Set Up To Fail? Women and Sport Science

Women in Sport Science - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

One of my biggest passions is advocating for women in sport. I firmly believe that gender ideology around sport undermines women’s participation, whether that’s giving girls the impression that sport isn’t for them, selling the idea of cosmetic fitness above performance or sports science that privileges men.

Writing in The Telegraph, Caroline Criado Perez explains (extremely succinctly) the ways that sports science fails women and draws specific attention to ‘the gender data gap’. The gender data gap is the difference between the amount of data and research we have in relation to women verses the amount we have in relation to men. Where a gender data gap exists we risk drawing conclusions that potentially favour one gender over the other. Caroline outlines a really great example of this in relation to carb-loading (something very close to a lot of runner’s hearts, especially in the run up to London Marathon!):

The general advice for endurance athletes is to carb-load, with at least one expert specifically advising against fat-loading.

But it turns out that this standard pre-race advice is based on studies in men. And it does not hold for women, who have to eat 34 per cent more calories than they usually would to achieve even 50 per cent of the performance benefit men experience from carb-loading. Which may not be an “appropriate strategy” given “the potential deleterious effects on performance” of overeating. Rather, the authors suggest, because women burn more fat than men during endurance exercise, they might be better off fat-loading. Might. We do not know, because, of course, “few studies examining the effects of fat loading […] on performance have included women”.

In short, because of the gender data gap the pre-race nutrition strategy used by a lot of women might actually be undermining their performance. Not cool.

Women and Sport Science - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

This isn’t to say that the advice to carb-load is necessarily wrong, it just might not be right for women, because the majority of sports science research is carried out on men. More concerning is the impact the gender data gap could have on advice relating to more serious health conditions, which Caroline explores in relation to high blood pressure and highlights that if more sports science research included female participants we might take a different approach to managing this condition in women.

So why does this happen? You’d think scientific rigour would demand thought be put into sample populations when carrying out research, and it probably is, but in my mind the issue comes back to gender ideology. Gender ideology in sport is pervasive, modern sport is a symbol of masculinity and in turn that creates a powerful form of sexism. We see it everywhere, media coverage that is saturated with images of male sporting performance, interviews where female athletes are quizzed about their personal lives over their athletic interests, the challenge of securing coverage for women’s events (and accompanying mutterings that, really, they’re a bit crap). The world around us constantly reinforces the idea that sport is for men, so why would sports science be any different? Academics aren’t infallible, our choices are always informed by our experiences, that is ideology at play.

Women and Sports Science - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

The challenge in this scenario is that by its very definition ideology is a set of beliefs or principles on which social organisation is based. As I’ve mentioned, in my work I argue that modern sport is a symbol of masculinity which plays out as sexism in society. When I talk about gender in my work I am referring to the socially constructed roles of men and women. In British society gender has historically been categorised based on biological definitions, focusing on the idea that there is a ‘natural’ difference between people in each category. Overlaying this is the idea that men in British society experience privilege, and this is used to determine and justify the difference placed on people in each category.

Sport as we know it emerged during the Victorian era and were very much the domaine of men. They were symbols of masculinity, chauvinism and power. Women for the most part were excluded. If they did engage in sport they were deemed unattractive (aesthetic rationale), acting in opposition to femininity (social rationale) and at risk of endangering themselves psychologically and physically (medical rationale). The belief that there's innate biological and psychological differences between the sexes created a form of sexism so pervasive and powerful that the exclusion of women from sport felt like common sense. And so women’s participation was restricted to whatever activities society (men) felt were acceptable and outside of these narrow parameters was unwelcome.

Women and Sports Science - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

Although we’ve come a long way (and this post explains how), social and cultural ideas about how the genders ought to behave remain pervasive and continue to play a role in the choices we make, for example whether we choose to participate in sport, what sport and to what extent. Arguably ideology has had the effect of protecting sport as a masculine domaine and we are still in the very early days of overcoming this, which could be one of the reasons why there is such a significant gender data gap in sport.

You can help overcome this gap by challenging assumptions, share articles like this one and Caroline’s piece in The Telegraph, participate in sport and share your experiences, go to watch women’s sport, watch women’s sport on TV and encourage others to do the same, support publications that actively promote women’s sport and generally make some noise! If you come across someone who is disparaging help educate them, it’s chipping away that makes change.

*images: Kaye Ford





Runderwear - Chafe Free in the Desert

This post is in collaboration with Runderwear.

Runderwear - Chafe Free Running Underwear - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

Where do you start telling the story of 60 hours running in the desert? To be honest I’m still processing The Speed Project, it was singly one of the most surreal and epic adventures I’ve ever had and it’s going to take me some time to get my head around it all (and sift through the metric tonne of footage and hundreds of still images we generated). For now I’m sharing the tidbits I can process, and where better to start than my favourite topic, Chafing!

Sometimes I wonder if I should stop saying this is a running blog and rebrand as a chafing hotspot. I seem to be obsessed with clammy nether regions and painful rubbing, so I’m pretty sure I could turn it into a thing, but then maybe it would be awkward to explain at parties…I digress. Even if you’re not weirdly obsessed with chafing (prevention and management) going for a 340 mile jog through Death Valley will put it on your radar as all that sweat can wreak havoc on parts of your body that touch.

Runderwear - Chafe Free Running Underwear - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

One of the areas I chafe the most is my butt. Yep, it’s true, after Royal Parks Half Marathon a couple of years ago I looked like a tiger had mauled my arse and sitting down was really not an option for a few weeks. Broken skin is a regular occurrence for me, whether it’s my butt, thighs, arms, lower back, some part of me is going to come back from a run chapped and rubbed raw. Not Fun. Really not fun if you have a few hundred miles left to run. However, at The National Running Show this year I was lucky enough to run into the guys from Runderwear and they sorted me out with some lovely soft pants that they promised would see me through the race chafe free!

I’d always been a bit curious about Runderwear. Were they a massive gimmick? Were they worth the money (women’s pants retail from £16-20 a pair)? Would they solve all my problems? Well the answers are No. Yes. Yes.

Runderwear - Chafe Free Running Underwear - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

I took two pairs of Runderwear with me to the States and wore each pair for 24 hours (because I am feral like that). Each pair were worn through multiple legs and rest periods, which would be gross in any other scenario but proved to be the perfect test as I could really see if they did wick sweat away and prevent that nasty clamminess that leads to rashes and sore skin. It was a big ask, but Runderwear was up to the job, two days wallowing in my own sweat and I emerged in Vegas tired, sore and hungry but without a single blemish on my skin from rubbing. Win.

The pants I tried during The Speed Project were the Women’s Brief and the Low Rise Hipster. Both were actually pretty high rise - Baby One More Time Britney would have issues - but I liked that because it meant my pants hit the waistline of my shorts, which is really comfy and avoids weird bumps and bulges. What was more awkward for me was that both pairs had pretty high cut legs, which I am really not used to. I found that it meant the pants dug in a little and left me with some pretty pronounced VPL, maybe not an issue in the desert but sometimes you don’t want to draw attention to your undies. Since I’ve come home Runderwear has sent me some Hot Pants and the No VLP Hipster which I am really excited about (and will report back on soon!).

Runderwear - Chafe Free Running Underwear - A Pretty Place to  Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

High cut legs aside I found these pants extremely comfortable and crucially they helped me get through Death Valley in relative comfort and without any chafing to deal with otherwise. Which is just as well given all the other injuries I sustained! I’ll defiantly be keeping them in rotation and packing them for all my running adventures this summer (dodgy leg notwithstanding!).

Have you tried Runderwear? What are your thoughts?

*Runderwear sent me various products to try but all opinions are my own.

** images: Kaye Ford.

Your Pilates Physio Review

This post is in collaboration with Your Pilates Physio.

Your Pilates Physio Review - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness blog

Training to run a race like The Speed Project takes a lot more than running. If you want to run strong for the best part of three days you need to be strong. Strength training, yoga and Pilates have all played a part in my training programme, helping me build strength, recover and improve my mobility. Pilates has also been great for managing some of the little weak points that have become apparent as the race has got closer, areas like my lower back which can be weak and buckles during longer runs, throwing my form way off and killing my performance.

When my lower back starts to feel strain it’s a sign (at least for me) that I need to work on my core, so that my muscles know to work harder to help me stay nice and upright. Although weight training and yoga help with this to some extent, the think that I’ve always found works really well for me is Pilates. Those simple (yet killer) exercises really help me to hold myself better, and if I’m doing then my lower back isn’t going to give way quite a quickly. Saying that, although I work for one of the best Pilates companies in London, I don’t actually get to many Pilates classes. Heartcore’s dynamic Pilates classes as often fully booked, or I’m too busy to make it to the studio when I’m not actually working myself, which is why I was thrilled to work with Your Pilates Physio for a review - I could fit Pilates in, at home around my schedule.

Your Pilates Physio Review - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

Your Pilates Physio differs from the Pilates I practice at the studio. First off it is mat based (because most people don’t have a reformer bed at home!), and secondly it offers Clinical Pilates which is focused on helping people overcome physical injuries and pain conditions (whereas a studio like Heartcore is more focused on Pilates for fitness).

Founder, and experienced physio, Lyndsay Hirst, has a passion for treating musculoskeletal problems and she found through her work that Pilates exercises were an amazing way to help address and prevent many of the issues her patients were experiencing. Its something more and more physios seem to be in tune with, I’m pretty sure at least once a shift someone comes into the studio saying their physiotherapist has sent them as Pilates would help X, Y or Z problem. However, Pilates isn’t always very accessible - there aren’t loads of good studios, classes can be expensive and people are time poor, so Lydnsay launched Your Pilates Physio, a platform that allows you to access high quality PIlates instruction wherever they are.

Your Pilates Physio Review - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

I chose to focus my Pilates workouts on my lower back (Lyndsay has a workout for most ailments) and because the website is so easy to use I could find the workouts I needed, for the length of time time I needed and at the level I needed simply and quickly. Each video moves at a really manageable pace, so it’s easy to follow each exercise either on screen or by listening to Lyndsay speak. There’s no banging music or distracting backgrounds, just good, clear instruction, which is exactly what you need when you’re practicing at home, alone.

Practicing Pilates at home a couple of times a week has made a big difference to my lower back. I feel a lot stronger and like I’m holding myself much better, and hopefully that’ll last through the 340 miles between LA and Vegas!

*I was given a month’s free subscription to Your Pilates Physio in exchange for review but all opinions are my own.