Kristen McKellips of Mount Pleasant is looking forward to getting together with her friends from Knoxville, Tenn., for the Dirty Girl Mud Run at Legare Farms on Saturday.
It will be, after all, be an extra special “girls weekend.”
Earlier this year, the 42-year-old mother and her friend, Samantha Lloyd, had decided to run Dirty Girl, a 5K women’s-only, noncompetitive obstacle course featuring mud.
“As soon as I read about the Dirty Girl Mud Run, I knew that I wanted to participate,” McKellips says. “Sam had taken on the challenge of running 5Ks in Knoxville, just like I had here. We wanted to do one together and decided this was a great choice. Little did we know what was coming next.”
Lloyd was diagnosed with breast cancer. But instead of postponing their plans as Lloyd had surgery and underwent radiation treatments, they signed up, got three more friends to join them and are making a girls weekend out of it.
Participation by women in runs, whether competitive or not, is helping fuel what the U.S. Track and Field Association’s Running USA has dubbed the “second running boom” in the past 23 years.
Women now represent a greater number of participants in races than men, according to USA Running’s 2013 State of the Sport Part III: U.S. Race Trends, published online in July.
In 1990, 1.9 million women and 3.6 million men finished races. In 2012, 8.7 million women and 6.8 million men participated.
Part of that dramatic change, however, can be traced to races becoming less competitive and counting walkers, as well as a growth in the number of women-only events.
Those events range from the Nike Women Marathon and Half Marathon events in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., the Disney Princess Half Marathon, the Athleta Iron Girl half marathon and triathlon series races, and the Divas Half Marathon and 5K Series, including one in North Myrtle Beach.
Siobhan Maize, an adjunct faculty member in the College of Charleston’s psychology department, a mother of two girls, and an avid amateur endurance athlete, says she thinks motivation for women to participate in female-only events is due to perceived stereotypes.
“Overall, sports are seen as masculine and we are socialized into thinking that boys and men are supposed to be good at sports and girls are supposed to be good at school. And as adults, these beliefs persist as they are part of our gender identity,” says Maize.
“Men and women have different gender roles. What it means to be a man, what it means to be a women. What we are ‘supposed’ to do. Over the years there has been a shift in what is acceptable and stereotypical for men and women, but for many, there remains an idea about what is acceptable behavior for a woman.”
Maize says certain sports, especially endurance sports of running and triathlon, are now taking on a less masculine trait. She adds that cycling is still considered a masculine sport.
She adds that participating in a women-only event means the sport is not exclusively masculine anymore and is “OK to do and still be a ‘woman.’ ”
Doretha Walker, organizer of the local chapter of Black Girls Run, has witnessed the power of women not only getting together for events but training together, adding that it provides a healthy alternative to the conventional women’s day or night out that involves drinking alcohol.
“Now my friends and I meet for runs, kayaking and other events. I have mostly participated in co-ed events, but the women-only ones are more encouraging and inspiring. There is a lot of cheering, high-fiving, hugging, smiling, and laughing at these events, which is what I prefer,” says Walker.
“You can almost see the lives of the women changing as they cross the finish line because you know that there was something life altering that brought them to the start. In these types of events, it is OK to allow it to be all about the journey instead of focusing on time.”
While Dirty Girl is the first women-only event to land in Charleston in recent years, more may be coming.
Kathleen Cartland, executive director of the Charleston Metro Sports Council, has been working with event juggernaut Competitor Group, organizer of the Rock ‘n’ Roll race series, on establishing a women’s-only half marathon and 5K in Charleston.
“I have always thought that it would be a great springboard for us to seek out new women-only events,” says Cartland, noting that the area also is hosting the second largest high school girls-only basketball tournament in the United States between Christmas and New Year’s.
“When I attend trade shows, I seek out women’s events because the demographic and psychology characteristics match up so perfectly with the attributes we have to offer in Charleston. Dining and shopping are at the top,” she says.
The growing interest by women in participant sports, she adds, is creating a buzz among marketers of events and apparel because “women buy more apparel when buying with other women.”