Races Have Begun to Add Nonbinary Divisions. But Is That Enough?

The Brooklyn Marathon & Half Marathon was one of the first races to offer equal prize money across three gender categories.

brooklyn marathon and half marathon, nonbinary divisions at road races
Michael LeBrecht / Courtesy of NYCRUNS

Winter Parts had never broken the tape at a race before. That is, until the 24-year-old astrophysics Ph.D. student crossed the finish line first for nonbinary runners in the half marathon at the NYCRUNS Brooklyn Marathon & Half Marathon on April 24.

Parts’ goal was to run 1:10, but “I was too ambitious at the start,” they told Runner’s World. “I wasn’t ready to keep up that pace, but it was still really cool to be able to come into the finish and break the tape.” They completed the 13.1-mile course in 1:12:48.

In the marathon, which occurred simultaneously, 24-year-old public health masters student Jake Caswell emerged victorious in the nonbinary division with a finish time of 2:35:17.

A former 800-meter runner, Caswell was humbled by the race distance, as this was their first marathon, but crossing the line in the number-one spot meant more to them than a competitive time: “Winning as my own authentic self was very gratifying… It felt really good to be a part of a division that’s starting to become legitimized,” they said.

The nonbinary and gender nonconforming division is a recent addition to a historically binary sport. When you sign up for a marathon or other race, there are typically only two genders to choose from. But last year, the Philadelphia Distance Run became the first major road race to add nonbinary as a gender choice.

“Nonbinary inclusivity is a human right, and I believe that a lot of people in the racing industry agree with that sentiment,” Philadelphia Distance Run co-race director Ryan Callahan told Runner’s World last year. “But most race directors and organizers just throw their hands up and say, ‘it’s too complicated.’”

According to Steve Lastoe, founder of NYCRUNS, adding the nonbinary option for the Brooklyn Marathon & Half Marathon was “super easy.”

Parts felt affirmed seeing the third option upon signing up for the Brooklyn Marathon & Half Marathon: “It always sucks to have that little bit of dysphoria when I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m just gonna have to pick one of these boxes.’ It felt great to sign up, and be like, ‘Okay, I don’t have to pick between those two.’”

Equal Prize Money for Nonbinary Athletes

The Brooklyn Marathon & Half Marathon also provided equal prize money across all three divisions, becoming one of the first road races to do so. For their victories, Caswell and Parts earned $5,000 each for winning (Caswell notched another $5,000 as a bonus for being a New York City resident).

But in order for the nonbinary or gender nonconforming Brooklyn Marathon & Half Marathon winners to get the cash, they had to finish under a certain standard—below 1:15 for the half and 2:45 for the marathon—which were also the elite entry standards (which allows athletes complimentary entry and a place in the elite corral). Lastoe said the NYCRUNS team simply split the difference between the male and female entry standards, though they let in anyone who could justify their qualifications with race results, even if they missed these specific times.

Caswell critiqued these standards: “The way that they decided to do the nonbinary standards… situated in between the men and the women’s standards… kind of perpetuates the stereotype that nonbinary and gender nonconforming individuals fall within the spectrum, within this middle ground.”

brooklyn marathon and half marathon
Jake Caswell won the nonbinary division of the Brooklyn Marathon.
Michael LeBrecht / Courtesy of NYCRUNS

Lastoe admitted that determining standards was difficult, especially because neither USATF nor other running governing bodies have firm standards in place for nonbinary athletes. The NYCRUNS team went with what they thought was best at the time.

“I’m not an elite athlete, nor am I particularly engaged in that world,” Lastoe said. “That’s a thorny problem, particularly in a sport that is both locally rooted and on the largest international platforms. So I don’t know who solves that problem—but I hope it gets easier.”

Caswell believes that once more races start to add nonbinary fields and more nonbinary runners sign up, standards will become clearer. For example, The New York Road Runners officially added nonbinary divisions to their races and set the entry standards equal to the women’s, which Caswell believes to be a good compromise for now.

Creating an Even More Inclusive Race Environment for Nonbinary Athletes

Caswell and Parts addressed another issue that’s not as simple to solve—they heard at least one instance of the Brooklyn Marathon & Half Marathon announcer misgendering a competitor. For Parts, it’s particularly difficult to see others misgendered based on assumptions about what male or female look like.

While neither Caswell or Parts experienced any misgendering from announcers in Brooklyn, they have from spectators in the past. Now, Parts races with a big they/them printed on their singlet.

“This is a societal change that needs to happen. But it’s tough to see that I can put in the effort, and I still run by and get ‘you go girl’ and stuff like that all the time,” Parts said. “It’s an extra mental tax on me while I’m trying to run my race.”

Lastoe admitted that, at 50 years old, he’s trying incredibly hard to overcome thought and speech patterns that have been ingrained into society. But he’s proud of the work he and the NYCRUNS team have done to create the largest nonbinary and gender nonconforming field of any race so far, with 82 runners finishing the Brooklyn Marathon & Half Marathon.

Races like the Brooklyn Marathon & Half Marathon, Philadelphia Distance Run, Boombox Mile in Willimantic, Connecticut, and the New York City Marathon—which crowned Zachary Harris as its first nonbinary division champion with a time of 3:09:09—have set a precedent.

As other races such as the Annapolis 10-Mile Run announce nonbinary divisions, Caswell touts the importance of inclusion (giving special shoutout to their running club Frontrunners New York and their coach, Ian Hodge): “The first step in running is having somebody that looks like you, having somebody that shares your pronouns, that makes you feel like you belong.”

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