‘Chicked’

helen2
Enjoying a run near Loweswater, Cumbria

This morning, out jogging down the Chesterfield canal, I saw a man running ahead of me with his headphones on. He was going more slowly than me, so soon I’d caught him up. I jogged by, giving him plenty of space. A few minutes later, the man sprinted past me, barging me with his shoulder (accidentally, I guess):

“WE CAN’T HAVE THAT,” he shouted. “WE CAN’T HAVE THAT.”

He legged it down the towpath, only to slow down as he got to the bridge.

I’ve been running for athletics clubs since I was twelve years old, so this kind of behaviour is nothing new to me. When I was a teenager, I won a fell race and watched as the winner of the men’s category was presented with money while I was ceremoniously handed a set of casserole dishes. A few years ago in the gruelling 21 mile Red Bull steeplechase across the Peak District, I was running beside one of the other top ten runners in the women’s race and as we passed a male runner he yelled: “do you know how embarrassing it is being ‘chicked’?”

(From http://www.chicked.com: CHICKED: -verb. The act of getting passed by a. female athlete. CHICK: -noun. The female who just passed you.)

At a speed session in Sheffield once, I overheard a man I was training with say that he wished he was a woman so that he would place higher in races and get prizes. He seemed to assume that he’d transfer exactly the same physiognomy to his new running category. Presumably, he’d also enjoy racing a marathon on a day when he was almost doubled up with period pain, worrying about whether he’d need to stop and change a tampon in a race he wanted to win. He’d relish training with sore breasts. And he’d love going out and routinely getting heckled – a survey of 2,000 female runners recently showed that one third have received some kind of sexual harassment while running alone. When I’ve been out training, I’ve been beeped at my vans and faced taunts of ‘get your legs out’ and ‘you’ve got no tits’ (which was at least original). This is very mild compared to other women’s experiences.

As someone who has often put running at the centre of my life, I’ve been guilty of responding to this everyday, low level sexism in athletics with an unhealthy streak of competitiveness. In the past, abuse has just made me determined to run faster than men, prove myself. The trouble is, I take it out on my body and start punishing myself. The more competitive I become as a runner, the more I convince myself I’m too fat, that I won’t run faster unless I eat less, lose weight, attain a mythical, perfect physique.

That kind of response just doesn’t interest me any more. I want to enjoy running for its own sake and for the places it takes me to. This morning, I could very easily have caught up with the man who shouldered me out of the way. I could have sailed past him without breaking a sweat. But what would be the point? After two decades in the sport, these instances are so commonplace they just leave me a bit resigned.

My last collection ‘No Map Could Show Them’ contains a poem dedicated to trail-blazing Katherine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston marathon. Here’s to inspirational female runners like her, whatever speed they run at.

What Will Happen
for Katherine Switzer

If I run too far, too quickly, my breasts 
will drop to my kneecaps and my uterus will fall out.

My light hair will grow heavy, 
My hips will drag along the floor.

Don’t I know the rules of gravity? 
Didn’t they teach me what my body was 

at school? I should be stowed 
away from direct sunlight, saved from rain.

Who told me it was possible 
to run out of my skin, 

outsprint the stewards, 
on the Boston sidewalk

breathless, waiting 
for the world to catch up?

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14 thoughts on “‘Chicked’

  1. Hey Helen
    Sorry you had to experience such a moron. I don’t like running on my own because I get heckled…running with my male friends, it never happens. Hope your runs from now on are idiot free…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. In sport and exercise you will always find competitiveness, machismo and ego, it’s part of all of us, some of us a bigger part than others. I have been chicked many times. Come to think of it, I have been ‘embarrassingly’ passed by all sorts of machines and riders of all ages. In my chosen sport of cycling I have been left for dead climbing Alpe d’Huez by a woman in her 60s. This used to make me feel a little disappointed. With 40 plus years of cycling behind me however I have come to realise that the true race is really against yourself. The enjoyment of achieving a personal challenge whether to climb a particular hill or achieve a certain distance. In letting this other runner go you won Helen, Bravo!

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  3. Loved this. Oddly, Facebook memories today brought up a reminder of being particularly badly creeped out on a run about four years ago – I’d opted to go running without my dog for the first time in a while. Hadn’t realised how completely running with a husky redirected comments and caused creeps to keep their distance.

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  4. That’s apart of life. Some people in the world will act like that. It’s expected to an extent, since most women are not at your level physicaly.

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  5. Very interesting post. Thank you.
    I left my running group years ago, partly also because for 95 % of my fellow male runners is was not about having a good time running with friends (female and male!) Instead for many of these pathological male runners (for very few women as well) the Saturday run is like the try outs for the Olympics. No talk but about the equipment, and after 1 hour or 2 arriving at the meeting point with foam at their mouth. More than one time I saw these guys close to a collapse but insanely happy that they did the 13 k round unter 55 min.
    Now I swim and we walk and hike with our dog. So relaxing!

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  6. Casserole dishes!! That’s the worst I’ve heard in the women’s-rubbish-prizes category… Perhaps you need a slogan on your running gear ‘Casserole dishes – no’!

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  7. Remember the Desiderata; “always, there will be greater an lesser persons than yourself. . . . they too have their story.” There but for the grace of God. . .

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  8. Yup! I know what you mean, and in the spirit of building bridges not walls, I started to hash tag pics of my daughter in law with #womenwhorunwiththemen just as a statement of fact. Some men like it, some don’t. Either way, it just is true.
    But even a nearly 70 year old parkrunner gets it. On Christmas Day two years ago when finishing the uphill stretch a male runner overtook me then slowed down when running directly in front. At least three times. He finally overtook me at the finish. After scanning my token I went to find him.
    Against everything I thought, I was determined not to let it spoil my run.
    “Very well done,” I said, reaching out to shake his hand.
    “Well,” he said, “I didn’t want to be beaten by…..” his voice tailed off as he considered how to complete the sentence.
    “An old woman?” I suggested.
    “I wasn’t going to say that!” He insisted.
    “No ?” I queried, “but it’s what I am.”
    Hopefully it might make him think twice about his achievement.
    I am certainly not a fast runner, but I’m still a very quick thinker.

    Liked by 1 person

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