"The timorous may stay at home."
~ Murphy v. Steeplechase Amusement Co., 250 N.Y. 479, 483 (N.Y. 1929)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Trouble with Chicking

As I passed a group of guys at the sandbag carry during the Indiana Spartan Sprint this past weekend, I heard "Are you kidding? She's passing us. A girl. Fuuuuuuuuuck."

Yay me, right? Woo women! Go chicks! How empowering and badass and wonderful!

So why did it feel so horrible? And why did it bother me throughout the race, and still bothers me, almost a week later?

Because "chicking" shouldn't be a big deal.

I don't know the origin of the term "chicked," but if you are in any type of runners circle, the term gets thrown around. It's the idea of a woman passing a man, beating a man. It was created, I believe, as a term of empowerment, and I think serves that purpose well - you can see this in groups like the ever-expanding "Spartan Chicked," which is an incredible forum for female obstacle racers to provide advice, tips, encouragement, and support for each other.

In the eyes of men, however, the term turns ugly. It's a blow to the ego to get "chicked," and it's used by men in a derogatory manner. I get it, doods, that it hurts your ego that you got "beat by a girl," but get over it. Your chest hair isn't going to fall out, your biceps have not atrophied, and the size of...things...are still the same (I think).

The Elite heats at Spartan Races lead to a particularly interesting phenomenon surrounding chicking. The male heat goes off at 8am, and the females 15 minutes later. Since this has been the case, the top females have started catching up with the back of the male pack, sometimes a matter of miles into the race. In Indiana this past weekend, I caught up with the first guy on the barbed wire crawl, which was less than a mile in.

As a result, I passed close to 100 guys during the race. In Vegas, it was likely more due to the sheer number of runners (and the top two females passed even more). This requires a breathless "excuse me," or "can I get through" or "on your left!" every few minutes.

For the most part, the guys were supportive and courteous. There were shouts of "you go girl!" or "killing it!" and those that would step aside to make way for you. But a smaller number were NOT so happy, failing to get out of the way on a single track portion, or murmuring less-than-kind things. (I suppose this is further exacerbated because they realized they got a 15 minute headstart, and the women were catching up to them).
The "how close it was" shot
during WTM

It brings me back to my World Toughest Mudder experience this past year, when people realized I was mere minutes behind Junyong Pak. TMHQ was flabbergasted, people were besides themselves trying to understand: HOW did a female manage to get within minutes of Pak?? That's impossible!

And the entire time, while people were running along side me to run faster, to catch up to him, I thought to myself "what's the big deal? And more importantly, WHY are we making a big deal out of this?"

I guess it's a reverse feminism-type of thing: while it's empowering for a woman to beat, or be on par with, a man, the more attention we draw to it by declaring it "unreal" or "amazing," the more we reinforce the stereotype that females aren't, and can't be, equal to males.

[Yikes. That's the most feminist thing I've ever said. And that's a lot of phrases in a sentence. I'll stop now.]
I ain't scurred of you

Don't get me wrong - I'm beyond proud of my finish at WTM, and at races like Indiana. But, in a way, it saddens me to think that people still believe that it's "abnormal" when a woman can beat the vast majority of the men at an event like this. And it's frustrating that men are affronted by the fact that a woman could possibly best them.

So let's change the conversation. While running with the "lead" girls at the Kids Race, I noticed that none of the little boys were saying similar things as the girls flew by. So here's to hoping we can take the negative out of "chicking," and just realize that some girls kick ass.

[stumbling down off my soapbox]


  1. I agree with most of what you said, so much so in fact that I am making a stand against having the elite women start at a different time than the elite men at the next Spartan Race I am directing in Montana. However, in no other sport is the disparity between men and women greater than running. The shorter the distance, the greater the disparity, with women Olympian track and field times, heights and distances being similar to that of the best high school boys. It is therefor not so astonishing that anyone should be so surprised that at 5-10 mile distances women are doing so well among men, and perfectly okay to be shocked (if not offended) at the idea.
    As unfortunate as it may be to say so, I think it's because obstacle racing just isn't attracting top male athletes, but is definitely grabbing some top females. With winning times for a 5 mile course of 48-60 minutes, I think it is safe to say we haven't seen the best of the best, and that includes the over rated Hobie Call.
    I don't want this to sound like "girls only do well because the REAL men haven't shown up yet", but the bottom line is the pro athletes of any gender haven't shown up yet, and if and when they do, it won't be a woman at the front for any distance under 50 miles.

    1. I tend to agree, though I would say we probably still haven't seen the top female athletes either. We've yet to see any truly elite female runners enter the fray, but then who's to say they can handle obstacles? And I hope SR changes the Elite heat policy, especially if it's a small enough race. No reason for separate starts in Indiana, and I imagine Montana is pretty small as well.

  2. I think this is spot on, in the way that you've captured the attitude of women versus men. I find it interesting that Spartan has moved to separating the elite men from the women at the starting line, especially since the men start ahead of the women. I think it's somewhat flattering (unintentionally) that the men are given that lead because it's becoming more visible that some of them need it! Don't get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for all of you top runners, but when one of the ladies runs circles around the pro men, it shows dedication, commitment, and fight; you're seizing the opportunity where someone else failed to and you've earned it. the stereotype I think will always exist, and it shouldn't, but as long as there are strong women like yourself breaking said stereotypes, there will be a wake of empowerment and inspiration following you. Sports like this need tough women, period. The men that complain or degrade you just need to get on your level, and their pride hates to admit that. Rambling done, great blog :)

  3. According to Scott Jurek, his buddy Dusty came up with the term "chicked" in high school. I dont know much credence can be lent to that though. Im not calling Jurek dishonest or calling BS by any means, I just think that the term "chicked," and any of its various incarnations probably came about from numerous people, all at different times and without ever crossing paths or hearing it from another person.

    Also, LMAO at my published name... I guess Google bought eblogger after I signed up at a stupid website... Oh well LOL!

  4. I've also heard the term "girled" as in, "I got girled!" I hope most guys would only say this in mock jest. I am going to partially disagree with Todd on the level of our current athletes. While the vast majority of elite runners are still racing on the road, I think we have seen some truly world caliber performances. Let's not forget that Cody Moat recently won the National Trail Marathon Championships which is a USATF certified race. If that's not elite, I don't know what is. If Cody is a USATF National Champion and Hobie has bested him on a number of occasions, it does beg the question, how much faster than Hobie would the top 20 distance runners in the world be, if they had to do obstacles and burpees? That said, I do agree that we haven't seen nuthin' yet. The fastest will get faster and the number of Elites will grow to the point that strict qualification standards will have to be placed on elite waves: men and women. The fields for both will get deeper. I think sending the women's and men's Elite heats out at the same time should be standard practice for now. But once the qualification standards create a larger disparity between men and women(depending on distance), the wave sizes might get big enough that separating the heats will be a necessity for logistics alone. Lastly, if a dude is 15 minutes behind the lead men within the first mile, he doesn't really deserve to be racing in the elite heat and is likely just paying extra to hit "fresh dirt".

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. I’m just an average guy…and an average athlete, so the idea of being “chicked”, while fun to talk about, is not a big deal to me (or so I say)…yet, I still count the # of females finishing ahead of me in every race I run! So, that part is cultural…like the kids you mentioned…the mentality itself is learned. On the other hand, I think men (in general) will always have the physical advantage over women (in general). In more physically leveraged races (i.e., shorter distances) men will continue to dominate (in general). But I don’t think men have the mental advantage over women at all. In mentally leveraged races (ultra-length courses) the field starts to level out, and women have been winning ultras (Pam Reed, Ann Trason) for awhile. I’ll never say, though, that men and women are, or ought to be the same. I believe God made us different to complement one another, not to compete. Regardless of whether or not you share this belief, though, we are different. However, for all except those performing at the top of their potential, we should be able to reason that most of us are just faster or slower based on how hard we train ourselves prior to, and push ourselves during a race…male or female.

  7. I think any guy who gets pissed at being passed by a superior athlete, of any gender, is a self-important tool.

  8. Having trained with a number of women for half-iron and iron-distance triathlons, I have a total respect and appreciation for their athletic abilities, and in my opinion, superior capacity for suffering. I have frequently gotten "chicked" by a handful of these teammates and feel no greater frustration than when passed by any competitor. On one particular "training" day, we cycled 30 miles to the start of a hilly half-marathon. Around mile 12 of the footrace, I got "chicked" and didn't think anything of it at the time. I was the next runner behind her at the finish and realized that she was, in fact, the first female finisher. That was (and remains) my half-marathon PR, but was made all the more special and memorable by the feeling of accomplishment of having been right on the heels of the first female.

  9. Amelia, this is a great post - thank you. I usually race among guys on an obstacle course, but have mostly been having positive experiences.

    There should be nothing offensive about being "chicked". It just means this woman is faster than you are. Radical idea, I know. :)

    However, I also agree with Todd. On average, men tend to be faster than women. I am always amused when a guy badgers me for my 5k or half marathon time, and then seems really satisfied with himself, when his times are few minutes faster. "Dude", I think to myself, "I am not your competition.". :)

  10. My wife beats me at everything other than lifting heavy stuff, I get "chicked" all the time, at least once a day by my better half. I've been training to get more fit and TRY TO BEAT HER IN A RACE...but still haven't been able to. I haven't run with elite people but I really believe this is not a big deal for the lesser folks. I love your blog, keep up the great work, your an inspiration to MEN & WOMEN : )

  11. As the current world record holder for being chicked in OCR (unofficially of course...I'm not going to pay for someone to follow me around a course counting how many times I get chicked) I can say, it bothers me to get passed...period...by women, men, kids, small pets...doesn't matter. Because I'm competitive by nature. And despite the fact that I'm a "silver spartan", I still want to perform well in any race. I don't think most men care if a woman passes them. Ironically, I think the term "chicked" was intended for the very guys that ARE bothered, because they really have some macho brain clog that tells them, every man should beat every women in every physical contest. Well, you know what guys, let me know how that's working out for you!

    Secondly, how did we get back on to "elite" racers again?!? You are an exceptional athlete, that's a fact. But when you pass a guy (or anyone) in a mile or so, after a 15 minute head start...**news flash**...they are NOT an elite athlete. When all it takes to get into the elite heat is $30 bucks and a shiny new pair of running shorts (or a shiny shorts waiver), what do you expect?! Although, now that I think about it, maybe I will pony up the $30 bucks too for one of these races...if you're gonna get chicked, why not make it by the best?!

  12. Thanks for these thoughts, Amelia. And congratulations at your prowess. Gotta say I've been bothered by the whole "chicked" thing for some time, and you nailed some of it for me. I've been running races forever, and have never come in contact with the term or the attitude until Spartan races. I've been in some Spartan races where it seemed every guy grumbled, got in the way, and took their ego bruise out on me. In others, men have been incredibly supportive (big props to my home state of VT and the Beast experience). But I'll also say it bothers me that our tendency - the women's tendency - in this sport is to project an attitude of wanting to deliver a bruise. Pollyanna, but shouldn't we all be pleased we're all out there and able to perform in some way? And I totally agree that I don't want to pass on any of this mess to my sons, or the little girls I'll always rooting for.

  13. Wow, I didn't realize someone would criticize you for passing them. I do remember being there though, a great sight to see you taking that descent and ascent like a champ.