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A running race that cares about fairness for women (spoiler: it’s not parkrun)

This summer Women’s Rights Network has highlighted the unfairness that exists in women’s sports that allows males to compete in the female category. Here we report on Ultra X Wales which is a shining beacon of how to do fairness properly.

A trans-identifying male runner who currently holds two women’s parkrun records has been blocked from winning the women’s category in the Ultra X Wales 50km 2023 race last Sunday (20th August 2023) as it broke Ultra X’s Diversity and Inclusion Policy.

The one-day Ultra X Wales 50km is held on the final stage of a gruelling five-day ultra-marathon held in southern Snowdonia. The winner of the female category, Julia Lombard, put in a brilliant time of 6 hours, 14 minutes and 15 seconds which gave her 10th place overall – absolutely outstanding! But the result could have been so different if Ultra X didn’t have a robust policy that protects fairness in the female category.

Looking through the start-list before the race, an eagle-eyed runner had spotted that one of the entries into the female category was in fact a biological male. Sîan Longthorpe (listed as Sîan Langthorpe on the entries list) transitioned in 2017-2019, and had been entered into the female category, contravening Ultra X Wales rules which state: ‘Male-to-female transgender athletes (transgender women) and athletes whose legal gender and/or gender identity is female are eligible to compete in the women’s category if they have not experienced any part of male puberty beyond Tanner Stage 2 or before age 12.’

The ‘error’ was reported, in confidence, to the race officials, who verified the entry with the athlete and then moved Longthorpe into ‘gender not specified’ on the final results listing.

Longthorpe who recorded a time of 5 hours and 56.15 minutes came a very impressive 4th overall in a field of 88 competitors and would have won the Female category had his ‘female status’ been allowed to stand. The real winner would have gone home empty handed.

It was refreshing to see a race organizer doing what they said they’d do in their Diversity and Inclusion Policy, and their actions to restore fairness to the women in the race are in stark contrast to parkrun.

This summer, Women’s Rights Network has been highlighting discrimination against women that exists in parkrun.

parkrun, is a brilliant concept and has done so much to get people active. You turn up and run, record your time, see if you can better it next week, and see how you compare with others in your age / sex category. Simple. Except it’s not.

The problem is that anyone can identify as male or female and have their times recorded in their chosen ‘gender’ even if they are male and their chosen ‘gender’ is female. To add insult to injury, a male can transfer their times to their new gender after they have transitioned. A system based on trust cannot be trusted. So we have the most ludicrous situation where an estimated 20 women’s records are held by men, including the Aberystwyth record, held by a male who is currently serving a prison sentence for attempted murder (he tried to kill the UK Athletics official who queried his testosterone levels – as per the rules in place at the time).

This is clearly unfair. With run times more than a minute faster than the women in second place, these are records that are unlikely to fall any time soon.

We know parkrun doesn’t care about unfairness for women and girls because parkrun CEO Russ Jefferys has told us. In a tweet on 21 July 2023, he wrote: ‘I have absolute confidence in our current policy. Doesn’t mean we’re not listening and engaging, but I’m totally comfortable with our current position.’ parkrun addressed the controversy on its website: ‘We are listening to all the views put forward, and are taking time to reflect, consider and act appropriately and sensitively.

And then, on 5th August, Russ Jefferys again: ‘Feel free to get in touch, but my response is unchanged.’

We reckon parkrun could learn a thing or two from Ultra X which has a very clear policy in place AND is not afraid to challenge those who break the rules.

Gender Equality is a big part of the Ultra X ethos. Women are valued and encouraged. Here are a few of the highlights that are female-friendly

  • Prize money (if there is any) is split evenly between the sexes.

  • Race coverage make equal reference to women’s and men’s results; and female results will be listed first or with equal standing.

  • ‘No woman will be penalized for having a child.’ Women can defer their place in a race until they’re fit, healthy and ready.

  • Sanitary products are available at all official aid stations along the race course.

  • No free t-shirt with your entry fee. Race T-shirts are optional purchases and as of 2023 no unisex t-shirts (or One Size Fits No One). T-shirts are sized, and appropriately cut, for male and female bodies.

parkrun: Look and Learn.

Ultra X: Gold medal for Fairness.



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