Appalachian Trail Notes, Part 2

“For many women as they move in sport, a space surrounds us in imagination that we are not free to move beyond; the space available to our movement is constricted space. . . .

Our attention is often divided between the aim to be realized in motion and the body that must accomplish it . . . We often experience bodies as a fragile encumbrance, rather than the media for the enactment of our aims. . . .

Where these modalities [ambiguous transcendence; inhibited intentionality; discontinuous unity] are not manifest in or determinative of the existence of a particular woman, however, they are definitive in a negative mode — as that which she has escaped, through accident or good fortune . . .

. . . the woman lives her body as object as well as subject . . . She also lives the threat of invasion of her bodily space.”

(Iris Marion Young. 1980. “Throwing like a girl: A phenomenology of feminine body comportment, motility, and spatiality.” Human Studies 3: 137-56.)

I have more than a few opinions about both the supported and self-supported fastest known time (FKT) records for traversing the Appalachian Trail. And, like most opinions I have, I would do very well to keep them to myself. So, I’ll mostly do just that. But, some of the dialogue that I saw emerge from the coverage of the Olympics with regard to gender/biological sex and sport overlapped so clearly with my own thinking about the AT-FKT’s that I simply want to share some (mildly opinionated) observations.

The Supported Record

Scott Jurek (M), a highly trained, thoroughly corporate-sponsored, decorated in awards, trail-running guru set a new FKT of 46 days, 8 hours, 7 minutes, topping the previous record of 46 days, 11 hours, 20 minutes of Jennifer Pharr Davis (F). To convert these numbers, Jurek (66,727 minutes) to Pharr Davis (66,920 minutes), a difference of 193 minutes that disappears if Pharr Davis simply got up 4 min. and 13 sec. sooner every day. A reduction in the record of 0.2%. Or, if one were to beat Usain Bolt’s current 100m record by the same percentage, a reduction of 0.0276 secs. Measurable, for sure, but barely.

The Self-Supported Record

Heather ‘Anish’ Anderson set a new FKT of 54 days, 7 hours, 48 minutes, topping the previous record of 58 days, 9 hours, 40 minutes of Matt Kirk. Anderson in 78,228 minutes;
Kirk in 84,100 minutes, a difference of 5,872 minutes that would have required Kirk to wake up 1 hr., 38 min., and 48 sec. earlier every day of his hike. This is a reduction in the record of 6.98%. If one were to beat Usain Bolt’s current 100m record by the same percentage, a reduction of 0.6686 sec. (which would consequently lower the mark to below the 9 sec. barrier). One further should not lose sight of the fact that Anderson’s record is just under 8 days longer than the supported record. One person, all responsibility, carrying and refreshing all supplies only a week+ slower than someone with a team mixing protein shakes and grilling veggie burritos, a stocked camper van, and pro trail running pacers. Yeah, Heather Anderson rules.

Where Angels Fear to Tread

I have a great deal of respect for these athletes. They have each accomplished something monumental. In the greater sense of the trail running community and its internal behaviors, Jurek, I believe, has drawn to a tie with Pharr Davis. On the other hand, Anderson definitively set a singular mark of great achievement.

Do I believe that there is a compelling narrative here with regard to gender/sex and competition (especially in endurance sports)? Abso-freaking-lutely. What is perhaps the most disappointing of all is the date of Young’s prescient article cited above in the context of the mind-numbing rhetoric in our public dialogue during the Olympic games. That’s an opinion I am not afraid to share in the least.


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