“I’m a lot of different things. Marathon runner. Transgender. Software engineer. Snowboarder. Photographer. Lover of all foods, but the spicier the better. Cat lover. Cat hater. Nerd. Whovian. Feminist. Recovering music snob. Wannabe activist. Frequent visitor to Disney World. Not quite financially well off enough to travel as much as I wish I could.” – Who is Amelia?
She.is.beautiful: How did you get into running?
Amelia: At first, it was just to get into shape. I hadn’t been very active in years and my girlfriend at the time had been bugging me to go run with her. She wasn’t an ultra serious runner or anything, but she did it a bit to try to stay in shape. Her and my roommate at the time also played in a regular pick-up soccer game each week. Eventually, they convinced me to start playing with them, but I felt grossly out of shape so I gave in to running as a way to fix that. After a few months of suffering through it, I started to enjoy running on its own. It became something I looked forward to and helped to clear my head. After a while, I stopped playing soccer and just focused on running regularly. It became a place of happiness and zen for me.
SIB: Where did the best run of your life (so far!) take place?
A: Oh gosh, this is so hard, I’ve had so many good runs in so many places. My best, though, would have to be Chicago Marathon 2016. I was nervous going into the race. It was my ninth marathon, but really wasn’t sure if my training was going to be enough to hit my goal. It was my first after coming back from surgery so my training was a bit different than normal. I ended up having a great race, though. It was about as close to flawless as you can have. I negative split and scored an 11-minute BQ and 16 minute PR while feeling strong and sticking to my race plan. It felt like the culmination of everything I had been working on for six years and it was at a race I love. I think this is the race that really proved to myself what I’m capable of.
SIB: Favorite post race meal?
A: There are a lot of foods I want to say, but the reality is I always go for a burger and fries after a marathon. I’ll go out to eat with plans for a burrito or something else, but as soon as I see a burger on the menu, that where my stomach goes. My one exception is after Chicago Marathon, we always go for deep dish pizza.
SIB: What is something you are scared to do, but kinda want to do anyways?
A: I would LOVE to do an Ironman one day. I’ve never done a triathlon before because I hate swimming. I know that’s the cliché from runners, but I’ve never enjoyed it. I can swim enough to not drown and from one end of a pool to the other, but I’m horribly inefficient and get really bad anxiety about it. Still, I want to try to practice and get better. My wife is a former competitive swimmer and has always said she’d help me learn to be a better swimmer. I think it’s just a matter of working up to dive in (pun always intended). I think after a sprint tri or two, a lot of my anxiety about it would relent. I just need to get to that point.
SIB: How has running helped shape your identity?
A: I hate to say that running is my identity, but it sort of is. It’s a thing I always want to talk about and I’m thinking about all the time. A lot of my friends are other runners so that doesn’t help me to escape the running bubble at all. I think most people just see me as “Amelia the annoying girl who won’t shut up about the marathon.” Sometimes the things we love become a part of who we are. And running is something that has given a lot back to me so I embrace its role in my life and in who I am.
SIB: What is the biggest misconception about trans women and running?
A: I think the biggest thing I see is people assume we have some sort of advantage or transitioned just so we could have an edge. Science and medicine are both of the consensus that trans women do not possess an advantage after having been on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for about a year. The additional muscle mass and strength goes away.
Testosterone is a really powerful hormone, but once you remove it a lot of the effects go away with it. The normal male range is over 300 ng/dL, whereas for women it’s around 20-70 ng/dL. Mine is 3 ng/dL so I’m significantly below what even most cisgender women have. This means I have to work harder to build and maintain strength.
Of course, these numbers vary a lot from person to person and not all trans women are as low as I am, but a trans woman on HRT is not going to have the same level of testosterone as she had prior to transitioning.
It’s typical to see drops in times of 10% or more. Studies and research have shown that transgender women tend to compete at roughly the same level compared to other women as they did against men prior to transition. In my own experience, this has proven to be pretty accurate. I run, on average, about 45-60 seconds per mile slower at any given effort level now. And that’s after a lot of work to get to even that. For a while, it was even more.
SIB: What are your thoughts on all women’s races? Does the benefit of having a place where women feel “safe” and can celebrate a gender that has been marginalized through time outweigh the cost of being an environment that leaves out those that don’t identify with a binary gender?
A: Personally, I like women’s only races. They feel not only safe, but also full of so much camaraderie. They feel like a place where women can come together, be strong, and be themselves without being overshadowed by men. It’s not about excluding people, but it’s about finding something that is ours in a world that feels as though nothing is for us.
However, I do not like the idea of casting out other “non-men” who might not be women. I think it’s important that these races are inclusive of anyone who is not a man and wants to take part. Unfortunately, simply calling them “women’s” races makes this a little difficult and may make some feel excluded, even if they are explicitly invited to participate. I don’t know what the right answer here is, it could be to use the language of “women and non-binary athletes.”
SIB: How has or has not the running industry and running community been inclusive of LGBTQ+ persons?
A: From what I’ve seen, very few people in the running community care one way or the other about the LGBQ part of the LGBTQ community. When it comes to trans people, there are the concerns I mentioned above about our participation in sport as our true genders, but my personal experience has been pretty fantastic. I’ve found the running community to be extremely welcoming and inclusive to me. I attribute a lot of this to living in a more liberal part of the country, but even online, the community has been great. There, of course, have been some people online who haven’t been as welcoming, but they’ve always felt like a loud minority.
When I was on the cover on Women’s Running, the response was much less negative than I anticipated. A lot of people were incredibly supportive. Those who were not were pretty quickly shutdown (by) my allies. I felt wanted and included when strangers online would come to my defense.
I think it’s important, however, for me to recognize the privilege I have from being a rather cisnormative trans person whom most people don’t even realize is transgender at first. I get to fly under the radar a lot. Online, I’m very vocal about trans equality, but I think I’ve been able to present a lot of that alongside personal connection and my own humanity as a person. I try to connect with people in human ways so when I do talk about equality, I’m doing so from the inside rather than on the outside looking in. It certainly isn’t the only way to do it, but this has worked for me and has been the way in which I’ve felt most impactful.
I think the running community still has a long way to go with things like the language we use, but I’ve seen a lot of people trying to be better and more inclusive here. I have more hope for the running community than I do for society as a whole.
SIB: What has been your personal high and low as a woman in this community?
A: My low has been having to adjust to existing as woman in the world. The stares, comments, and cat calls while running were all something I had to get used to and learn to ignore while still being cognizant of my safety. I also had to stop running at night because I didn’t feel safe. I used to not have to think about these things affecting me and it was a big adjustment having how strangers would treat me while I was just out for a run be a thing to consider.
As a high, I have to be honest, it was the Women’s Running cover. I was so nervous about it and almost turned it down, but I’m so glad I said yes. It wasn’t just about feeling badass, but it was hearing from all the people who felt like they belonged and could exist in the world because of it. I don’t like to be called inspirational, but I know that seeing a transgender athlete on the cover of a women’s magazine was a big deal for a lot of other trans folk. Having an opportunity to put good into the world is all I could ask for.