ANTELOPE ISLAND — On Nov. 10, Caroline Wallace completed the Antelope Island 50K, crossing the finish line as the first-place female.
The satisfaction of running the course faster than any other woman there was more than enough for the 26-year-old. The deal was sweetened, however, when she was awarded $180 for the win — the most given to anyone on the course, including the men.
In an effort to bring attention to the gender wage gap, race director Jim Skaggs decided to award the top female finishers 20 percent more than the top male finishers, due to reports of women across the U.S. on average earning 80 percent of what men make — a number that is widening in some states, according to recent reports.
When it comes to competitive races, many organizers offer male winners significantly more in prizes, and some even have the awards go deeper on the male side than the female side.
This difference in prize money didn’t come as a surprise to the competitors, however. In a pre-race email, Skaggs let the runners know that the top three men would receive $150, $100 and $75 respectively, whereas the women would receive $180, $120 and $90. The top male finishers of the half marathon would receive $100, $60 and $40, and the top females would receive $120, $100 and $75.
In the email to runners, Skaggs wrote the following: “Why more for the women? Women typically get paid 80 percent of what men do in this country, for the same work. This is my little effort to make up for that shortfall. If you have issues with that, I’ll be happy to discuss them with you.”
The Antelope Island 50K, which is part of the Buffalo Run Adventures series, has been going on for 10 years. Both the half-marathon and 50K take runners throughout trails on Antelope Island, often running among buffalo who roam the area. And whether you finish on the podium or not, you are awarded with a mug that you can fill with what Skaggs calls, “Buffalo Chili,” offering a vegetarian option as well.
The awards for the top finishers — especially this year — was a welcomed addition.
Wallace, who works as a real estate agent, was impressed by the move Skaggs made this year.
“When I found out about the prize purse, I thought how rad it was that Jim decided to do that,” she said. “It's awesome to see a local race director step it up and offer equal prize money — in this case, more than equal — to the female competitors. If smaller races can do it, so can the bigger races that have significantly more resources to do so. There's just no excuse.
"It doesn't make sense to have any inequality in what the top athletes in sporting events make for putting in equally as much effort. To me, it is confirmation that things are changing. As time goes on, and more and more people continue to express their dissatisfaction with the inequality in prize purses in sports — not just limited to running — I believe we will see even more races doing this.”
Lacey Larson who finished third in the half marathon also thought highly of what Skaggs did.
“When I saw Jim’s email with his justification for the prize money, I was touched and emailed him back right then thanking him for his efforts,” Larson said. “This is a perfect example of someone using his platform and voice to help create change on an issue he feels strongly about. It’s a great example to the runners, some of whom might be business owners, and to other race directors.
"I was happy, and humbled, to be one of the recipients of the Mountain View Half Marathon prize purse that Jim referred to as ‘lunch money,’ but at least I know my lunch will be as good as the guys’."
Larson said she saw not only women, but also men who appreciated the change in prize money at the race, and that many of the male runners she had talked to were sharing the email with their families and friends to promote the cause.
One male runner who appreciated Skaggs' efforts was Mike McMonagle, who finished in first place.
“I think it’s fantastic that he did that for the top women,” McMonagle said. “It’s a small way to make up for a large scale inequality that exists in our culture and also on a smaller scale in the realm of ultrarunning.
"There is a kind of cyclic argument around female participation in ultrarunning. Some races award top females less because it is less competitive. But if it’s less competitive, it’s because not as many females participate. So offering less prize money to women is only going to perpetuate that lower participation rather than encourage higher participation and therefore more competition. So I love what Jim did at Antelope Island, and I’d love to see that happen even more.”
Skaggs who has received both praise and flak for his efforts, has another, much more personal reason for what he did.
“It really has bothered me to know that women can be, and are, paid less for the same effort as men simply because of their gender,” Skaggs said. “I don’t want that to happen to my daughter or two granddaughters. I want them to be treated equally. This is just a small effort to remedy that issue.”