This week, we're proud to share this post by Ellen Maude, who writes at Mauderunner and shared her story of running Rim to Rim to Rim at the Grand Canyon on this week's podcast.
Ellen is by no means an impostor: she's the ultra running, mountain crushing real deal. She's also a mom in her 50s, and her post speaks to the challenges that come along with being all of those things. "Impostor syndrome", or the sense that you don't belong or are inadequate to be doing what you're doing, is often something that's thought of as an individual deficiency to be overcome. But as Ellen points out eloquently here, it's also something that culture manufactures by repeated subtle digs - in this case against moms who are active in the outdoor endurance world.
I’ve been hearing about impostor syndrome a lot recently. And I’m pissed off about it! What is impostor syndrome? It’s when people don’t feel like they belong doing what they’re doing. They’re too slow, too fat, too female, too old to be credible in their endeavors, and since I read a lot about outdoor life and recreation, I hear about it most in that context. I’m too [fill in the blank] to join that group for a run/hike/climb/etc. or to even just be out there.
On a women-only outdoor page on Facebook, a woman shared a selfie and said, “I hate this picture of myself ’cause I look fat, but look at that view!” Or you read about Mirna Valerio and the crap that’s said to her. Or how many messages come in to a women’s running club inbox asking, “Is it OK to come if I’m slow? I’m afraid I’ll hold people back.”
It’s ridiculous! And insulting … and pervasive … and unacceptable! And that’s not OK!
So where does it come from?
Well, let me give you a few examples. They’re my own examples, and they happened recently. And I’m still so riled up that I’m pounding on my keyboard as I type!
Here’s one. I walk into the packet pickup room for Black Canyon 100K and head straight to the line for the bibs for the 100K. Guy behind the table asks, “60K?” FU. No, I’m here to do the goddamn 100K. He doesn’t engage in discussion, just hands me my packet and looks away. Well, OK, so I’m not super-social either, and maybe overly sensitive, but I felt dismissed.
Microinequity. Unintended. But it hurt.
Here’s another one. I often run with a group of women—whose ages range from probably late-20s to mid-50s (I’m 52 for another three weeks) on Saturday mornings. This Saturday we got to talking about blogs, and I asked one woman whose blog I follow where she was hoping to go with it as she’s made some changes recently. She then asked me what I was hoping to accomplish with this blog.
“I think I just want people to know that you can be in your 50s, be a late-in-life parent to young kids, and still get out there and kill it,” was my response. In all honesty, I’m not sure that that was my initial vision, but it is kind of how I’m thinking about it lately.
She responded, “Oh wow, I was listening to this podcast, and it was all interviews with women 50 and older, and when I was listening to it I thought, ‘This is the women I run with!’ I’ll send you the link.” So, she sent me the link and it was all these interviews with women accepting that they need to slow down, carry less weight, smell the flowers, take more pictures. I barely got through 10 minutes of it.
Trust me, this woman is awesome and I consider her a very good friend. We’ve gone on amazing and hard adventures together. She has NEVER been demeaning or condescending. We talked about it later and she said, “What I’m taking away from this is that I have badass friends who aren’t allowing anything to dictate their ambitions.” Hell ya! Nobody should! Her message was so appreciated. Because I don’t want to hear about how being middle-aged means that I’m giving up! I hated that podcast because to me that was part of the message. Am I an impostor because I’m focused on staying strong and kicking ass as long as I can?!
Microinequity. Unintended. But it hurt.
And here’s the latest. On Sunday I was doing two laps on Cable Line Trail on West Tiger. Two laps (per my Garmin) = approximately 4,200 in 6.4 miles. I’m there with two friends, both women (one in her early 40s and one in her early 50s). After our first climb up, we’re headed back down and pass a group of four or five young men who are going up. We say, “Good morning!” They say, “Good morning!” And then one said, “Are you part of a club?” The three of us were like, um, that’s a weird question. But we say, “No, just running friends.” And the young man replied, “Oh, like a moms’ group?” Because clearly any group of middle-aged (ouch to even say that!) women can’t be out there kicking butt in the mountains … they must be moms out for bonding time.
Microinequity. Unintended. And clueless! But it hurt. And enraged us!
We then had a hell of a good time the rest of the way back down going on a rant about the time the male REI employee explained to one of us what “25% off clearance prices” meant—speaking very s-l-o-w-l-y as he did so—or the time we passed a man going up Cable Line, and he warned us not to go down the same way because it was way too treacherous for us.
Then we decided that if we were going to be labeled a “moms’ group,” we needed a name—so now we are the FUMs. Think about it.
We're inspired by Ellen's FUM conclusion, but as people who believe firmly that the outdoors is for all, her post also raises the wider question of how to shift culture so that the outdoor community becomes a place where there's less inequity, and where it's less infuriating to be someone who's not (let's be honest) a young, white dude.
There are a ton of great organizations that are working towards this goal, and in particular we'd encourage you to check out and support our friends at the Outdoor Women's Alliance - an organization promoting females across the age range through outdoor adventure.
And as always, if you like what we're doing here, we hope you'll consider becoming a part of our growing badass community of supporters on Patreon.
Tim and Angel
The goat in the picture lives in Silverton, CO, and tried to kill us. We survived to bring you this dirtbag wisdom for the ages.