How Ultrarunner Mirna Valerio is fighting for ‘pace inclusivity’ so no runner is left behind

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MMarathon and ultramarathon runner Mirna Valerio wanted to kick off Thanksgiving Day by doing what she loves: running. So while many of us were getting ready to just avoid awkward family conversations and consuming several yam dishes, Valerio was getting ready for a turkey trot race.

She didn’t get the stimulating finish she was hoping for. Valerio runs at what is considered a slower spot, between 13 and 17 minutes. She was the last person to finish the race, which was fine with her – a finish is a finish! Except that as she stepped off the mat that marked the end of the race, she heard a loud tearing of duct tape – the sound of the finish line mat rolling back up.

“It totally destroyed the moment, having that kind of sacred moment interrupted by the sound of the carpet being torn apart,” Valerio says. “Couldn’t they have waited 10 more seconds?”

Valerio, unfortunately, repeatedly experienced this lack of what she calls “rhythm inclusiveness.” Pace inclusiveness means considering all runs in progress, no matter how fast or slow. And that means designing and running races to suit all paces. So no insulting and embarrassing finish line pull-ups, no breaking down water points and markers before everyone else has passed them, no runners giving up to find their own way to the line of arrival.

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Valerio says many races even call themselves “pace-inclusive,” but still engage in these demoralizing practices. In pre-GPS days, Valerio sometimes had to meander through the woods, looking for the right path, as road signs were removed and race worker guides removed from their stations and sent back to base camp.

“They don’t think anything slower than a 10-minute or 11-minute mile counts as a run, so they’ll let you,” Valerio says. “I’ve been abandoned so many times.”

Promoting inclusivity in running is one of the reasons Valerio signed up for one of its most ambitious runs: the lululemon FURTHER initiative. On March 8, International Women’s Day 2024, Valerio and nine other women will begin a six-day ultramarathon. There is no imposed distance, but the objective is to run as far as possible during these six days.

Other FURTHER attendees include world record holder Camille Herron, surgeon-turned-professional ultrarunner Stefanie Flippin, Women of Distance podcast host Devon Yanko, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competitor Vriko Kwok (a running novice) , among various runners around the world.

A group of women in black running clothes on a peach background.
lululemon FURTHER runners
Photo: lululemon

The FURTHER initiative also includes a research component, in which lululemon and the Canadian Sports Institute Pacific will study female participants, with the goal of publishing research on female body performance in endurance sports, as part of of a broader effort to close the research gap on women. sports performance science.

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“I have my personal goal for how many miles I want to run, (although) that may change over the next nine months,” says Valerio. “But I also really want to be a beacon for people who need to see me. And even for people who never want to see me race, I have to be a beacon for them too.

“I also really want to be a beacon for people who need to see me. And even for those who never want to see me race, I have to be a beacon for them too.” —Mirna Valerio

Valerio is taller, black and a mother in her 40s. She says she may not be what people imagine when they think “runner”, but she wants to demonstrate that she is also what a runner looks like. Lululemon helps reinforce that image by working with Valerio to design a race kit for racing that meets Valerio’s specific needs. They asked her what she needed and how they could create something better, and then designed clothes that really fit her. “I don’t pull him up. I don’t push him down,” she says.

This was not always the case. “I just think about how many times in the past I had to wear men’s clothes that didn’t fit properly,” Valerio says. “We weren’t considered serious athletes, so no one made serious sportswear for us in our serious pursuits. But now it’s phenomenal to work with lululemon. I am part of the adjustment process, the ideation process.

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Valerio faces his share of criticism for not conforming to typical racing standards, whether it’s comments about his body or his pace. But the way racing feeds her body and soul is what keeps her moving. And she hopes she can help others — who might face internal criticism or doubts — tap into their inner runner as well.

“It’s really hard to counter those images and thoughts because that’s all we’ve been covered with,” Valerio says. “We see a very particular picture, or an ambitious picture, let’s call it, of who the runners are or how fast a runner should run. But we all know that’s just some kind of lofty ideal that has nothing to do with us. Be your own aspirational ideal.

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