Over the last two weekends I have been luckily enough to take part in two great events that have been on my to-do list for some time. Firstly I did a mountain marathon in the Lake District and then followed it up last weekend by cycling the Etape du Tour.
The Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon (SLMM) is a two-day mountain navigation event mainly comprised of teams of two who have to get between checkpoints in the fastest possible time. It’s self-supported meaning you have to carry tent and food, and the terrain is pretty challenging. L’Etape du Tour is a mass participation cyclosportive event that allows amateur cyclists to race over the same route as a Tour de France stage, this year in the French Alps. It takes place on closed roads and refreshments are provided en route.
They were both superb experiences that I will treasure for some time. Excepting the obvious (one is a long fell run, the other a cycling event), fundamentally they are quite similar – both are competitive endurance events in mountainous regions that involve significant distances and substantial amounts of climbing. Both present great challenges for mind and body, and require participants to overcome the conditions and the terrain. (The Lakes were typically cold and wet, the Alps scorchingly hot!)
|11 hrs 36 mins
|5 hrs 58 mins
|Number of participants
Where they appeared to differ significantly, was in the people competing in them. Although much smaller, the SLMM attracted people from a wide range of demographics – there were men and women of all ages, from teenagers to people in their 70s. It was great to see fathers competing with their daughters for example. The Etape by contrast seemed to pull from a very narrow section of society – just 5% of finishers were women, most were your typical Middle-Aged (and middle-class) Men in Lycra, me included. And both events lacked any racial diversity too – they was barely a non-white face to be seen.
The gulf in numbers shows they are very different events – the SLMM is niche, the Etape the London Marathon of cycling – and while I don’t pretend they are representative of their sport, the do point to issues that both face. Cycling, especially at the more competitive end, remains largely the preserve of people who can afford the equipment. Many women are still put off by the culture and risks of cycling in urban and rural areas. Running, while intrinsically more accessible, often fails to project a positive image to make it more appealing. Cycling has succeeded in recent years to do this far more effectively, partially through its association with Olympic and Tour success.
I was fortunate to take part in two superbly organised events in two of the most beautiful parts of the world. I hope that in coming years all sport becomes more accessible both in the fundamentals and formats of the individuals sports and the way it is promoted to new audiences. If and when I do these competitive events, and others, in future I hope this change is reflected in the range of people taking part.