Earlier this year, I posted on my socials about a new Rat Race Test Pilot event. The idea was to run across the Outer Hebrides in 5 days. I suggested to Jim (Rat Race CEO) that we make this a female only event. I suggested this for a number of reasons, but the over-arching one was to give a set of women the chance to do something amazing AS part of something amazing. To give them an excuse. To give their families and other halves a reason to say yes. ‘It’s an all-female team. I have to go’. That sort of thing. It worked. I was inundated with people wanting to give it a go. Only 7 of them followed through.
Why did I feel that women needed an “excuse” to do this sort of thing? Because I believe a lot of the time they do. I believe that a lot of women are put off by these big ideas for a number of reasons, some to do with the challenge, some inherently societal. I believe women are put off by thoughts of who will be there, on the adventure with them. Maybe there will be just men there, men who are faster and stronger than them. Maybe they feel like they will hold the team back. Maybe they will be the only female there at all. Maybe they will feel outnumbered, judged or even worse, maybe some of the male members of the team will treat them differently. Maybe they feel guilty about leaving their children. Maybe they feel guilty about taking time away from their homes, jobs or partners because those homes, jobs and partners rely upon them to keep things going. Maybe they just don’t think they are good enough. Maybe all of this makes them feel really fucking uneasy.
Any man reading these maybes may well scoff at them, but if you haven’t lived as a female you don’t know how different and difficult it can actually be. If you find yourself as the only woman on these trips, you can feel like you have to put up a guard. And I’m sorry to have to write this, but many women have a guard up most of the time. The majority of men will never know what it’s like to walk alone down a dark street after closing time with your car key pointed in your hand, like a weapon, ‘just in case’. I still do this as standard. The majority of men don’t know what it’s like, as a woman, to sit in a pub, bar, train or airport lounge on your own and feel hyper aware. We have to be hyper aware. We have to be hyper aware because more often than not, we get unwanted offers of drinks, conversation or company. Politely declining these offers works most of the time. And that’s cool. But when you have to politely decline three times in an hour, or if your declining offends, you start to feel like you shouldn’t be there in that place on your own at all. We women have to keep our guard up. Regardless of what I do or have done, regardless of my experience, I am always aware I could be a target. I’ve lived my life in fear, I just don’t register it anymore because that’s the way it is. I am not alone in this feeling.
We women are also conditioned from a young age to limit our expectations. We are here to have children. Sure, have a career for a bit, but have children. That’s what you’re here for. Manage your expectations. It’s still all about the children. Have a family. We are not taught at school to be brave or adventurous. We are taught to be caring and considered. We have limits. Boys do not have those limits. I watch my partners 10 year-old boy’s education with interest. It’s still happening. Those male and female roles are dictated and hammered home. Oscar didn’t believe me when I told him doctors could be women and nurses could be men. It’s 2019 people. In the eyes of Oscars friends, I am something of an anomaly, a freak. Now go and watch TV. Where are your female explorers? Where are your female leads on outdoor adventure programmes? Sure, you find them on countryfile, playing with lambs, but where are they on anything else? Where is your female prime time adventure presenter or lead? We are still quietly brainwashed. Adventurers are still men. Still. Females in the world of adventure are still a novelty.
I have been the only female on a lot of these test pilot runs. As a woman in a male dominated endurance/adventure world, there have been times when I have felt like I need to prove something by behaving more like a man. At the start it was very hard to just be myself. I was hyper aware of my femininity. Scientifically, I am not as strong as most men, or as fast. I also have a mental illness that sometimes means I’m all over the place, and the best thing for me to do is to have a cry. Some of the men have the same illness, but they are conditioned to keep in inside and not have a cry. That’s why their DNF rates are higher. I now know that having a cry is one of the bravest, strongest things you can do in a group of men. Having a cry and giving zero fucks about it is even better. Sometimes on my travels (at least 3 times actually) my period has started by surprise in the middle of nowhere. I have had nobody to ask for a tampon or to explain how shitty I feel to. I haven’t wanted to ask or explain, because that might make me seem weak. It might make me look like I am making an excuse for being slower or a bit tired. So, I have kept my mouth shut. Why do I feel like I have to do this?
I want to give women a chance to attempt an amazing challenge free of all this bullshit, in a space that is 100% safe for them to be who they are. I think that is fair and I think that it’s cool. I also want to see how an all-female team will work – what will the dynamic be like? Will it be better? Will it be worse? Will it work at all? I don’t know. I have a million questions and I am setting out to find the answers. Now don’t get me wrong here pals, I am going to miss my lad squad on this one. We do actually have three men on the trip, but they are relegated to the admin side of things. Two of them are support crew, one of them is Gary Tompsett, our architect of adventure and man with the map. We are all extremely glad of their support, advice and expertise. But they won’t be running with us.
So, there we have it. On the 14th October, myself and seven other women will set out to run across the Outer Hebrides, from the bottom to the top. We will be running along the newly opened Hebridean Way for a lot of the journey, but once we reach the end, we will keep on going, ending up at the lighthouse on the Butt of Lewis, the most northerly point of the Outer Hebrides, making this a world first running adventure, 185 miles long and a year in the making.
We will run an average 37 miles a day to make this work. There will be early mornings and late nights. Some days will be long mileage, some days will be shorter mileage. There will be ferries to catch, there will be wind to be had, there will be rain and loads of it and there will be curveballs thrown at us every single day. Scotland can be a cruel place to be in October. We will overcome.
The team that I am lucky enough to be taking along on this adventure consists of seven extra ordinary women. Those are two words. Extra. Ordinary. I have picked women who have very little experience when it comes to multi day ultras, women who at a glance are ‘normal’. You and me and her next door. Those women. We all know them and most of us are them. We come from all walks of life, and we have a collective age of well over 300. We don’t all know each other - most of us have never met. I chose them because I believe all of them possess the drive, belief, power and mental stamina to be able to take on and complete this challenge as one awesome team even though they have never done anything like this before. These women all have extra in them. I chose them because they are just like you, sitting there. They will inspire and empower you to take notice, to get outside.
Over the next few days I am going to introduce you to a few of them, as they explain in their own words what has driven them to take on this epic journey. If we, as a squad, can inspire just one woman or man or non gender specific human to get up off the sofa or, in some cases, off the floor, and look to take on something life changing, then our work here is done.
There is extraordinary in everyone. In the words of that classic philosopher Bruno Mars, Don’t believe me? Just watch.
If you want to be the first to know about future trips or just want to support the stuff that I do via Ultra Awesome, you can subscribe to the Patreon page here