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Quench'd: On Equal Distance Racing

For this week's Quench'd series, we'd like to welcome Molly Peters, a coach who is making waves in the nordic ski and cross country running scenes. Molly coaches the women’s and men’s cross country running team and the women’s and men’s nordic ski teams at St. Michael’s College. She has been actively fighting for men and women to race equal distances for the two sports she coaches for the past four years. Thanks for joining us, Molly!

For more information visit www.equaldistance.org

Women racing 60%

One of the best events of the Spring in New England is the Vermont City Marathon. Over 1,100 runners take to the streets of Burlington to push themselves to run a distance of 26.2 miles, considered to be a very difficult distance even by the most seasoned runners. 

But, what if the women only raced 15.7 miles or 60% of what the men raced? You might assume that Run Vermont would get hundreds of negative remarks on social media or maybe female racers would stage a protest. Don’t worry that’s not going to happen at the Vermont City Marathon! But it does happen to female collegiate cross country runners every fall when the men race 10 kilometers and the women race 6 kilometers at the NCAA Cross Country Running Championships. Yes, it’s true. Women race 60% of the distance that the men race at the NCAA Cross Country Championships.

Fighting for Equal Distance

During the pandemic, while others were hoarding toilet paper and making bread, I decided to seize the gift of time and put all my energy into fighting for equal distance for nordic skiing and cross country running. I spent countless hours sending in proposals, advocating at meetings, reaching out to famous athletes and annoying my family with each new idea I had about how to get equal distance. 

Success for Nordic Skiing

My first real success came in nordic skiing when the amazing Jessie Diggins signed on as a supporter of equal distance. At the time she was leading the overall World Cup and was FAMOUS. I remember screaming when I saw her email response to me. It was a game changer. At the same time, I was also getting more support from other college coaches and I was advocating locally and domestically. As a result of my advocacy, race organizations were adding more equal distance races into their schedules. Over the next year, a shift started to take place as the acceptance level of equal distance seemed to grow proportionally to the opportunity women had to try equal distance races.  

In 2022, a proposal went before the Federation of International Skiing (FIS), pushed by the U.S. Ski Team coaches asking for equal distances for the following year's World Cup and other World event schedules. It was a squeaker but it passed with 57% support. Immediately we had equal distance schedules for the 2023 World Cup, Junior World Championships, U23’s and Youth Olympic games. This led to a change to equal distances in the U.S. Senior and Junior Championships, Super Tours and qualifiers and at the NCAA Championships. The next Olympics will also have equal distances for all Nordic races. Woohoo. We did it.   


 St. Michael's College nordic skiers after their first equal distance race 

With Nordic skiing now equal, I have put all my energy into changing the formats of NCAA Cross Country running. This fall the NCAA will be doing a survey of all NCAA collegiate cross country runners about race distance. This is a huge step in the right direction. The more it’s talked about and thought about, the more collegiate athletes (and the NCAA) will realize the importance of a change to equal distance. 

How can you help? 

  • Help me get the word out. Do you have connections with running bloggers, writers, podcasters, or other influencers etc… I would love to have equal distance as a topic for them. I’m happy to be interviewed! Reach out here.
  • Email the NCAA President, the NCAA Div. I, II and III Cross Country committee Chairs and the CEO of USTFCCCA ask them to pass proposals allowing women to race the same distance as men:
    • Charlie Baker (cbaker@ncaa.org) President of the NCAA. 
    • Ervin Lewis (e.lewis@unf.edu) University of North Florida Deputy AD – Facilities & Operations and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for Athletics, NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Track and Field and Cross Country Committee Chair.
    • Chris Bradford (crbradford@cpp.edu) California State Polytechnic University, Pomona Head Coach – Men’s and Women’s Track and Field and Men’s and Women’s Cross Country, NCAA Division II Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Chair.
    • Mike Howard (michael.howard@plattsburgh.edu) Plattsburgh State University of New York, Director of Athletics, NCAA Division III Men’s and Women’s Track and Field and Cross Country Committee Chair
    • Sam Seemes (sam@ustfccca.org) CEO of United States Track and Field and Cross Country Association. 
  • Are you a college coach? Host equal distances races on your campus. Interest is a byproduct of exposure. Let women try the 8km distance! 

by Molly Peters

2 Responses

Ed Hamel

Ed Hamel

May 16, 2024

Molly, I grew up with two brothers in the 50’s and 60’s. There were always plenty of opportunities for us to be involved in sport. I have no memory of women involved in sport back then. I raised two daughters in the 80’s and 90’s. There were lots of opportunities for them to participate in sport. I admire the work you’re putting into advancing women’s sport.

Mary Lee Reese

Mary Lee Reese

April 29, 2024

Way to go, Molly! Keep up the good work!

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