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‘Nonbinary Runners Have Been Here the Whole Time’


As a middle-distance runner for Columbia University, Jacob Caswell didn’t feel like they’d space to be themself.

Because collegiate track and field events include only men’s and ladies’s divisions, Caswell, who’s nonbinary, competed in men’s races. But they said they felt constrained by gender norms as an N.C.A.A. athlete, unable to query their gender identity or explore self-expression without risking their place on a team.

Road racing is now creating intentional space for runners like Caswell. In late March, Caswell ran the Recent York City Half Marathon in a latest category for nonbinary runners that included 21 entrants. And on April 24, Caswell entered the Brooklyn Marathon — their first marathon — and broke the tape to win the nonbinary division.

“Having the ability to not even win but just compete as yourself, it’s just been freeing,” Caswell said.

Over the past yr, road races across the USA have debuted a nonbinary category, typically with around two dozen or fewer such competitors at each event. Although political debates have led to Republican-backed state laws to limit transgender athletes’ participation in girls’ and ladies’s competitions, there was little discussion about how nonbinary athletes can or should compete in gender-segregated sports.

The nonbinary category in races has not drawn as much public controversy. Most nonbinary runners go unnoticed on race day, running alongside tens of 1000’s of other amateur competitors. But for a lot of participants, the power to pick out a descriptor more accurate than “male” or “female” when registering for a race makes them feel more visible and revered.

Being around transgender and gender-nonconforming runners, Caswell said, “helps me each compete athletically and live more authentically.”

The small turnouts are harking back to women’s marathoning a half-century ago. In 1970, there have been about 20 known female marathoners on the earth, and, in 1972, the Boston Athletic Association, which organizes the Boston Marathon, viewed recording women’s times as “very much an experiment.” Later that yr, only six women ran within the Recent York City Marathon as its first official racers in the ladies’s category. The race’s first nonbinary field included 16 runners in November 2021.

This yr’s Brooklyn Marathon and Half Marathon, organized by Recent York City Runs, had what was almost definitely the biggest nonbinary field to this point with 82 finishers within the division.

“I felt a way of pride seeing that on the very front, just behind us was more nonbinary people — representing and being out and proud on the race,” said Zackary Harris, who placed second within the half-marathon.

For runners, like Harris, who led their fields, the races also offered a chance to win prize money.

In September, the Philadelphia Distance Run became the primary organization to supply equal prize money to nonbinary athletes. It was a simple decision, said Ross Martinson, one in all the event’s organizers. “We wish to have a competitive race and get the perfect nonbinary runners on the market,” he explained.

Last week, Recent York City Runs gave competitors in every category equal payouts. Within the marathon, Hirut Guangul won the ladies’s race with a time of two hours 36 minutes and 20 seconds, Aaron Mora won the boys’s race in 2:27:46 and Caswell won the nonbinary race in 2:35:17. Within the half-marathon, Lily Anderson won the ladies’s race with a time of 1:18, Teshome Asfaha won the boys’s race in 1:01:47 and Winter Parts won the nonbinary race with a time of 1:12:48. All six runners claimed a money prize of $5,000.

Few major marathons, which invite the world’s fastest athletes to compete, have made these changes to welcome nonbinary runners of their amateur ranks, and none have incorporated an elite nonbinary field. In March, for instance, Recent York Road Runners offered money prizes for the highest eight amateurs in all three gender categories of the Recent York City Half Marathon. But since N.Y.R.R.’s elite divisions are invitational and include only men’s and ladies’s races, the largest prize purse — $20,000 for top elite finishers — didn’t extend to the nonbinary amateur field.

And while last fall’s Recent York City Marathon — which included prize purses within the six figures — allowed runners to register as nonbinary, not one of the openly nonbinary finishers were eligible for prizes.

Despite the efforts at inclusivity, a wide range of questions and concerns about equity linger. Gender-nonconforming racers have said they felt a scarcity of recognition for his or her accomplishments and a scarcity of attention to their safety and luxury on race day.

Each Caswell and Harris were continually misgendered by race announcers and officials in the course of the Brooklyn Marathon — on the starting line, on the finish and on the awards ceremony. “It was so comically ironic that here we’re really attempting to rejoice the inclusion of nonbinary runners they usually’re doing the precise opposite of that,” Harris said.

Steve Lastoe, the founding father of Recent York City Runs, acknowledged there was more work to be done. And Caswell is desirous to help improve experiences for trans and nonbinary runners. They are actually forming a committee with Front Runners, a gaggle for L.G.B.T.Q. runners, with hopes of collaborating with race organizers to handle these and other issues before future events.

“Nonbinary runners have been here this whole time,” Harris said. “We’ve been forced to run in categories that don’t match our gender identities, and now we’re seeing a shift in sports to truly recognize us.”

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