runner’s pelvis is rotated forward to the floor, making her knees more likely to bump into each other, and her feet more likely to pronate (roll inward). Dr. Williams says this physiology is much more common in high school female athletes, and women tend to get stronger and more stable as they age. For some, though, these weaknesses can stick around.


Pregnancy and motherhood seem to improve many competitive women’s races, both psychologically and physiologically. Paula Radcliffe famously won the 2007 New York City Marathon less than a year after giving birth, while the American Kara Goucher set a new personal record at the 2011 Boston Marathon barely seven months after having a child.

Many of the physiological changes that occur during pregnancy can be beneficial for runners, exercise scientists have found. A woman’s heart pumps more blood during pregnancy, for instance, and she gains red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body.

Both of those alterations are beneficial for subsequent athletic performance. Pregnancy also is a kind of resistance training, with a woman’s bones and muscles adapting to bear considerably more weight as her unborn child grows. Most of these changes are not permanent, physiologists point out, but some do linger for a year or more after a woman gives birth.

On the other hand, women sometimes find that their running form is different postpartum and, for some, running may even become painful, probably because their pelvis has shifted its position during the later stages of pregnancy and childbirth.


Getting Stronger

Strength training is important to any running program, and these exercises specifically target the parts of the body that tend to be weaker in women.

A Note About Fitness Studies

Exercise studies tend to be conducted on 18- to 25-year-old elite male runners, and because of this, women should be careful about the advice they take. If an article about the female body leads with, “studies have shown that,” read with scepticism. Not every study can be generalized across genders, says Dr. Williams.

Fortunately, this is starting to change, and more studies are including women. It will take some time, however, before the new study results trump the institutional backlog of knowledge built on looking at fast, skinny men.


Running and Your Cycle

Menstruation is part of women’s sports, but for the most part, it has remained a taboo topic.


Hormones and Ligaments

Throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle, levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone rise and fall. There is some evidence that in the beginning half of a woman’s cycle when estrogen levels are high, muscles become slightly laxer. This may make them less responsive to messages from the nervous system, theoretically dulling reflexes and raising the risk of injury.

A study of A.C.L. surgeries, in fact, has shown that women tend to be more likely to experience the injury in the first half of their cycle, especially as they approach ovulation when estrogen levels are highest.

Much more research needs to be done to understand the connection between menstrual cycles and injury, but it may be a good idea to be a bit gentler on your knees during the first half of your cycle.

The good news is that taken as a whole, the few scientific studies that have focused on women, sports and menstruation indicate that, while a woman’s body will change during her monthly cycle, her performance is unlikely to be significantly enhanced or weakened.

PMS and You

According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, 85 percent of menstruating women suffer from at least one symptom of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), a cluster of symptoms that occur one to two weeks before your period: bloating, fatigue, change of appetite, anxiety and/or depression. And some women — 3 to 8 percent — suffer from the premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a more severe form of PMS. For female athletes, the sluggishness, bloating and gastrointestinal problems that occur with these conditions can affect how you feel while running, but that’s not a reason to stop training.

Losing Your Period

Female endurance athletes, especially runners, sometimes stop getting their period, a condition called amenorrhea. (This obviously doesn’t apply to women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or in menopause.) Amenorrhea occurs when your body slows down the production of estrogen as a result of exercising a lot, low body fat percentage, stress or some combination of the three. If you’re not trying to get pregnant, amenorrhea may seem like a good thing, but low estrogen levels can lead to bone loss. In the short term, bone loss — especially for athletes — can lead to low bone density, stress fractures, and later, osteoporosis



Here’s what you need to know to keep training while pregnant — and when you should slow down.

Whether you choose to keep competing or training during pregnancy is a personal decision based on your health, how the baby is doing and how you are feeling throughout the nine months. If you were training before pregnancy, you can continue to train as you were, says Dr. Joel B. Heller, Ob/Gyn at North Shore Medical Center and co-author of “The Pregnant Athlete.” However, Dr. Heller adds that pregnancy might not be a great time to start running or any new strenuous physical activity.

Throughout pregnancy, women should listen to what their bodies are telling them. Ask yourself: How do you feel when you train? How do you feel after your training?

Watch for Pain

As your pregnancy progresses you will gain weight, your centre of gravity will shift and your connective tissues will become looser. So training will inherently feel different during pregnancy.

The main thing to watch out for? Pain. As your ligaments stretch and soften, it can make your joints — particularly your feet and ankles — susceptible to injury, says Dr. Heller. It also doesn’t help that you are running with many more pounds on your body. Your feet may also flatten or swell, so if your shoes start to get tight or uncomfortable try a pair one half- or full-size larger.

If your lower back begins to feel the strain of your growing body, a pregnancy support band can reduce strain on the back and pelvis, Dr. Heller says. Every woman’s body responds to pregnancy a little differently, so keep communicating with your doctor about how you feel. If your doctor tells you to stop training, just stop. He or she may offer some running alternatives that put less strain on the body, such as swimming or cycling.

Body Changes that Last

“I think it’s time we acknowledge that having a baby is going to change how you compete,” says Dr. Bryan Heiderscheit, a professor of orthopaedics and rehabilitation at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

In a small study, Dr. Heiderscheit found that a woman’s stride changes as pregnancy progresses. For a few women in the study, their pelvises began to tilt forward as their pregnancies progressed, thereby altering their strides. There was more side-to-side pelvic motion as well — waddling if you will. For up to a year later, these changes seemed to remain.

“None of this was surprising,” Dr. Heiderscheit says. Pregnancy and labour stretch the muscles and connective tissues in the abdomen, which allows the slightly unmoored pelvis to tilt and sway. Unless a woman strengthens the affected muscles after pregnancy, the tissues remain stretched. To combat these changes, a woman might want to focus on strengthening the tiny muscles in the abdomen that stabilize the pelvis, said Dr. Heiderscheit. Work on consciously pulling the belly up and in multiple times and also “imagining that you’re trying to cut off the flow of urine,” he said.

Take it Easy After Birth

Ligaments remain loose up to six weeks after birth, so you may want to wait that long to start training again, says Dr. Heller. When you do, start slow. Don’t gauge your progress post-partum on how quickly other runners get back to it. Some professional athletes might start training almost immediately after giving birth, but they’re the exception, not the rule.

“There are always some people who are exceptionally strong and fit who are going to get back to it faster,” he says. Slow and steady while paying attention to your body is the best way to go.


We couldn’t do a women’s athlete guide and not mention the elephant in the room: the harassment women face while competing. Are male runners sometimes called Forrest Gump from some driver racing by? Sure. But gender-based harassment affects 65 percent of women and 25 percent of men, according to the National Street Harassment Report. Most athlete harassment — from ugly words to physical attacks — is thrown at female runners.

If the harassment does take place, Know that harassment is not your fault. “You did not cause it and it’s O.K. to be upset about it,” says Ms. Kearl, “You should have the right to train when and where you want and be safe.”

You could Ignore it, run away and/or call for help if you feel that you’re in danger.

Keep going. Show you disapprove of what happened by glaring back at your harasser or shaking your head.

Confront the harasser. Some women feel comfortable confronting their harasser. If you are, Ms. Kearl recommends saying something short and assertive like “No.” “Stop it.” “That’s harassment.” Don’t curse. A bit of laughter could also help you feel better; let out a chuckle and say, “Does that ever work?” Because escalation is a very real concern, surprising the harasser throws him or her off. Ms. Kearl herself prefers to use the phrase, “Don’t harass me,” and has practised saying it while training so that, when she needs to use it, she’s ready.


What is happening now?

Things are changing, and there is the energy behind equality for the industry. The English women’s cricket team became professional in 2014, signing a two-year sponsorship deal with Kia after winning many Ashes contests. The Wimbledon Championships started awarding women the same amount of prize money as men in 2007. Most importantly, the opinions of sports fans seem to be changing: 61% of fans surveyed by the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation said they believed top sportswomen were just as skilful as their male equivalents and over half said women’s sport was just as exciting to watch.


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If you wish to learn more about this sport and its history, just pop me a mail and I will send the information to you: info@tanyasworldofsports.co.za

When you are ready to take on those mounts, Please take a moment and bow to people that are disabled, that cannot take part in such sports.

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