Jake Fedorowski was tired of feeling “like a Petri dish.”
With their newfound identification as non-binary came the desire to ensure they were properly represented in all facets of their life, including a near and dear space they routinely participated in: the sport of running.
Registering in an open or unspecified division on race day just wasn’t going to cut it anymore. And while progress was being made in the world of racing to go further than the expected drop-down selection for men or women, more needed to be done to ensure that those outside of those two gender identities felt properly represented. For Federowski, action quickly followed desire.
Fedorowski began to question race directors, asking what needed to be done in order to make this happen. And while they seemed eager to put in the work, they’d all respond with a similar answer: “We have no idea where to start.”
That’s where The Guide to Non-Binary Inclusion in Running comes into play.
What started off as a quick email soon expanded into a much larger project that the 26-year-old would take on, becoming a vessel to deliver necessary information to those individuals interested in properly creating a more, inclusive and accepting industry for non-binary athletes (and for all participants and allies involved).
We talked to Fedorowski leading up to the release of their guide to hear what it took to create the 24-page resource, available at NonBinaryRunning.com, and the immediate change they hope to see from all the work they’ve put in.
Was there a specific race in mind or moment during a signup that broke the camel's back?
Well, it was two races. The Seattle Frontrunners were always looking for the local, Pacific Northwest races that we could go to as a contingent and there was [the] Eugene Marathon in Eugene, Oregon last May. Everyone was going down to do this race, and it was just male/female divisions for men and women. That was the first race that I reached out to the race director and said, “Hey, can we work on this?” Now, my goal is to circle back and be like, “Remember that conversation we had? Let’s figure this out.”
At the same time, the other race I was registered for was Grandma’s Marathon up in Duluth, Minnesota. I’m originally from Minnesota so this is kind of my hometown race. I had registered for it in 2020, but with the pandemic, everything was delayed and pushed back. At the time, I was registered under the men’s division, but when it came time to race in 2022, I’d made a promise to myself that I’ll no longer register as a division I don’t identify with. I contacted the race director and he was like, “Yes, we have had conversations about this, and now that we know there is a non-binary person looking to participate, it’s all the more fuel to make this happen.” And the conversation ended there, they went off on their own, and I got a call a few months ago from the race director telling me, “We did it, it’s happening.” It’ll be the first time Grandma’s has this division. I brought the issue to them and they ran with it, which is great.
I’ve got family and friends that are hopefully going to be there, so it’s an exciting moment for Grandma’s, and also for myself.
Not having a non-binary category sounds like it could be due to a lack of resources, but it also sounds like laziness. Did someone explain to you the exact ins and outs of what needed to be done for this to happen? Is it really that extensive?
One is budget. Another division means more awards, more prizes. Sure, but also if you have another division, you have more participants and more registration. And if you implement a non-binary division, I would bet you money that a whole new group of sponsors would come flocking to your race. Think of all the LGBTQ+ non-profits or organizations that … you’ll just get so much more support by opening up your races to include all gender identities and participants.
Two is the issue of participants. Race directors are concerned we’re not going to have enough people, and what if we have no one in this certain age group? The answer is that’s not a problem. We know from history when women’s divisions were first created, you didn’t have the same amount of people as you did with the men’s divisions. It’s something that’s going to have to gain some traction, but the only way to get to a place where, hopefully, the Olympics and these other platforms have this, is by us working with the local and national races to build up a non-binary field. The participation thing shouldn’t matter, and if you’re worried about age groups, don’t have them. Just say here are the non-binary overall participants, there’s this many of them.
There’s the system, and adding into the registration and timing platforms. A lot of races use different companies—like RunSignUp. Race Roster, Hawku—that have already done this work. It’s very easy as you’re creating the race in their platform to check the box for non-binary participants. It took some time for them to go into the system and rework some of the coding because so much is based on the binary world so it took time. But that work is done, and it’s possible to do. So any race that uses those platforms, I don’t understand why they wouldn’t add this division yet. If a race is doing it internally, they had to go through and do it all on their own. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity, and a great moment to show the industry that you’re committed to this work and to make this change.
The release of your guide is bound to make waves across the running industry, but prior to its release, did you take note of how many organizations have a non-binary division?
To my knowledge, the first race that implemented this was the Philadelphia Distance Run. That was in… March of 2021? So it’s been about a year. We’ve seen it with a major race like New York City Marathon—NYRR is doing it across all of their races, which is super exciting—we’re seeing it with the Seattle Marathon, Grandma’s—there’s a few. We’re still missing some: Chicago Marathon, Boston.
We’ve seen progress over the last 12 to 18 months, but I think with this guide, my goal and what I’m banking on once this goes out there, is with the year of progress we’ve had combined with a resource, all races should be flocking to do this. This should just be the norm. I think it’ll be interesting to see, but it’s hard to track. If a race is with RunSignUp, for example, technically you can register for that race as a non-binary participant, but the issue is the race itself has to establish a division. If the race doesn’t establish a division, sure, I can register as non-binary participant, but I still have to pick a men’s or women’s division. That defeats the purpose.
We’re getting there, but it’s going to take some time.
What was your specific process for making such an extensive guide? And why pick this moment, right now, to have it ready for release?
Speaking with the race director from Eugene kicked it off, and that conversation was in November of last year. From around November through January is when the big conversations were had. It was 30+ with everyone from Frontrunners around the world to organizations like OUTrun, Athlete Ally, USATF; I really tried to get every corner of the industry. What I was doing with a lot of that was just making notes and preparing myself. Instead of thinking of a guide right away, I was just trying to soak up as much knowledge about the topic as I could. As I was taking all these notes and having these conversations, that’s when it clicked for me. I should create this resource.
Will people have to pay to access the guide?
It’ll be available for free, and any race can have it. There are some races out there that have a large following with a lot of participants, and they’re the larger events we all know of. How can I partner with these races to make sure they’re bringing the solutions in this guide to life, and they’re really setting an example for all races to show this work can be done? We’ve seen it happen with New York, we’ve seen it happen with Seattle and Philly. These are places that have put in the effort. Now there’s no excuse, here’s something that lays out all the answers to your questions.
I think the obvious goal from this guide is to get more inclusion and representation in the running community for those that identify as non-binary. What other changes do you want to see happen?
I imagine the sport of running gets to a place where every individual can show up at the starting line of a race as their full authentic self. I want the next person who identifies as non-binary, as trans, whatever it may be, to show up knowing they are welcome, and have a space at that race.
I think there’s a lot of work to be done beyond the non-binary inclusion efforts, but I’ve had a lot of conversations with people about why we’re assigning gender to the way that we classify or categorize the sport of running, or any sport for that matter. There really isn’t an answer. We should be able to remove gender identity from the conversation, and we should focus more on ability. Or can it be based on a pace group? Can it be based on estimated finishing times? In order to get people to start to think about removing gender from the equation, the non-binary participants are going to help lead the way in that.
In order to open up people’s minds about being more inclusive to non-binary people, you really need to start opening your mind to gender being a spectrum. It’s a very large, beautiful, far off goal, but I want to see every race be able to create this division…I think that having a resource is only going to add fuel to that movement.
Let’s do the work and make it happen.
This interview has been condensed for content and clarity.