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Endurance Sport is a life-changing update for non-binary athletes

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It’s easy to look at professional triathlete Luck McBride and think he’s always at home on the starting line. They competed in World Championship races, won the Ironman 70.3 (Half Ironman) race, and conquered the field in gravel cycling races. But until last year, that wasn’t the case. Despite a long and impressive list of titles and achievements, his McBride (they/them), a 44-year-old Canadian, always felt a little out of place when standing in line. But that all changed at his 2021 Big Sugar Gravel Race in Arkansas.

Big Sugar was the first event McBride had the opportunity to race in the non-binary category. For McBride, the event was nothing short of life-changing.

“For those who are outside of the gender binary, checking the ‘M’ or ‘F’ box on the registration form, mis-gendering them at the start or finish line, or racing in the bathroom or previously women’s category. , says McBride, who came out publicly in the endurance world as a non-binary in 2020.

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Big Sugar is part of over 30 endurance racing events under the Life Time Athletic Events umbrella. Races include road running, trail running, triathlon, gravel cycling and road cycling, many of which are established and popular events. As of 2021, they all contained non-binary categories.

Life Time may be the largest provider of non-binary divisions, but it’s much more. For 2021, a division has been added to the popular half marathon, the Philadelphia Distance Run. The New York Road Runners, which sponsors low-key races and major events like the New York City Marathon, has also officially added the division. And in June, for the first time in its 41-year history, the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon offered non-binary options. Endurance races of all kinds make gender inclusion a bigger priority.

The origin of endurance racing organizations’ move to add non-binary categories is unclear, but for Life Time, it began in early 2020, just before the pandemic hit.

“We were talking about our diversity and inclusion efforts, what we’ve been doing in that regard, and what else we need to do,” says event marketing director Michelle Duffy. “We spent a few hours together discussing what it meant to be non-binary, and to be honest, it was the first time I really dug into it to really understand it.”

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Research from GLAAD’s Accelerating Acceptance 2021 study reveals a growing affinity among the general public toward nonbinary and transgender people. About 81% of the report’s non-LBGTQ survey respondents said they expect nonbinary and transgender people to be a part of their lives. Still, in the world of endurance racing, there hasn’t been a category other than a binary choice between men and women for a long time.

But after that 2020 conference, the Life Time team decided it was time to step up and make the event more inclusive. Event producers did not make an official announcement about the new race division, but simply incorporated it into registration across the board.

“It just felt right. It didn’t require a lot of publicity and marketing,” says Duffy. “The bottom line is that people race endurance events as an escape. Everyone should be able to see the outdoors as a welcoming space.”

But despite the deliberate lack of fanfare, Life Time was on to something. It was an event. Abi Robbins, a non-binary athlete, was the first to register and reach the podium in this division. The news took on a life of its own when Robbins posted the photo on his social media. Life Time began reaching out to other race organizers who wanted to offer the same opportunity to their athletes. (Life Time reports that transgender women “if they can file paperwork… [that they have] Have undergone continuous, medically-controlled hormonal treatment for sex reassignment for at least one year prior to race date. ” There are no limits for transgender men. )

One year after Robbins joined Unbound as the only non-binary athlete, this year’s 200-mile event had 17 athletes enter the category. McBride was one of them, taking the top spot in the non-binary division with a time of 11 hours and 56 minutes. “It feels like a new family, because we’re all from this place that feels like being outside,” he says McBride. “Having a space that is validated and competes together is very important.”

Justin Solle (they/he), a 27-year-old New York-based program manager, gets what McBride is saying. A runner of almost 10 years, Sol came out as non-binary eight months ago and signed up for the division at races sponsored by New York Road Runners and Front Runners New York, an international LGBTQ running club. began to “Witnessing the existence of this category made me feel empowered and able to join his group of runners,” they say. “Nonbinary He is great to see how the community grows and consolidates around this category.”

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The addition of a non-binary division to these New York-based races can be traced back to an initiative by Front Runners New York (FRNY) in 2019. FRNY allows participants to self-identify their gender. “We started by offering the option to become a member or renew your membership as a non-binary,” says Gilbert Gaona (he/he), the group’s president. “Then we worked with a timing company to add categories to the race.”

Since 2021, the division has been present at all FRNY events and the club has partnered with the New York Road Runners (NYRR) to do the same, including the strong New York City Marathon with 50,000 runners. I succeeded. Gaona estimates there were around 16 non-binary finishers at last fall’s event. “We’ve had a great relationship with his NYRR,” he says. “They rolled out options on our own Pride run and we felt supported by them.”

Despite all the progress, the introduction of non-binary divisions in many endurance events is fraught with difficulties. McBride would like to see this option added to more triathlons. “I’m optimistic, but progress is at a snail’s pace,” they say. “After my experience in the Unbounds, I realized I was on my way to becoming a professional athlete on the world stage. I am also an advocate for inclusivity. A fire was lit under me to push more to add.”

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Other issues to address include timing and scoring for qualifying events such as the Boston Marathon. “We have fast enough non-binary members to qualify for Boston in both the men’s and women’s categories,” says Gaona. “But there are no criteria for non-binary runners, so they have to choose the binary category to compete.”

Also, even in the non-binary division of an event, race announcers sometimes mistake the gender of athletes as they cross the finish line. It reminds me to be there,” says Solle. “The more we can stand together and be loud and proud, the more attention we can get and the more people will know who we are. “