“At the pinnacle of athleticism, endurance records are won a few steps at a time. And almost entirely, they’re held by men.” ~Megan Michelson, 2014
This morning I asked my mom to dig my high school yearbook out of the attic and snap a photo of my senior picture. There I am, bold and unafraid, all dressed up in Telegraph Avenue bracelets and jeans I decorated myself. I made up my own senior quote: “Go do something crazy.” Thanks for the advice, younger self!
At the end of July, I’ll begin a run across my home state, accompanied by two friends, Maryam Khan and Noam Argov, who are really giving me the ultimate gift: supporting me in my quest to become the fastest known woman to run across California. The known is really key there - I’ve had a hard time finding stories of other women who have attempted this. If someone faster is out there and our efforts shine a light on the story of a woman before us, that will be a great outcome because these stories should be better known. My fastest known time (FKT) run is a supported, team effort, each of us with individual goals for the journey. We want ours to be a story of female camaraderie, of going for it, of empowering ourselves, and hopefully a few others in the process.
For me, a lot of what we’re doing does not feel extraordinary. I wanted to run across a state as a way to fill time between jobs, and California proved the least daunting given that it’s close to home. We won’t be sleeping on the side of the road, and our FKT goal is far from pushing the limits of what human beings can accomplish. I am deeply inspired by those who came before us - Jenn Shelton, Krissy Moehl and Bethany Lewis come to mind - and I am aware that my FKT, should we accomplish it, is far less herculean.
And yet, what we are doing out there, it will matter. What we are doing matters because of what we are a part of - a straw into the pile of legacy before us and a stepping stone for the legends that will come after us. I am proud to play a small part empowering women in sport. Women were not allowed to compete in the Olympic marathon until 1984. A known speed record for women on the Pacific Crest Trail did not exist prior to 2013. In trail and ultra distance running events, women make up less than 31% of participants, although we are making progress to change the ratio each year. If I’ve learned anything from my time working in tech, it’s that changing the ratio and fostering inclusion is hard, hard work. Making progress and creating change requires all of us.
On a more personal level, this run honors the spirit of my family and the visceral why-not-try-it impulse I feel in my blood when I strip away societally-constructed self-doubt. On my mother’s side, my great great great aunt was the first female doctor west of the Mississippi. On initial patient visits, she was often turned away as no one believed “girls” could be doctors. My maternal grandma pumped her first gas in her sixties and started a blog at age 80. Why not? It’s never too late. On my father’s side, my uncles ran across death valley as children, they lay on the freeway when it was closed for repaving just to say that they had, and they later became elite modern pentathletes earning Olympic and world championship medals. When my paternal grandfather first heard of a new innovation called SCUBA diving, he repurposed a fire extinguisher to try it out himself. Why not? Later in life, he ran marathons, forged a trail through the Canadian wilderness with his bare hands, and became the 80 and over national champion in the 100 yard freestyle swim. As a child, these were the stories that brightened my eyes and filled my heart with pride. These are the legacies that brought me up to be that bold 17 year old young woman, advocating for craziness as I stepped forward in the world.
So, I don’t want the story of this run to be one of braggadocio. I want this run to be a footnote in the story of women’s rise to the forefront of adventure sports, and an honoring of the accomplishments of female athletes who inspire me. I want this run to be an acknowledgement of the history from which I come, an exploration into what we can accomplish together, and a celebration of our love for this land, this state, and this sport.
We are going to do something crazy (just a little bit?)! Please join me in helping to tell these stories during the first week of August. My birthday is August 7th and I’d love nothing more than to hear from you! Follow us, support us, run with us, honor the women in your lives, and celebrate the crazy!
Ali Glenesk is an aspiring software engineer, former internet policy worker, fun-runner, and proud native Californian. For more, check her out here.