Jacob Caswell, a middle-distance runner at Columbia University, didn’t feel like they had the space to be themselves.
Since varsity track and field events only included men’s and women’s divisions, Caswell, who was not a deuce, competed in the men’s races. But as an NCAA athlete, they said they felt constrained by gender norms, unable to question their gender identity or express themselves without risking their place on a team, she said.
Road races now deliberately create space for runners like Caswell. In late March, Caswell ran the New York Half Marathon in a new category for non-duos runners that included 21 participants. And on April 24, Caswell entered the Brooklyn Marathon (their first marathon), breaking the tape to win the non-duos division.
“Not being able to win, being able to compete just like yourself, it just takes liberation,” Caswell said.
Over the past year, road racing in the United States has entered a non-binary category, with typically about two dozen or fewer competitors at each event. Despite political discussions It led to Republic-sponsored state laws to restrict the participation of transgender athletes in girls’ and women’s competitions, with little discussion of how non-binary athletes could or should compete in gender-segregated sports.
The non-binary category in races did not generate much public debate. Most non-duos runners go unnoticed by running alongside tens of thousands of other amateur competitors on race day. But for many participants, the ability to choose a more accurate identifier than “male” or “female” when registering for a race makes them feel more visible and respected.
“It helps me both compete athletically and live more authentically,” said Caswell, who has transgender and gender-nonconforming runners around.
The small participations are reminiscent of the women’s marathon half a century ago. around 1970 20 female marathoners known in the worldand the Boston Athletic Association, which organized the Boston Marathon in 1972, “records women’s time”too much of an experiment“After that year, only six women She ran the New York City Marathon as the first official competitor in the women’s category. The race’s first non-dual area had 16 runners in November 2021.
Organized by the New York City Runs, this year’s Brooklyn Marathon and Half Marathon had the largest non-duals field to date, with 82 finishers in the division.
“I was proud to see more non-duos at the front, just behind us – representing the race and being on the outside and being proud,” said Zackary Harris, runner-up in the half marathon.
For runners like Harris who were leaders in their fields, the races also offered an opportunity to win prize money.
In September, Philadelphia Distance Run It was the first organization to offer equal prize money to non-binary athletes. Ross Martinson, one of the organizers of the event, said it was an easy decision. “We want to have a competitive race and get the best non-duos runners out there,” he said.
Last week, the New York City Runs gave competitors equal payouts in each category. In the marathon, Hirut Guangul won the women’s race with 2 hours 36 minutes 20 seconds, the men’s race was won by Aaron Mora with 2:27:46, and the non-binary race was won by Caswell with a time of 2:35:17. In the half marathon, Lily Anderson won the women’s non-binary race with a time of 1:18, Teshome Asfaha with a time of 1:01:47 and Winter Parts with a time of 1:12:48. All six runners claimed a $5,000 cash prize.
Several major marathons that have invited the world’s fastest athletes to compete have made these changes to welcome non-duos runners into their amateur ranks, and none have combined an elite non-duos field. For example, in March the New York Road Runners presented cash prizes to the top eight amateurs in all three gender categories. New York Half Marathon. But since the NYRR’s elite divisions were inviting and only included men’s and women’s races, the top prize bag—$20,000 for top elite finishers—didn’t extend into the non-duos amateur area.
And while last fall’s New York City Marathon — including six-figure prize bags — allowed runners to sign up as non-duals, none of the non-duos open finishers were eligible for awards.
Despite efforts at inclusion, various questions and concerns about equality linger. Gender-nonconforming racers said they felt a lack of recognition for their achievements and lacked attention to their safety and comfort on race day.
Both Caswell and Harris were consistently misjudged by race announcers and officials at the start line, finish, and awards ceremony during the Brooklyn Marathon. “It was hilariously ironic that we tried to celebrate the inclusion of really non-binary runners here, and they’re doing the opposite,” Harris said.
Steve Lastoe, founder of the New York City Runs, acknowledged that there is still more work to be done. And Caswell is eager to help improve experiences for trans and non-binary runners. They are now forming a committee with Front Runners, a group for LGBTQ runners, in hopes of collaborating with race organizers to address these and other issues before future events.
“Non-binary runners have been here all this time,” Harris said. “We had to compete in categories that didn’t match our gender identities, and now we’re seeing a shift in sport to really get to know us.”