For the First Time, Vermont City Marathon Will Offer a Cash Prize to Nonbinary Runners | LGBTQ | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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For the First Time, Vermont City Marathon Will Offer a Cash Prize to Nonbinary Runners

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Published May 22, 2024 at 10:00 a.m.


Kae Ravichandran running the Boston Marathon - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Kae Ravichandran running the Boston Marathon

In 2022, Kae Ravichandran was the first of 117 runners to cross the finish line at the Green Mountain Marathon in South Hero. She won by a wide margin, more than 13 minutes ahead of the second-place runner.

But Ravichandran, who lives in Burlington, didn't receive a prize for finishing first. The reason? She had registered for the marathon as nonbinary, and at the time, the race gave awards only to top men's and women's competitors.

The experience led Ravichandran, 26, to work with local race officials toward the goal of offering equitable prizes to nonbinary runners. Fast-forward two years, and the largest race in Vermont is making that a reality. The M&T Bank Vermont City Marathon & Relay will award $2,400 to the first nonbinary runner to cross the finish line this Sunday, May 26 — the first cash prize the race has offered to the winner of a nonbinary division in its 35-year history.

The Vermont City Marathon has allowed runners to register as nonbinary or decline to share their gender since 2022. Now, in addition to racing in a category that encompasses their gender expression, nonbinary athletes will compete for prize money equal to that awarded to the first-place men's and women's competitors.

The change positions Vermont as a leader in a global movement for greater gender inclusivity in running. An increasing number of races, including five of the six World Marathon Majors — all but Tokyo — have begun offering nonbinary divisions in recent years. But prize money for the category, which typically draws far fewer runners than the men's or women's divisions, is still rare.

Ravichandran made national headlines after winning the Boston Marathon's inaugural nonbinary division in 2023. She received only a trophy.

"It felt very hand-wavy to just put in the category without that extra thought behind it," Ravichandran said. "Equal prize money [provides] that incentive for folks to be able to compete as themselves."

Nine runners are registered to compete in the nonbinary division of this year's Vermont City Marathon, according to Joe Connelly, executive director of RunVermont, which organizes the race. The event typically draws around 5,000 runners, including those who participate in the marathon relay, which offers no prize money to any gender.

While second- and third-place prizes are awarded in the men's and women's divisions, the race will not grant cash prizes to runners-up in the nonbinary division, given the smaller field of runners there. Connelly said he worked with Pride Center of Vermont and Outright Vermont to craft an appropriate policy.

"At the top levels of the sport, you just don't want an award or prize money because you showed up," Connelly said. "You want it because you ran the best race of all the people you are directly competing against."

That's the case for Z Goodwin of St. Albans, who placed second — out of two runners — in the nonbinary division of their age group at the Half Marathon Unplugged along Burlington's bike path in April. While Goodwin said they were thrilled to be able to run in a nonbinary division, they wished it had been more competitive.

"I look forward to the day when I'm not in the top in anything," Goodwin said, "when there's just a lot more runners in my category, beating me as they should."

For Ravichandran, that dream is starting to materialize. After winning Boston's nonbinary division in a field of 27 runners in 2023, Ravichandran placed sixth in a field almost twice that size this year. In a way, she said, the lower placement was a victory, because the larger pool of nonbinary athletes meant more runners were comfortable expressing their gender identity.

Local opportunities for nonbinary runners are also expanding. RunVermont offers nonbinary registration at all 15 races it organizes annually. The Green Mountain Athletic Association — which hosts the Champlain Islands Marathon, formerly known as the Green Mountain Marathon, and eight other annual races — started offering equitable prizes for nonbinary runners in 2023, the year after Ravichandran won in South Hero.

Affinity groups have also emerged. Ibby Maruca leads the Burlington-based Bolters Run Club, which recently started hosting a monthly night exclusively for women, nonbinary and transgender runners. About 20 people attended the first meetup earlier this month.

"Marginalized genders haven't necessarily always been able to feel as comfortable in athletics and outdoor spaces," Maruca said. "I wanted to carve out that time for us as a group so we could connect in a really individualized, close-knit way."

Ravichandran said she has yet to encounter a Vermont race that doesn't either offer a nonbinary division or respond positively when asked about including one.

Will Robens is the founder of Ironwood Adventure Works, which organizes six races, including the Trapp Lodge Mountain Marathon in Stowe. He said he views the Vermont City Marathon's new award for nonbinary runners as aspirational. Ironwood's trail races allow for nonbinary registration but haven't yet offered a prize for the division due to low participation, Robens said.

The Vermont 100 Endurance Race, among the oldest 100-milers in the country, has a unique approach to prizes. Nonbinary athletes can register as they identify while also retaining eligibility to win awards in the men's or women's categories based on biological attributes. The policy was implemented by race director Amy Rusiecki, who was inspired by a friend's desire to register as nonbinary without sacrificing the chance to be recognized for competitive success in a large field. Rusiecki said she would consider creating a separate prize for nonbinary runners in the future.

"It's a continual conversation," she said. "But the important thing to me is that people are talking about it, even if it takes a little bit for us all to come up with an industry standard."

LB Gunderson of St. Albans said affirmation of their gender has helped them feel included in Vermont's running communities. Gunderson has competed in about six local nonbinary divisions and is registered for the Vermont City Marathon this week.

"Representation is super important," Gunderson said. "Not only just runners, but spectators looking at results ... They're like, Wow, OK, there's a group where I fit in."

For a time, Ravichandran worried that participating in competitive running and being outside the gender binary were incompatible. In college, she postponed gender-affirming treatment due to concerns about its impact on her status as an athlete on the men's cross-country and track teams at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. She planned to quit running after graduation.

But with the introduction of nonbinary divisions, Ravichandran decided to keep running. It still hasn't been easy: After the Boston Marathon propelled her to the national stage, she started regularly receiving hate mail, including death threats.

She tries not to let it faze her. This Sunday, she'll take to the starting line for the Vermont City Marathon, competing as nonbinary. That, she said, will be a victory in itself.

Running Ahead

Z Goodwin - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Z Goodwin

The Vermont City Marathon kicks off race season in the Green Mountains. While there are more footraces — of all distances — than we can round up here, read on for seven scenic highlights of the summer.

Lake City Running Festival (5K, 10K and half marathon): In its second year, this race offers a course with minimal hills along the shores of Lake Champlain. Saturday, May 25, in Plattsburgh, N.Y. $30-65. lakecityrunningfestival.com

Causeway Race (5K, 10K and 15K): Enjoy panoramic views of Lake Champlain while racing along the gravel bike path that stretches out onto the causeway. Saturday, June 1, in Colchester. $35. colchestervt.gov

Vermont Dairy Festival Milk Run (10K for walkers and runners): At a festival with baking and milking competitions, runners loop along the Missisquoi River on a course with moderate hills. Not recommended for those with lactose intolerance — unless you want the runs. Sunday, June 2, in Enosburg Falls. $25. vermontdairyfestival.com

Capital City Stampede (5K power walk and 10K run): If running's not your thing, give power walking a whirl at this race, organized by Central Vermont Runners and the Vermont Senior Games Association. Saturday, June 8, in Montpelier. $15-25. vermontseniorgames.org

Crowley Road Race (1 mile, 5K, 10K, 10K relay and half marathon): Join four-time Boston Marathon winner Bill Rodgers and Kathrine Switzer, the first woman officially to run the Boston Marathon, as they race in this event dating back to the 1920s. Proceeds support soldiers, wounded veterans and their families. Sunday, June 9, in Rutland. $5-110. crowleyroadrace.com

F.I.T. Sun Mountain Challenge (5K, 10K, 25K and 50K): This trail race promises a novel experience for both runners and spectators; the latter can witness the action from the comfort of Bromley Mountain Ski Resort's chairlift. Race participants get free entry to the resort's Mountain Adventure Park. Saturday, July 6, in Peru. $45-120. bromley.com

Race to the Top of Vermont (4.3 miles): Feel like the king of the world after running, biking or hiking up 2,564 feet to reach the summit ridge of Mount Mansfield in this grueling trail race. Proceeds support the Catamount Trail Association. Sunday, August 25, in Stowe. $60-90. racetothetopvt.weebly.com

M&T Bank Vermont City Marathon & Relay, Sunday, May 26, in Burlington. $200-325 to register; free to watch. runvermont.org

The original print version of this article was headlined "A Run for Their Money | For the first time, Vermont City Marathon will offer a cash prize to nonbinary runners"

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