A Non-Binary Runner Wrote a Guide to Make the Sport More Inclusive – Men’s Health

Jake Fedorowski was tired of feeling like a Petri dish.

With their newfound identification as non-binary came the desire to ensure they were properly represented in all facets of their life, including a near and dear space they routinely participated in: the sport of running.

Registering in an open or unspecified division on race day just wasnt going to cut it anymore. And while progress was being made in the world of racing to go further than the expected drop-down selection for men or women, more needed to be done to ensure that those outside of those two gender identities felt properly represented. For Federowski, action quickly followed desire.

Fedorowski began to question race directors, asking what needed to be done in order to make this happen. And while they seemed eager to put in the work, theyd all respond with a similar answer: We have no idea where to start.

Thats where The Guide to Non-Binary Inclusion in Running comes into play.

What started off as a quick email soon expanded into a much larger project that the 26-year-old would take on, becoming a vessel to deliver necessary information to those individuals interested in properly creating a more, inclusive and accepting industry for non-binary athletes (and for all participants and allies involved).

We talked to Fedorowski leading up to the release of their guide to hear what it took to create the 24-page resource, available at NonBinaryRunning.com, and the immediate change they hope to see from all the work theyve put in.

Well, it was two races. The Seattle Frontrunners were always looking for the local, Pacific Northwest races that we could go to as a contingent and there was [the] Eugene Marathon in Eugene, Oregon last May. Everyone was going down to do this race, and it was just male/female divisions for men and women. That was the first race that I reached out to the race director and said, Hey, can we work on this? Now, my goal is to circle back and be like, Remember that conversation we had? Lets figure this out.

At the same time, the other race I was registered for was Grandmas Marathon up in Duluth, Minnesota. Im originally from Minnesota so this is kind of my hometown race. I had registered for it in 2020, but with the pandemic, everything was delayed and pushed back. At the time, I was registered under the mens division, but when it came time to race in 2022, Id made a promise to myself that Ill no longer register as a division I dont identify with. I contacted the race director and he was like, Yes, we have had conversations about this, and now that we know there is a non-binary person looking to participate, its all the more fuel to make this happen. And the conversation ended there, they went off on their own, and I got a call a few months ago from the race director telling me, We did it, its happening. Itll be the first time Grandmas has this division. I brought the issue to them and they ran with it, which is great.

Ive got family and friends that are hopefully going to be there, so its an exciting moment for Grandmas, and also for myself.

One is budget. Another division means more awards, more prizes. Sure, but also if you have another division, you have more participants and more registration. And if you implement a non-binary division, I would bet you money that a whole new group of sponsors would come flocking to your race. Think of all the LGBTQ+ non-profits or organizations that youll just get so much more support by opening up your races to include all gender identities and participants.

Two is the issue of participants. Race directors are concerned were not going to have enough people, and what if we have no one in this certain age group? The answer is thats not a problem. We know from history when womens divisions were first created, you didnt have the same amount of people as you did with the mens divisions. Its something thats going to have to gain some traction, but the only way to get to a place where, hopefully, the Olympics and these other platforms have this, is by us working with the local and national races to build up a non-binary field. The participation thing shouldnt matter, and if youre worried about age groups, dont have them. Just say here are the non-binary overall participants, theres this many of them.

Theres the system, and adding into the registration and timing platforms. A lot of races use different companieslike RunSignUp. Race Roster, Hawkuthat have already done this work. Its very easy as youre creating the race in their platform to check the box for non-binary participants. It took some time for them to go into the system and rework some of the coding because so much is based on the binary world so it took time. But that work is done, and its possible to do. So any race that uses those platforms, I dont understand why they wouldnt add this division yet. If a race is doing it internally, they had to go through and do it all on their own. I think its a wonderful opportunity, and a great moment to show the industry that youre committed to this work and to make this change.

To my knowledge, the first race that implemented this was the Philadelphia Distance Run. That was in March of 2021? So its been about a year. Weve seen it with a major race like New York City MarathonNYRR is doing it across all of their races, which is super excitingwere seeing it with the Seattle Marathon, Grandmastheres a few. Were still missing some: Chicago Marathon, Twin Cities, Boston.

Weve seen progress over the last 12 to 18 months, but I think with this guide, my goal and what Im banking on once this goes out there, is with the year of progress weve had combined with a resource, all races should be flocking to do this. This should just be the norm. I think itll be interesting to see, but its hard to track. If a race is with RunSignUp, for example, technically you can register for that race as a non-binary participant, but the issue is the race itself has to establish a division. If the race doesnt establish a division, sure, I can register as non-binary participant, but I still have to pick a mens or womens division. That defeats the purpose.

Were getting there, but its going to take some time.

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Speaking with the race director from Eugene kicked it off, and that conversation was in November of last year. From around November through January is when the big conversations were had. It was 30+ with everyone from Frontrunners around the world to organizations like OUTrun, Athlete Ally, USATF; I really tried to get every corner of the industry. What I was doing with a lot of that was just making notes and preparing myself. Instead of thinking of a guide right away, I was just trying to soak up as much knowledge about the topic as I could. As I was taking all these notes and having these conversations, thats when it clicked for me. I should create this resource.

Itll be available for free, and any race can have it. There are some races out there that have a large following with a lot of participants, and theyre the larger events we all know of. How can I partner with these races to make sure theyre bringing the solutions in this guide to life, and theyre really setting an example for all races to show this work can be done? Weve seen it happen with New York, weve seen it happen with Seattle and Philly. These are places that have put in the effort. Now theres no excuse, heres something that lays out all the answers to your questions.

I imagine the sport of running gets to a place where every individual can show up at the starting line of a race as their full authentic self. I want the next person who identifies as non-binary, as trans, whatever it may be, to show up knowing they are welcome, and have a space at that race.

I think theres a lot of work to be done beyond the non-binary inclusion efforts, but Ive had a lot of conversations with people about why were assigning gender to the way that we classify or categorize the sport of running, or any sport for that matter. There really isnt an answer. We should be able to remove gender identity from the conversation, and we should focus more on ability. Or can it be based on a pace group? Can it be based on estimated finishing times? In order to get people to start to think about removing gender from the equation, the non-binary participants are going to help lead the way in that.

In order to open up peoples minds about being more inclusive to non-binary people, you really need to start opening your mind to gender being a spectrum. Its a very large, beautiful, far off goal, but I want to see every race be able to create this divisionI think that having a resource is only going to add fuel to that movement.

Lets do the work and make it happen.

This interview has been condensed for content and clarity.

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A Non-Binary Runner Wrote a Guide to Make the Sport More Inclusive - Men's Health

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