London Marathon Joins Boston in Welcoming Nonbinary Runners

As the oldest annually contested marathon in the world, the Boston Marathon often sets standards in the world of running. So, when the Boston Athletic Association, the race’s organizer, announced this week that it would invite nonbinary athletes to compete next year without having to register in the men’s or women’s divisions, it sent a signal to runners like Cal Calamia.

“The Boston Marathon is the pinnacle of marathons,” said Calamia, 26, who won the nonbinary division of this year’s San Francisco Marathon. “So, to be heard by them is a sublime shift in the running community for trans and nonbinary athletes.”

The policy change immediately rippled across the sport. On Wednesday, the London Marathon added its name to a growing list of athletic events that would debut a nonbinary category. Participants will be able to register as nonbinary for its 2023 race.

And the Berlin Marathon will now allow athletes to update their profiles for this year’s race, on Sept. 25, to reflect their gender identity as nonbinary, according to a spokesperson for the World Marathon Majors, a series that includes the Berlin race. Nonbinary runners will have their identities reflected in this year’s results, and the race will formally add a nonbinary category for its 2023 registration.

On Wednesday, the London Marathon added its name to a growing list of athletic events that would debut a nonbinary category.Credit…Jonathan Brady/Press Association, via Associated Press

The Boston and London Marathons are also part of the World Marathon Majors, a collection of the six largest marathons in the world. They join the New York City Marathon, which added a nonbinary division in 2021, and the Chicago Marathon, which will feature a nonbinary category for the first time this year. The other race in the series, the Tokyo Marathon, has not announced a nonbinary field, according to the spokesperson.

Notably, the addition of nonbinary divisions in the major marathons, and in other road races, has so far been met with little public controversy, a stark contrast with the fierce political debate surrounding the inclusion of transgender athletes in sports.

At least 18 states have introduced restrictions on transgender sports participation in recent years. And in June, the world governing body for swimming effectively barred transgender women from the highest levels of women’s international competition, creating a separate category for such athletes.

Taking a different route, the major marathons and many other road races have allowed runners, including transgender runners, to register using the gender with which they identify. But until recently, athletes were asked to identify only as male or female.

Driven largely by conversations with nonbinary athletes, many of the marathons began discussions about adding a nonbinary category last year.

Jake Fedorowski, who uses they/them pronouns, helped spearhead the grass-roots movement last summer after attempting to sign up for a marathon.

“I was running races and coming up against a registration platform that asked me to identify as a man or woman,” said Fedorowski, 27. “I finally put my foot down and said, ‘You know what, I’m not going to give money to races that don’t affirm or celebrate my identity. If there’s a race I want to run, I’m going to reach out to the race director.’”

They did just that. “I wanted to register as myself,” Fedorowski told the organizer of a marathon in Eugene, Ore. last summer. The race added the option to register as a nonbinary runner for its 2023 event.

When the San Francisco Marathon included a nonbinary division for the first time this July, Calamia, who identifies as trans and nonbinary and uses he and they pronouns, jumped at the chance, even if they weren’t in peak marathon shape. They became the race’s first winner in the nonbinary division with a time of 3 hours.

Afterward, Calamia contacted the Boston Marathon.

Cal Calamia greeting fans after winning the nonbinary category of the Bay to Breakers race in San Francisco in May.Credit…Keeley Parenteau

“I have qualified in both the men’s and women’s standards, but I can’t register without my own set of standards,” Calamia recalled telling the Boston organizers. “How can I run this race when I have qualified for it fair and square?”

The conversations around inclusion led Fedorowski to create a collection of resources for runners and race organizers, including a database of races with nonbinary fields. By the beginning of this week, it included 228 races in the United States and 20 internationally.

The Boston Marathon’s new nonbinary division carries further significance because it includes qualifying standards. Many runners spend months, if not years, trying to hit Boston’s rigorous qualifying standards, which are based on age and gender. It’s the gold standard of marathon qualifying times.

To register for a slot in the Boston Marathon, women between 18 and 34 must have run another marathon in 3 hours 30 minutes, and men between 18 and 34 must meet a time standard of 3 hours. (The qualifying times increase as runners get older.)

When determining the qualifying times for nonbinary runners, Boston organizers said they tried to be transparent in the process, based on conversations with Calamia, Fedorowski and other nonbinary athletes. “We didn’t want to say, ‘Oh, we can’t do this in 2023, we’re not ready because we don’t have the data yet,’” Jack Fleming, the acting chief executive of the Boston Athletic Association, said.

Instead, the organizers announced that they would use the existing qualifying times for women as the standard for the nonbinary division, with plans to update the nonbinary qualifying times for future races as they collect more data.

Even with the nonbinary division established and the qualifying times laid out, more details would still need to be settled, runners said.

“There’s prize money, awards, division awards, regulations, the list goes on and on,” Fedorowski said. “So, I try to emphasize that it’s a critical step, and it’s very important, but that it’s a step.”

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