Winter Is Coming: The Female Quota for IB and The Game of Thrones

“Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armour, and it can never be used to hurt you.” – Tyrion Lannister

Inward Bound is an ANU tradition where students are systematically blindfolded, shuttled on a bus, and at dark, dropped in undisclosed parts of the greater Canberra region. It is a sport which is ripe for epic fantasy adventure metaphoric pickings: four friends, in the woods, and a quest for the Sports Shield.

The trial is to discern your location and navigate your way to a certain UTM coordinate, where fair maidens and college lads wait anxiously, preparing hot chocolates and barbeques for your arrival. I have heard many a spectator express the desire to one day participate – but I can assure you that there is nothing glamorous about holding your shit in for 35–120 kilometres.

Why are there so few female IB runners?
It was only in 1967 that Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, hiding the fact that she was a woman by pinning her race bib to a baggy grey sweater. Midway, she was harassed and chased by race officials. They insisted that she cease running because she was a woman, and women were not allowed to formally compete, because they were too fragile for long distance running.

We’ve come a long way since then, even in the microcosm of ANU. In 2015, six out of eight colleges (Griffin, Burgmann, Johns, B&G, Ursies and UniLodge) had women running in divisions 1–3 (distances between 70–120km). Division 1 was even won by B&G with Alexandra Grant!

Less than a week ago, a motion was passed by the Interhall Sports Organisation to set a minimum quota for female participants: 5 out of 28 runners from each college in 2016 must be female. Some colleges opposed this when it was first proposed in October last year, arguing that there wasn’t enough skill and interest from their female residents.

If the quota were imposed last year, Burgmann and Johns would have failed to meet it, or would have had to change their team composition in order to comply. (NB: UniLodge would have met the quota proportionally, because they only entered 6 of 7 divisions.)

I don’t blame them. I’m not surprised that women are reluctant to run IB.

I still remember being a first year, and being the slowest in a male dominated pack, taking three little hops for their every stride, and thinking: “I must keep up even if it kills me, or I’ll never make the team.” Even now, my best friend and fellow IB coach can runs laps around me with relative ease (despite the fact that his primary form of training is standing at his homemade sit-stand desk).

It’s hard not to feel like a dead weight, especially when somehow, years later, they’ve made you head coach of the squad, but you still managed to be outrun by your overenthusiastic first year recruits. I’ve learned to not take it too hard – a 153-centimetre-tall human can only go so fast.

The strange thing is, I’ve begun to take pleasure in being beaten by the testosterone fuelled speed of my male counterparts. After two IBs, dozens of mock drops, hundreds of training runs, I’ve begun to understand my worth: come 6am, when everyone else’s spirits are drained, it’ll just be me, chirping away about my favourite jelly bean flavours, insisting that my teammates try the white one (it’s coconut!).

“Valar morghulis.” – Missandei
“Yes. All men must die, but we are not men.” – Daenerys Targaryen

‘Winter is coming’
Inward Bound in 2016 has been moved from late March to 14–15 October. As it approaches winter, snowfall in common training areas such as Namagi National Park and Corin Forest becomes more likely. Colleges that will be training at night, in the middle of winter should be extra vigilant, and ensure runners are equipped with adequate cold weather gear and space blankets.

I’m not worried though. This is our home turf, and like House Stark of Winterfell, my largely townie squad has braved a lifetime of the freezing Canberra cold.

What are the other coaches saying?

Siobhan Tobin, coach at Bruce in 2015
“I am all for the quota, wish it was higher! I was surprised to hear some opposition initially to the quota from Johns and Burgmann. Now that there is, I think they will make a concerted effort to source some great women capable of long distance running and navigation, and train them thoroughly. Both of these colleges do brilliantly at female sports such as netball, they have a large base of fit women! Every residence has a gender balance, and each year we take male AND female runners from zero to IB hero at Bruce. It takes just as much effort from coaches to support males as it does females (and let’s face it, everyone in between). In the future perhaps more ex-ressie places if they are girls is an ok idea. This is positive reinforcement and also serves to provide heaps of role-models for girls thinking about the event for the future.”

Sarah Lefevre, head coach at Unilodge in 2015
“I think the girl quota is a great idea and will encourage more girls to get involved. Unilodge always has more difficulty with numbers (regardless of gender) but girl participation is one of our key focuses this year. I’ll be coaching again as an ex ressie.”

Thomas Body, head coach of Griffin in 2015
I was super stoked to see the quota pass – I think it’s a great way to encourage all members of each college’s community to get involved and train for IB. Many of the female runners who have trained with the squad have have shown tremendous stamina, steadfastness and dedication. Particularly as trainings get longer and repeat-training weariness sets in, it is spirit rather than speed that sees runners persevere to the end. The quota will mean squads proactively encourage and train runners who might be overlooked in earlier short runs, and I believe that this will result in squads which are tougher, adaptive, and fairer.

Alexandra Grant, coach at B&G in 2015
“I am definitely in favour of the girl quota. I think there should be a big effort from all the colleges to encourage and support female participation. I hope that colleges view the quota as a minimum benchmark but aim to exceed the number and get as many girls involved as possible. I know that B&G will have no problem filling five spaces. I will be one of the female coaches for B&G this year alongside Hannah Johnson who also ran last year.”