My husband was heckled for running behind me at a race

I competed in my last race of the triathlon season in Siesta Key this weekend, which is sort of a pre-birthday tradition for Brian and me, as this race is awesome and it is always held around our birthdays. It was a great race, with the exception of a minor freakout I experienced before the swim when I saw the carcass of a jellyfish the size of a dinner plate that had washed ashore overnight.  (Um, yikes.)  Despite the freakout, I swam hard and fairly well, then I got to race on my new tri bike (with the clipless pedals! More about that on another post), and I finished up with a strong 5K on the beach.

Crushing male egos with every mile I run. (Photo: Sarasota Herald Tribune)

Crushing male egos with every mile I run. Note: that’s not my husband behind me. (Photo: Sarasota Herald Tribune) 

I was in the home stretch of my 5K when Brian, who had finished about ten minutes earlier, joined me on the course to help motivate me.  I was on track to hit a 24-minute 5K, and I was feeling pretty tired by that time and I was trying to ignore the monster blister that had erupted on the instep of my right foot because I had stupidly gone without socks. Basically I was tits-deep in my pain tunnel, and I was focused on little more than getting my ass over the finish line as quickly as possible.

I was so focused, in fact, that it barely registered on my radar when, about a hundred yards from the finish line, a male spectator yelled, “Don’t let that lady beat you, man!”

A few seconds later, I heard Brian yell back, “That was a really dumb thing to say, man, that was really dumb.” That was when I realized the man had aimed his comment at Brian, which meant “that lady” was me.

I was the lady Brian was supposed to really need to beat!  Never mind that Brian had actually already finished, or that even if we had been running together, the age- and gender-segregated wave starts would have meant that one of us would be several minutes slower than the other.  It really was a dumb thing to say.

Later, after I crossed the finish line and had the gaping wound in my foot bandaged up (note to self: SOCKS 4-EVA) I thanked Brian for saying something to the guy, and he told me that he’d actually heard the guy say the exact same thing when he came across the finish line for the first time, but he was too out of breath to say anything that time.

We talked about it some more, mainly about how annoying it is when guys who don’t race act like it’s some huge insult to masculinity when a guy who does race gets passed by a woman, and we vented our annoyance at each other a little bit, and then we moved on to eating some delicious barbeque while dissecting the particulars of our individual races.

The funny thing is that I knew pretty quickly that I wanted to write about this for the blog, because it’s just begging for some gender analysis, but the truth is that I’ve already written a post that looked seriously at the guy’s attempt at heckling us and I chose to delete it, because I keep coming back to the fact that Brian already summed up my feelings on the matter: that it was a really dumb thing to say.

And this isn’t just for that guy, but for anyone who says something similar, whether it’s Lance Armstrong writing in the foreword to Chrissie Wellington’s book that every elite male racer’s worst nightmare is getting “chicked” (not serious injury or death, mind you, but getting passed by a woman, I mean are you kidding me with that?) or the guy who starts pedaling harder when he notices a female cyclist who might overtake him, even if he has to pedal beyond his abilities to do so.  (I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve read or heard about this happening, by the way.)

There’s nothing wrong with competing against someone you perceive of as a worthy adversary, and in fact, that’s half the fun of sport.  The problem is that for these guys, we women are not worthy adversaries. Beating us isn’t about the joy of competition or the pleasure of sport.  It’s about protecting their egos and fending off the shame they feel is certain to follow if they find out that they are not automatically better at a sport just because they are guys.  It makes me feel more than a little sad when I think about it, because it feels like a desperate and fearful mindset.

I know for a fact that there’s another way to approach cross-gender competition that is fostered by a spirit of egalitarianism and respect. I don’t have to look much further than my own household to see this is true.

Brian had told me about his own run during the race, and how he started at about the same time as a 66-year-old woman.  He noticed that she was wearing one of those USAT national championship tops, so he figured she would be good, but even so he was surprised when she took off and left him in her dust.

He eventually caught up to her, and when he passed her, he complimented her and told her she was looking strong. In the minutes between the time she left him and the time he caught her, he didn’t think about how awful and embarrassing it was to be outrun by a gray-haired woman who was fourteen years his senior.  Instead he thought about what a badass she was. I imagine that his respect for her as an athlete made the moment when he did finally catch her all the sweeter.

30 responses to “My husband was heckled for running behind me at a race

  1. I love seeing the older people racing! I even like it when they beat me. Because I aspire to be like them. It gives me something to strive for.

    I remember going back and forth with a woman in my last race. I would pass her on the flats and downhills and she would pass me uphills. I had to compliment her for how strong of a cyclist she was. She got a great time for the finish and beat me! 🙂 Next year….

    • That’s my attitude exactly! I always get beat by older women, especially at triathlon, and I love it so much because, like you said, it gives me something to aspire toward. I feel no shame in being beaten by older racers, not even one bit.

      • My PT and I were discussing older people and endurance sports. He’s in his mid-thirties and young for an endurance athlete and he thinks it really comes down to the fact that in general younger competitors may have the physical abilities for endurance sports but they don’t have the mental stamina and discipline. He says that at the end of the day, endurance sports aren’t about peak physical perfection, but rather the will to pace yourself for the goal and endure on to the end.

  2. “or the guy who starts pedaling harder when he notices a female cyclist who might overtake him…”

    YES. This happen to me so frequently on my runs that my husband and I have a term for it: Captain Inadequacy. Example of an all too common post-run conversation. Husband: how was your run? Me: Great, except when I ran into a Captain Inadequacy around Mile x.

    • LOL, “Captain Inadequacy.” I remember once running into a guy like that while doing speed work. He caught me during a rest interval and kept peeking over his shoulder at me. Then when it was time for my speed interval, I caught him and never saw him again. I almost felt bad for the guy.

  3. I’m so often surprised by the Captain Inadequacies I see but then I feel ashamed when I’m surprised by the men I see like your husband. Guys like him shouldn’t be a rarity and they really aren’t so why is it the jerks who usually stick in my head? I will say I savor the memory of getting passed by some super hardcore guy on the bike leg of a challenging triathlon (and on a long hill to boot) who complemented me on my pedal cadence.

    I so love Captain Inadequacy. I’m using that forever!

    • I suspect it’s the same sort of principle as with writing, where I’ll get a ton of positive feedback but the one negative comment is the one I obsess over. There has to be a psychological explanation as to why that happens. I do try to correct for it by remembering that for every Captain Inadequacy (I am also using this forever, LOL) out there, there’s probably a half-dozen guys like my husband or like Tom, who was the first guy to comment on this thread. I much prefer to surround myself with men like them than with men who are constantly looking for potential affronts to their sense of masculinity.

  4. This happens to me nearly every night on my runs around my neighborhood, and I hate it. I cruise by, minding my own business, and, inevitably, I’ll go to pass a man. There’s not really a shoulder on the road that is my — and lots of people’s — regular route around our neighborhood public golf course, so, when you pass someone, you need to do it quickly to avoid playing chicken with a car or bike since we’re all sharing the same lane. Most people understand the passing etiquette and, when you are being overtaken by a faster runner, you slow down a little to let them quickly pass and get out of harms way. It’s the neighborly thing to do, and is something I do all the time because there’s always going to be someone who is faster or who is doing a different type of workout than you are.

    But, almost every night, I’ll attempt to pass a guy and, instead of letting me pass, he will speed up to the point where we are both almost sprinting while I am silently (and some times not so silently) praying for him to just let me pass already before anyone gets hurt. It’s absolutely absurd.

    • This is always so very awkward, cause the other person is now running at a pace they can’t maintain over a long period of time and you basically have to wait for them to reach a point where they HAVE to slow down and succumb to a “chick” passing them.

    • That is incredibly unsafe! I don’t get that at all. I get passed all the time by faster runners and cyclists and I just don’t see the point in making a big deal out of it, especially if it could mean putting my life or the life of another person at risk. My ego just is not that invested in these minor encounters.

  5. Word. Another great post. This Captain Inadequacy thing happens to me all the time, but an interesting thing happened last weekend when I was racing- the guy who politely, so chivalrously “lets me beat him.” There was a guy about 100-200meters behind me the last six miles. I pushed like hell to keep ahead of him. In the last 800meters I pushed with everything I had. Then, when he came in only 20 seconds or so behind me, I congratulated him and said, thanks for pushing me those last six! To which he replied “oh I wasn’t going to pass you, that would have been rude.” To be honest, my race and my finishing kick was cheapened. I would have loved to race him to the very end. Bring your best (and your best attitude), dudes, and let’s race. Let the best person win.

    • Oh, but telling you that he wasn’t going to pass you out of politeness ISN’T rude? Whatever, that’s so gross. You were super classy to him, and I’m sorry that he responded in such an unsporting way.

      Can I say that I think that maybe he might have said that – and have been telling himself that too – because he was trying to catch you and he couldn’t? So instead of just admitting that he couldn’t catch you, he turned it into this whole “oh, I let you run faster than me” rationalization? Because I have seriously never heard of another instance in which a runner said something like that to another runner. Usually we’re all just bringing it as hard as we can.

  6. One of my speedier friends (Erica of has had the same guy come up to her after two races recently, and ask her her time, and then gloat when his time was faster (by like 10 seconds). What the hell? She’s never met this guy. It’s just weird and rude. Plus she’s pretty sure she’s older than him, so … congrats to him for beating an older woman?

    • What an odd reaction. He must have set up one of those one-sided rivalries with her but then totally forgot how to be polite and normal about it. I have one of those with a local woman in my age group, but the handful of times I’ve beaten her it would NEVER occur to me to gloat in front of her about it. That’s just so incredibly rude.

  7. I am far too slow to be anyone’s worthy adversary, but I’ve lost track of the number of times this very thing has happened to me – men (it’s always men) will overtake me on the trail or road…and then slow down, so that we keep leapfrogging back and forth, even while I run at my normal tempo pace. You have an excellent husband there. I presume that’s why you married him.

    • Yes, my husband is pretty much the best, and I adore him. He’d never call himself a feminist but he conducts himself in such a way that it’s clear that egalitarianism is just a part of his DNA. I think it’s pretty great.

      The slowing down is the part that gets me. It’s like, okay, you are faster than me so go be faster than me! Don’t be faster than me for the 20 yards you are running past me, and then completely fail to keep that pace up.

      I wonder if the guys who do that understand how silly this makes them look. I mean, THIS is something to be legitimately embarrassed about, not being slower than a woman.

  8. The cross country teams do their runs on the roads by my parents’ house and when I run at home on weekdays I will see them. Once, one boy was having a tough time, he was a heavier kid, they were going uphill, and I passed him and his teammates started yelling, “Seriously?! You’re gonna let some chick in a skirt pass you?!” I couldn’t help myself, I turned around and said to them, “that’s insulting to your teammates, to this kid and all the girls on your team.” I hate high schoolers.

  9. High five to your husband for (1) realizing what a dumb thing that was to say and (2) calling the heckler out on it.

    And finally, nice job on that 5k time to finish off the race! Hope your foot is feeling better.

  10. I’m glad you wrote about this, because I think it’s so much broader. Think of all the Captain Inadequates (love that term!) in business or male dominated fields who can’t stand to be shown up by women. When men are concerned about having a “chick” do better than them, it hurts everyone! It hurts fitness (in a race), it hurts people’s sense of accomplishment and mastery, it hurts innovation, etc. It’s so worth thinking about — and thinking about how we can get rid of it.

  11. I had to stop reading and go and grab my copy of A Life Without Limits to read the foreword. I thought you were making up that part as an analogy of something awful and sexist. Nope! There it is. Argh!
    Not a fan of that person.

    Being ‘chicken’ starts young. My four year old daughter is in karate class. We arrived one morning to find a father and his two boys outside the class, one boy in a gi and obviously not wanting to go in. I said “have fun” to my daughter as she went in, and the father said to his son “see, even the girl is going in.”
    I was immediately angry. I know my daughter heard it, and that made me angrier.
    I turned to this person with a withering look and said “that makes no difference”. He didn’t acknowledge me at all.
    His poor boys, being made to feel inferior because of the stereotyping and privilege of their sex. My poor daughter, being made to feel inferior because of an asshole.

  12. YES! My version of this issue goes something like this (close to what Ninja & Grace have already said): I’m out for a trail run or race. I make a move to pass XY in an open area, before hitting the single track. XY speeds up, just enough to cut me off so I can’t pass, then we enter single track…thus leaving me stuck behind him or angle for a rude pass. GRRRRR!!! I always secretly hope this kind of behavior an XY out, making him more likely to bonk earlier. That would be some kind of karmic revenge, right?

    Also? Captain Inadequacies? Also now part of my lexicon!

  13. Your husband is awesome. I love competing against real macho guys, and kicking their ass. Your story reminds me of the first time I did a strongman class. In the first five minutes, one guy passed a 20kg plate past me because he didn’t think I could carry it 5 metres, saying ‘no offence’, and another guy said he didn’t want to be put in a group with all girls. I ended up beating both of them on most exercises. Both guys actually had the grace to come up to me at the end of class and apologise for the way they initially treated me. I told them I forgave them, so long as they promised to never underestimate a woman again!

  14. This kind of thing is just so silly … aaaand also, I think I am a bit of a hypocrite on this issue, because I get psyched when I pass dudes. I want to “chick” them (even if I hate that term). I don’t get that competitive with other women, other than good-natured “catch that person in blue!” kind of stuff — and I am routinely happy when someone older of any gender passes me, because damn, respect — but I admit to getting a little thrill when I am going faster than a guy who looks youngish and fit-ish and about-my-age-ish. Maybe it’s because I’ve had so many experiences of the speeding-up-so-I-can’t-pass variety … or maybe I’m just a jerk.

  15. I’ll never forget one training ride. I had some serious intervals to complete, and was in my warm-up, with my husband on my wheel. He doesn’t race, and he always lets me lead when I train so I can hit my target power zones (impossible to do when I’m drafting him). I caught and passed a male cyclist. Several miles later, male cyclist passed us and made a derogatory comment to my husband about “letting the chick do all the work.” My husband just said “It’s HER workout, not mine”.

    The dude then, unfortunately, made the same turn as we did, taking him into a headwind. He had killed himself just to pass us, so hitting the wind slowed him down considerably. I didn’t want to get into another pissing match with him, so I stayed about 2 bike lengths off his wheel and proceeded to have a loud conversation with my husband about nothing in particular just to prove I wasn’t even remotely winded while he was nearly dying fighting the wind. Yeah, I’m petty like that.

    Another story: I was a serious tennis player in my youth. In college, I was asked on a “tennis” date. I won. I never got asked on a second date. Good. If he can’t handle a woman being better at him in something she excels at, then he should just go find himself a pretty but useless chick and spend his life complaining that she spends all of his money on shoes. Did I mention that I’m petty like that?

    By the way, Caitlin, your husband rocks!

    • I have to say your husband rocks, too! I’m glad he basically told the guy to STFU. Let us all praise awesome men who stick up for us.

      By the way, what is that guy’s damage? I need someone to tell me whether the guys who do this understand that they look even more ridiculous afterward than they did if they had just been passed in the first place. Anyway your pettiness is understandable. I’d probably feel the same way too.

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  18. “The problem is that for these guys, we women are not worthy adversaries. Beating us isn’t about the joy of competition or the pleasure of sport. It’s about protecting their egos and fending off the shame they feel is certain to follow if they find out that they are not automatically better at a sport just because they are guys”
    This is SO accurate. I’ve rowed very competitively for the last six years as well as dabbled in triathlons and most of my training has been done with male teammates. The guys who I have enjoyed training with the least are the guys with this attitude. It’s great to know that there are guys out there, like your husband, who not only are fine with getting beaten by a women, but respect and encourage it. I’m glad other women have had this experience of guys trying to kill themselves to pass “a girl”, I thought it was just because I looked young. It’s so obnoxious.

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