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Running from reality

SPORTS | Major marathons add “nonbinary” to list of categories in which runners may compete

The Chicago Marathon Andrew Weber/Getty Images

Running from reality
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God made all runners either male or female. Even so, in five of the world’s most prestigious marathons, athletes need no longer choose one category or the other to compete in.

Chicago earlier this year became the second city in the World Marathon Majors (WMM) series—after New York—to add a “nonbinary” division to its marathon. Three other WMM cities plan to follow Chicago and New York’s lead: Boston, London, and Berlin will all let runners compete in nonbinary divisions in their respective marathons next year. The only WMM city that has not announced plans to add a nonbinary division is Tokyo.

Still, some runners who consider themselves “gender-nonconforming,” and their allies, aren’t satisfied with these marathons’ efforts to be more inclusive.

In modern usage, the term non­binary can encompass a variety of gender identities: transgender (where one’s chosen gender and biological sex do not match), gender-fluid (fluctuating gender), agender (no gender), bigender (both male and female), and even “third gender” (falling completely outside the male and female categories).

Wisconsin native Jacob Caswell, 25, became the second winner of the New York Marathon’s nonbinary division—and the first to win prize money—on Nov. 6, completing the 26.2-mile race in 2 hours, 45 minutes, and 12 seconds. Caswell followed in the footsteps of Missouri native Zackary Harris, the marathon’s first nonbinary division winner in 2021 with a time of 3:09:09.

Blank Bruno of El Paso, Texas, won the nonbinary division in Chicago on Oct. 9, clocking in at 2:47:12 to place 696th overall out of more than 40,000 runners from all divisions. Bruno, whose biological sex has been obscured by media reports that refer to the runner as “they,” would have tied for 644th in the men’s race and 53rd in the women’s. Apart from the nonbinary divisions, WMM events also allow transgender runners to compete in the category matching their gender identity.

One might think, given the United States’ pro-LGBT climate, that gender-nonconforming runners and their allies would hail the addition of nonbinary divisions to marathons worldwide. However, reactions have varied.

To begin with, Chicago added its nonbinary division with little fanfare, leading some to complain that the race didn’t do enough to be truly inclusive. In fact, the marathon’s ­promoters did not even make a public announcement—perhaps a big reason why just 41 runners competed in the nonbinary division. Transgender athlete Cal Calamia told the Chicago Sun-Times the low-key addition of the division was personally “hurtful.”

On top of that, Chicago had no “elite” division for nonbinary runners as it did for men and women. Neither will any other WMM race, according to HuffPost. And neither the Chicago nor Boston marathons offer prize money in their respective nonbinary divisions.

“In other words,” wrote Tracey Anne Duncan for HuffPost, “non-­binary athletes will have to do the same amount of intense training and preparation that every other runner does, but they don’t have a shot at the same cash prizes, which can be in the tens of thousands of dollars.”

Nevertheless, the addition of nonbinary divisions to marathons and other high-profile races, such as the Philadelphia Distance Run, appears poised to become a trend—one that isn’t likely to run in reverse anytime soon.

Ray Hacke

Ray is a sports correspondent for WORLD Magazine who has covered sports professionally for three decades. He is also a licensed attorney who lives in Keizer, Ore., with his wife Pauline and daughter Ava.



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