Hey, it’s the Skirts – looking good, girls!
I acknowledged the comment unthinkingly, with a wave and tired smile over my shoulder at our new friends on the trail.
By Day Two of the 2015 Gore-tex Transalpine run, being A Skirt was already old news for my teammate, Rene, and I. Out of the blocks, on a particularly rough and toasty climb, some local hikers looked us up and down in our fluorescent salmon skirts and other matching get-up. A German competitor translated their chuckling comments as they stepped aside for us to pass: well, they're not the fastest, but they sure are the prettiest.
After that, we were off (as it were) to the races. Hikers stopped us during the race to take our photos as we curtseyed, men’s teams encouraged us to run ahead so they could follow (if you catch my drift), and other racers greeted us as The Skirts from Canada while they fell in with us for bits of each stage. Nathan (my husband) and (his teammate) Dan sidled up alongside us when they could, enjoying how their male competitors stepped aside chivalrously for us – a mini-skirted women’s team – allowing our boys to ride our petticoats and pass more easily than otherwise.
Among those who didn’t have good sight lines to my name on my race bib, I became A Skirt instead of Carrie – a new name for a new landscape, for eight days of running from Germany to Italy. We were one of 30-some women’s teams in a race with nearly 250 teams – and our skirts, common back home but a novelty in the European landscape of white spandex, announced our presence on every stage: The Skirts are here!
Do you hear me?
A Skirt. A Skirt.
Back home, skirt or no skirt, I’m back to being Carrie. Whether at our training clinic or in a group of friends, I settle into a conga line of grubby runners where I’m just another body on the trail. Nobody cares what I wear – and there is neither celebration of my ability as a female runner nor condescension towards me as a girl. I have been elbowed competitively by Kevin and by Alana, held up by my shorts when I'm tired and picked off the ground when I've fallen, chased up a hill and offered an extra fig newton, been pushed and supported by all manner of runners in our group.
When I asked some of my homegirls how they felt being – well – skirts in Kelowna’s running community, they nearly all answered: I never think about it. I just feel like a person when I run – not a girl.
That being said, none of us have signed up for a running group for skirts, where participants are motivated to train by promises of glittering necklaces, congratulatory hugs from firemen, pink headbands, and universal sisterhood. We’ve chosen to run in a mixed group that trains according to fitness and ability, not by gender. Now and again, a guy joins the group who takes a week or two to realize (with more than a few huffs and puffs) that the girls run with the boys in this scene – that we all run together – but for the most part, they tend to come around.
Which is maybe why, in the Alps, I didn’t mind so much being A Skirt. While the responses to our flouncy mint gelato or blue accordion numbers may have been the stuff of pop culture (fueled, at least to some extent, by our predilection for dancing - however nervously - in start lines), Rene and I felt nothing less than solid respect and recognition from our fellow runners. As we swung from Marilyn Monroe-ing for tourists to churning through cow shit as fast as fast can be, so did the guys around us abandon masculine posturing for - well - skirtier behaviors. At one finish line, a new friend cried as we slouched together in reclining chairs, thankful for the encouragement that buoyed him through a tough stage. Another day, along a technical, rocky ridge, a flatlander from the Netherlands shared his fear of heights with us (literally: Carrie, I'm scared). We ran chunks of stages with men's teams, mixed teams and women's teams, bumping beers at finish lines with the runners who shared our race bubble - our pace bubble - throughout our journey.
As at home, we felt strong - perhaps doubly strong - both as female runners and as simply runners - gender set aside for the online stats of women's rankings and taken off the trails, where we could simply run.