Women Trail Runners: The Real Story

By John Dodds

[Editor's Note: Be sure to read Marge Schlundt's response to this essay.]

They sweat, stink, talk while they're chewing, belch, fart, pee standing up, and shit in the woods. They're dirty, vain, extremely competitive, and will run your sorry ass into the ground without so much as a second thought. Yes, I'm describing the woman trail runner. Wouldn't you like to run with this delightful creature on some secluded trail? At nighttime in the dark?

It's been a number of weeks since the Women's Distance Festival Guys Aren't Allowed In This Race Even Though They Don't Have Exclusive Races of Their Own Half Marathon. I'd like to begin by saying that I'm not one of those guys to moan and groan about how the VHTRC puts up big-time money to sponsor this sexist race despite the serious equal protection and due process problems under the United States Constitution. No, this article will be more productive (for a change). I think the main purpose of said aforementioned race is to encourage women to become trail runners. Since this race is so well organized, it is likely that there will indeed be more women trail runners in the near future. This is a good thing. Nevertheless, I'm writing this article as a public service to those guys who might be asked to run with a group that includes women--he should know what he's getting into. And what better person than myself to lower the shroud of mystery? OK, there are probably a lot of better people to do this, but they know better than try to write something like this. And, as you'll see, you won't read such revealing and discerning articles on this subject in the professional journals.

Disclaimer. This article is based on my experiences over the past three-plus years of running trails. That is not to say that any portions of this article can be traced to any particular woman I've had occasion to run with. Rather, this is to say that the previous sentence is a bunch of crock. These women know exactly who they are. I will avoid using any names except where I think it makes this article more entertaining and fun to read.

They're So Vain. They probably think this story's about them. Have you seen a woman who wears a bandana to match the color of her water bottle carrier? I have; they were both purple. Upon questioning, she said it was a coincidence. Would you believe that? Sure, if they were blue or black. But purple? Too much of a coincidence for me. How about the woman who changed her bandana to match the color of the blazes on the trees as she went from one trail to another? Would you believe that? Nah, neither would I. I just made that one up. Trail runners, be they men or women, frequently lose a toenail here and there. Men take it in stride (so to speak). I've seen a woman painting her toes who painted that part of her toe where the toenail was missing. I'm not going to say who this was, but she used green nail polish. It didn't fool anybody. And this is even worse because she used the nail polish that I bought for Michele. And how about this comment from one woman to another on a most recent trail run: "Oh, Kerry, you are SOOO color coordinated. Your Camelbak matches your shoes!" I know you are all thinking what is the likelihood that I of all people would be in earshot of comments like this. Pretty damn high as some of you have found out.

Not all women are this vain. In fact, most probably are not. We're so used to seeing women on the trail in their running gear at all hours of the day and night that we sometimes forget they are normal people. I recall a time when I was talking to a woman on the phone while she was at work when she mentioned wearing high heels. I just couldn't imagine her wearing anything other than Montrail Vitesses--even at work. I was so flabbergasted that I just had to ask her if that meant she was also wearing a dress. She said she was. Try as I might, I just couldn't envision such a sight. But I didn't say anything. Unlike Jim Cavanaugh. At a Christmas party last year, I heard him say to a woman runner, "You know, you look pretty good now that you've brushed your hair." Since ultra runners are idiots, we guys can't be held responsible for making idiotic comments.

Modesty. This is something women trail runners just don't have. I remember once before a race, a woman asked if she could borrow my BodyGlide. After I gave it to her, she sat down and started taking off her shoes. I said (sort of kiddingly), "Maybe I should ask what body parts you're going to use that on?" She looked up at me and said "All of them." After she got done with her feet, she stood up, reached up under her shorts, and I saw my BodyGlide disappear for what seemed to be an inordinate amount of time. She just kept on talking the whole time much to my public embarrassment. Why couldn't she do this behind a car or a tree? Why did she have to do this in front of me while I watched the back-and-forth rhythmic movements of her supple body in the morning sunlight, thinking that . . . Oops, got carried away there. Forgot this was a family web site.

Which reminds me of a post-run conversation at Riley's Lock. We were standing around the parking lot when the subject of groin chafing came up. I (along with Gary) am one of the world's leading experts on this subject. Someone made the comment that men are more susceptible to this than women. Anstr kept saying it was because women's legs are wider apart than men's legs. Michele had been listening to all this for awhile and then blurted out, in a somewhat agitated state, "No, it's not! It's because men have balls!" I would just like to go on record here as saying that I was truly appalled at this lapse in decorum on her part. It's a good thing we were in Maryland. Women here in Virginia would go to jail for saying something like that. Say what you want, women trail runners are not demure.

Green Ball. And not to belabor the point, but consider this example. After a most recent trail run, Brian McNeill was in the bathroom massaging his butt with a green rubber ball (about 9 inches in diameter). He would sort of sit on it on the floor and roll his butt around on it. Later, I found the ball in the bathroom and since Brian had already left, I (in the presence of another guy) gave it to woman co-director explaining all this. She then said, "Can I call Brian up and tell him I have one of his balls?" Needless to say, I was mortified.

Post-Run Transition Period. Guys can't run with women trail runners for, say, 20-30 hours and then be expected to immediately conduct themselves according to prevailing social norms when dealing with normal women. There are no conversational barriers on the trail. This is not the case at the office lunch table. For several days after a run, guys are going to have to think before they speak. This is something guys are not accustomed to doing, even under the best of circumstances. For example, when a guy is at work eating lunch the day after running with a woman trail runner, he will mentally have to ask himself questions like this: "Are my women coworkers going to appreciate me telling them how many times I took a dump during yesterday's run?" Chances are, they don't want to hear about this. A woman runner, on the other hand, will gladly engage in discussions like this. In fact, during a run itself, the woman trail runner will probably be keeping count for you. You will realize this when she says, "I can't believe you. This is the third time!" The post-run adjustment period I'm talking about will vary depending on the guy but may last as long as 2-3 weeks.

Hint of Green. Here's another conversation that you're probably not going be involved in with a normal woman. In mixed company, I asked Amy about her recent Wisconsin Ironman experience in which she ended up in the hospital. Among other things, she said that after she had finished, she repeatedly puked green vomit all over her running shirt that she got at Catawba, and both her IVs had come out spurting blood all over her shirt. At the hospital, they asked if they could cut off her shirt. She adamantly refused to let them do that since she said she had worked so hard for that shirt. When they finally got the shirt off, they asked if they could cut off her jog bra. She said, "Sure." After numerous washings, the shirt almost looks like new except for a few places with a "hint of green." While I thought this was a great story, I am not going to repeat it at work. I know that I would get the following questions: "Are there women like that out there? And worse, "Do you actually run with them?"

They're So Defensive. After hearing this story, I reminded Amy that this was the second time she had to be hospitalized after a trail run. We also talked about Michele's experience at Vermont. And then I asked this question: "How come only women are hospitalized after a trail run?" Although I may be exaggerating this somewhat, I sensed a certain tenseness (and coolness) in the women at the table, and for a second there, they all looked like vipers to me. Perhaps it was my imagination. Then Amy proceeded to tell a story about how Steve (who was sitting there) cut his finger while slicing vegetables in the kitchen and had to go the hospital. And then I made the situation worse by asking, "What has that to do with TRAIL RUNNING?" Fortunately, Kerry came to my rescue (and Amy's) by saying that Jaret had to be hospitalized after running the Pikes Peak Marathon. At that point, I steered the conversation to another subject.

Eating. I don't want to be misquoted here. I'm not saying women trail runners eat like pigs. All I'm saying is that they can be a tad messy. After my first trail run, I sat across the table from a woman who was eating a sub sandwich. She had pieces of lettuce hanging out both sides of her mouth, her cheeks were full of food, a small morsel of bread was somehow stuck to the side of her nose, and she was talking. I could barely understand her as small bits of partially masticated provolone cheese whizzed by me. In the years since, I would learn that she was no exception.

Etiquette. The rules of "polite society" simply have no place on the trail. I wish more women would realize this. For example, it is simply uncalled for on the trail to say you're sorry after you fart. Or belch. It is only natural after drinking 3 cups of Mountain Dew at an aid station to belch as you begin running down the trail. If you can do this while running down a draw, you just might be lucky enough to get an echo effect off the opposing hills. The problem with women apologizing is that it makes guys feel compelled to apologize as well. And guys just intuitively know that that's stupid. After all, running trails is never having to say you're sorry.

What Guys Should Say. Don't treat a woman trail runner like a normal woman. They will find this offensive. Consider this situation: a woman runner throws up partially eaten gummy bears next to you. Do not--repeat do not--say something stupid like "Are you okay?" or "Would you like to rest a while?" No, here is the correct thing to say: "Why don't you chew your food next time, bitch?" Believe it or not, this is the type of endearing comment women trail runners expect.

What They Talk About. I've never been on an all-women trail run, and I don't know any guy who has. Therefore, I'm not 100% sure what women talk about among themselves. But us guys are 99% sure that women talk about sex. Unfortunately, they talk about having sex with guys like Patrick Swayze or Brad Pitt and not with your basic guy trail runner. Speaking of Brad Pitt, how come Thelma and Louise didn't just jump off the cliff at the end of the movie? Why did they have to go and ruin a perfectly good T-bird?

Anyway, guys don't talk about sex. Unless it's on an educational topic like turtle sex. While running The Ring early last September, we came across a box turtle on the trail. Gary picked him up, explaining to us all how you could tell it was a him and how turtles "did it." And I've learned (and I won't say from whom) how you can manipulate a certain plant into performing pseudo-erotic movements (Gary, what was the name of that plant?). I think this just goes to show you how more mature men trail runners are than women.

Secret Girls Training. Yes, guys, there is such a thing. Apparently, Amy and Kerry go out with a bunch of other women on a somewhat regular basis. Women only. I asked where they run. "It's a secret." What do you talk about? "It's a secret." And they specifically call it "Secret Girls Training."

Fiercely competitive. It is a big mistake to assume that a woman trail runner is going to stick by you thick and thin. She will run with you so long as it's to her advantage. And then you're history. I remember a woman running up behind me in a race at about the 3-mile point and then commenting on the pace I was running. I figured out later that she was running with me because if we kept up the pace I was on she would meet her overall time goal. But I fooled her. We ran together for quite a while (couple hours) and then I started to fade. As I slowed down ever so slightly, she just took off, and said "See ya" without even looking back. I told this story to Deb, and she said that woman just used me and discarded me like a used packet of GU. I could have done without that analogy.

Here's another example. There was a woman runner at an aid station who had some serious blistering on her feet, and she was almost in tears from the pain and the thought that she might not finish. The woman I was with went over and put her arm around the other woman to console her and offer her encouragement. I was impressed by how thoughtful this all was until she came back and said to me: "I hope the bitch drops at the next aid station." Even Mike Bur wouldn't do that.

When That Time Comes. Trail runners drink a lot. And they pee a lot. They drink a lot. And they pee a lot. And so on. In these situations, we can't be hung up with customary values that ordinarily apply in mixed company. This is really quite simple. Let's say you are running with a woman, and she has to go to the bathroom. What does she say? Since women are not modest, they'll usually say something like this: "Hey, I've got to pee." Now you have to know the unwritten rules of the trail. And they are: (1) The woman stays behind the guy. (2) If she's running in front, she will stop and let the guy proceed ahead of her. The idea is that you won't watch her and she won't watch you (if you decide to go at the same time, which is usually a pretty good idea to do). Also, she is protected because the guy won't have any excuse to backtrack to her position. I suppose if she were in front of him, he might decide to make up some excuse and proceed down the trail to her. Of course, this doesn't apply to her, especially in a race. A typical scenario is the woman will switch positions to get behind you to pee, get done before you, and then run right by you as your are peeing, saying "I won't look." I can't imagine a guy trying such a stunt.

And you guys should not be surprised to know that some women pee standing up. You're just going to have to get used to this. Don't ask me why they do this. And don't ask me how they do this, although I've read varying accounts from the very simple ("Just pull your shorts to the side and let go" (Greg Loomis) to the more complex (Amy's detailed explanation is too lengthy to reproduce here).

Warning. There are probably a lot of women who are going to read this article and say "Right on! How can he be so insightful?" But don't be fooled. They will not admit to this. If a women trail runner asks to go running with you, you might be thinking about this article. She will realize this and say, "You know, I'm not at all like the women John wrote about." Despite the fact that you too are a trail runner (and may rightfully be accused of being a few bricks shy of a load), it is perfectly appropriate for you to respond by saying, "Hey, I'm not that stupid."

Is there more? Yes, there is. However, I don't want to say any more because then men will be scared (I think out in the Valley they say "skeered") of running with women. I know you guys out there have similar stories as mine. Frankly, I don't want to hear them, because I don't want to think this entire situation is any worse than it is.

VHTRC. To save Anstr the trouble, I would like to say that what I've written, although factual and true, is not endorsed or otherwise supported by the VHTRC.

Concluding Thoughts. The point of this article is not to discourage guys from running with women. Quite frankly, I'm not sure what the point of this article is. Nevertheless, this article gives you fair warning that to run with a woman trail runner, you have to be physically prepared and, more importantly, psychologically prepared. After all, men are from Mars, and women are from Venus, but women trail runners are from WAAAAAAYYYYY OUT THERE.

If you're a guy and are asked to go running with one or more women trail runners and need some advice, you can call the special VHTRC hotline, which will soon be set up for this purpose. Post-run counseling will also be available to give you solace and comfort as you try to make the difficult transition back to dealing with normal women.

Finally: I'm glad that a portion of my annual VHTRC dues payment goes to such worthwhile events as the Guys Need Not Apply To The Women-Only But We're Not Sexist Festival Half Marathon.


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