Today out on the trails I got passed by a woman. It doesn’t happen very often, but somehow I’m always embarrassed when it does. Based on my finish in last year’s half-marathon, about 15 percent of women half-marathoners are faster than me. Of course, not everyone out for a morning jog is training for a half-marathon.
I say I was passed by a woman, but this looked more like a girl to me. She was most likely a college student, but she didn’t look much older than Nora. That said, Nora has a (14-year-old) friend who does 6-minute miles in cross-country. The last time I ran a 6-minute mile was in college. Of course, there are 40-year-old men who run 6-minute miles, but they were probably doing them in 4:45 in college.
So, why does it bother me? Perhaps it’s because running is one of the things I think I’m pretty good at. I’m better than most guys my age, and so I think I should be better than all women. There was a woman who played soccer with us last year, a member of Davidson’s college team. Needless to say, she completely dominated me on the soccer field, and this didn’t bother me at all. I don’t think of myself as very good at soccer.
I don’t mind the fact that Greta makes more money than me because I’m doing basically what I want with my career, and she’s doing what she wants. That’s great. I would mind if I wasn’t happy with my career, but it wouldn’t be a gender thing: I’d simply be unhappy because I wasn’t doing what I wanted. And I wouldn’t want Greta to be unhappy in a job but feel she had to keep it because of the money.
It’s looking an awful lot like my embarrassment at getting passed by a woman is some vestige of sexism. And maybe that’s all it is. But I think it’s more like a sort of frustration — evidence that I’m not as fast as I used to be, or as I could be if I was more disciplined. This woman was probably running about 8-minute miles. I can run 8-minute miles on a good day. If she had blazed by me at a 6-minute pace I think I probably would have just thought to myself “wow! she’s really fast!”
But since her speed seemed attainable to me — since, in fact, nearly all of the time when a woman passes me, she’s running at a speed I think I should be able to match — that’s where the embarrassment came from. I think.