Search

Stay Safe - Stay Seen

Challenging Gender Bias in Triathlon

  • 4 min read

Hello, I’m Becca, I’m 30 years old and I’m a northerner living in London. I’m a runner and newbie triathlete. In 2018 I made the switch from running into all things swim, bike, run, starting with duathlons and aquathlons and then taking on my first triathlons in 2019. I’m now working towards my first half ironman. I’m proud to be a Zone3 swim ambassador and whilst I’m not the fastest or the greatest, I love what I do and the joy training and competing brings me.

When switching from running to triathlon, I began to come across biases associated with my gender. As a result, I’ve found a passion for championing women in sports and helping to break down some of the entry barriers that result from this, especially for women new to cycling, running and swimming. 

I’ve worked in the science research sector since I was 21 and early in my career I felt very aware of my age and gender and the impact it has on my confidence - I was constantly aware of being the only woman at the table. It has taken me a while to find my voice, and I still have some work to do, but I’ve fought hard to champion myself and other women in my work life (and still do), so I wasn’t prepared to sit back and accept another glass ceiling hanging over me or the women around me in our sporting lives.

Cycling has presented the biggest barriers. Initially, I felt very overwhelmed by the jargon and often feel very self-conscious when I don’t understand the terminology - buying my first bike was a bit daunting.  

Undertaking my first sportive, Ride London in 2018, I felt very intimidated at the start line, which wasn’t helped by some comments about my choice to ride a hybrid bike. Another solo female competitor and I gravitated towards each other in the start pen and it was a real comfort to know someone else was feeling the same nerves. 

Another thing I noticed when I first got into cycling was the lack of female representation, I would read my boyfriend's old copies of cycling magazines and see a real lack of reviews for female sports kit - things that are deemed 'unisex' for example bike frames, are still made with male measurements in mind. 

Both the subtle and not so subtle things I’ve encountered have often made me feel unwelcome and confused about if I belonged in the cycling community as a total newbie. Things are changing, but it still feels like a very male dominated sport and sadly lacks diversity. It has been great to see so many women taking up cycling in 2020/21 and I hope to see more and more women getting on their bikes. 

 

I originally swam as a child but gave up completely in my very early teens as I felt self-conscious about my body and the changes young women go through. I felt the burden of body image when I was growing up and this completely took away my love of swimming; almost 15 years passed without me getting into the pool.  

Whilst I'm certainly not the fastest person in the water, it has come more naturally than any sport I've ever done and I've progressed quickly under the wing of a female swim coach at my tri club who constantly supports and encourages me. I still feel terrified in the washing machine style triathlon starts, I often don't have the mental strength to cope with the thrashing and kicking. Previously I've placed myself towards the back to avoid the turmoil which has hampered my swim times. During COVID with the staggered swim starts and having more space in the water I've had the chance to find my race pace and ended up placing at two local events over the summer. 

When it comes to running, the Winter lockdowns have been hard on my outdoor training. The shorter days and the quiet streets of the second lockdown have really impacted my running as I often feel frightened to go outside in the dark. On runs during the pandemic I've been chased, had my hair pulled (this happened during the day!) and been shouted at - it all impacts you mentally, especially when you're doing your best to motivate yourself through winter. I now don't venture very far from the same 900m loop which I run over and over. 

So there definitely are biases I've felt, particularly connected to my gender, but I've always tried to challenge this. Change needs to come from all areas of our triathlon community. From the group rides, to the kit suppliers, to the race organisers and the broadcasters. I’m constantly pleased to see more and more women sharing the start line with me and seeing my friends and fellow female athletes celebrate their successes. 

I'm extremely privileged to have a lot of support at home and from friends and this always makes me think how much harder it must be to get into cycling, swimming or triathlon without this backing. My Triathlon club Greenwich Tritons are wonderful. We have an almost equal gender split and I have the chance to learn from some incredible women as well as a lot of support from everyone else in our club. I’m also coached through the Girls Run the World online platform and having spaces like these have allowed me to fall in love with triathlon and cycling. 

I enjoy writing, and a few years ago started my own blog. I’ve had a lot of help from friends and been asked a lot of questions as I got more and more into triathlon and swimming, cycling and running individually. I started to focus on writing blogs to break down the jargon barriers and fear of the unknown. My mission is to promote women in sport, but also encourage new athletes regardless of gender to get involved by creating a safe space with easy to digest information. For International Women’s Day this year, I’ve been using my blog to feature the stories of women from across our sporting community, from Olympic athletes to amateur runners and everyone in between. I firmly believe we rise by lifting others, and whilst we may be competitors on race day, we’re united in challenging stereotypes and supporting each other. 

Discover more about Becca on her blog and Instagram.

Search