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hahahaha...Blake Wood Article

One of my recollections from last summer is running along the continental divide at the SJS50. I wasn't going fast and I was feeling pretty shitty. Then some older fellow blew past me. I don't remember if he said anything, but I remember thinking to myself that I just got "geezered."

4 1/2 or 5 hours later I was sitting around talking to him and learned it was Blake Wood. Then I got home and looked him up and discovered he'd finished Hardrock a ridiculous number of times. I also found this gem:

Published in UltraRunning Magazine, Vol. 19, No. 4, September 1999

Childbirth Envy: Why Men Run Ultras

Dr. Blake P. Wood

Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos, NM 87545


A new theory is advanced to account for the observation that participants

in the sport of ultrarunning are overwhelmingly male. It is suggested that

male ultrarunners suffer from "childbirth envy" - the subconscious desire

to duplicate the painful experience of childbirth.


In the sport of ultrarunning (participation in foot races of distances longer than the

standard 26 mile marathon) the great majority of participants are male. This is true in

both road and trail ultras. For instance, of the 774 finishers of the 1998 John F. Kennedy

50 Mile Race, America's largest and oldest ultra, only 104 (13.4%) were female1. A

review of the 1998 finishers of the 18 trail runs in the NM MTN RNR series shows that

of 269 total finishes, 57 (21.1%) were by women2. Why is this? Anecdotal evidence

suggests that this cannot be explained by lower finishing rates for women3, in other

words, the low participation rate is present at the starting line. Some researchers have

suggested this low participation rate is the result of a societal bias against women in

sports, which discourages participation in athletics from early childhood4. In this paper,

we suggest a new theory to explain these observations: childbirth envy.

The Evidence for Childbirth Envy

The theory of childbirth envy can be stated simply: men have a subconscious desire to

duplicate the painful experience of childbirth, and women, particularly those who have

experienced childbirth, have no desire to repeat the experience. The evidence for this can

be summarized as follows:

1. The majority of women ultrarunners have not borne children.

2. The ultrarunning phenomena of "fading memory" wherein runners swear at the

completion of an ultra never to do it again, and then sign up for another a few days

later, has a strong parallel in the rapid fading of the memory of pain in childbirth.

3. The declining birthrate in the U.S. shows a strong correlation to the increasing

number of woman ultrarunners, suggesting that, even among women, ultrarunning

can be an emotional substitute for the experience of childbirth.

4. Wives and mothers generally make excellent crew for ultras, by virtue of the

empathy into the runner's physical and mental condition gained through the

experience of childbirth.

We will now examine each of these points of evidence in more detail.

A review of the "ultrarunner profile" column of UltraRunning magazine over the past

five years shows that, of 16 profiles of women ultrarunners (out of 46 profiles total),

only six (37.5%) report having children. This is consistent with the 38.3% of women

ultrarunners (of a sample of 128) responding to a recent survey who report having

children5. In this same survey, only 20.3% of women ultrarunners report having

children under the age of 16 - women who have "recently" given birth are apparently

less likely to run ultras. These figures are significantly lower than the 56% of all

women between the ages of 15 and 44 who have children, according to the U.S. Census

Bureau6. These numbers strongly suggest that either ultrarunning discourages

childbirth, or that the experience of childbirth discourages ultrarunning. Strengthening

this point is the fact that no male ultrarunners (nor males in general) are known to have

borne children7.

It is well known that ultrarunners, upon finishing a race, commonly beg their friends to

beat them silly, or pray to God to strike them dead, should they ever even think of

running another ultra8. Almost without exception, these same runners will be found,

within a few days, planning their next ultra. This rapid fading of memories of the pain

of ultrarunning is remarkably similar to that which occurs following childbirth. For

instance, one woman reported a memory of the existence of pain during childbirth,

while claiming to have no strong memory of the pain itself9. Memory of the pain did

not return until another childbirth, several years later10. This delayed return of strong

memories of pain also is common in ultrarunning.

The birthrate in most western countries has been declining precipitously over the past

40 years11. Over the same period, ultrarunning has been growing, both in the number

of races held and the number of ultrarunners participating12. This increase has been

particularly pronounced among women. It has been suggested13 that women, as well as

men, find ultrarunning to be an emotional substitute for childbirth.

Paradoxically, although women who have experienced childbirth appear to shy away

from participating in ultras, it is well known that they make excellent crew for their

husbands, sons, and friends who do participate. The reason should be obvious: due to

the similarities between the pain of running ultras and the pain of childbirth, women

who have experienced the latter have an understanding of and empathy for the

former14. At least one ultrarunner has gone so far as to declare "When you find a good

crew, marry her!"15 Others employ more even more extreme methods to develop a

good crew16.

Figure 1. Petroglyph of an ancient Anasazi ultrarunner.

The Role of Ultrarunning in Human Evolution

Childbirth envy appears not to be a recent phenomenon. The running prowess of many

Native American cultures, such as the Navajo and Tarahumara, suggests a long history

of ultrarunning in human evolution. Evidence for this is presented in Figure 1, which

shows a petroglyph, thought to date from around 1190 A.D.17, of an ancient Anasazi

ultrarunner. A central figure in the mythology of the Anasazi, as well as some modern

Native American cultures, is Kokopelli, the mischief making, flute playing, fertility

icon shown in Figure 2a. Recent research suggests that, in addition to these attributes,

Kokopelli is intended to represent an ultrarunner. For comparison, Figure 2b shows a

mischief making, modern ultrarunner. The similarities between them are obvious.

Note that this particular ultrarunner clutches a cigar rather than a flute, which may fill a

similar role in the fertility rite, as the cigar is often considered a sexual object among

modern man18. Kokopelli is frequently depicted in petroglyphs as participating in

explicit acts of copulation, and with greatly exaggerated genitalia19. For modesty sake,

neither of these are depicted in Figures 2a and 2b. In light of the long history of

ultrarunning in human culture, one leading anthropologist20 has suggested that the

paradigm for development of the monogamous sexual relationship, "man the hunter,

woman the child-raiser," should be replaced by "man the ultrarunner, woman the

crew", hearkening back to the discussion in the previous section about the value placed

by modern ultrarunners on a good crew.


In this paper, we have proposed a new theory of "childbirth envy" to explain why men

run ultras. This theory is shown to be consistent with observations about the relative

participation of women in ultras, the selective memory of painful events common to

ultrarunning and childbirth, the apparent correlation between the declining birthrate

and increasing participation in ultrarunning, and the value of wives and mothers as

ultra crew. It is shown that ultrarunning has a long history, perhaps dating back to

prehistoric times, and may have exerted a great influence on the course of human


1 G. Lindgren, UltraRunning Magazine, Vol. 18, No. 9, pp. 6-10, March 1999.

2 Statistics compiled by Charlie Thorn,, Los Alamos, NM 87544.

3 At least, that's how it looks to me.

4 I'm sure I read this somewhere, and can look it up if necessary.

Published in UltraRunning Magazine, Vol. 19, No. 4, September 1999

5 R. Trittipoe, UltraRunning Magazine, Vol. 17, No. 3, pp. 52-53, July-August 1997.

6 A. Bachu, "Fertility of American Women: June 1994", U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Reports,

Series P20-482.

7 Personal communication, Dennis Mann, 3rd grade sex education, Mountain View Elementary School,

Claremont, CA, 1966.

8 "It would be better to smash my head in with that big rock." Anonymous Barkley runner, personal


9 "I know it must have hurt, because I remember screaming, but I don't remember any pain." Rebecca

Clark, personal communication, 1983.

10 "Darn you! Why didn't you remind me how much this hurts!!" Rebecca Clark, personal communication,


11 U.S. Census Bureau, Historical Statistics of the United States, General Printing Office, Washington, DC.

12 When I ran my first marathon, in 1974, the race had about 900 participants, and at the time was one of

the largest marathons. Nowadays, any big name marathon that attracted fewer than 1000 runners would be

considered a failure, and fields up to 10 times that number are not uncommon.

13 I suggested this to a co-worker just a couple days ago. He thought I was crazy.

Published in UltraRunning Magazine, Vol. 19, No. 4, September 1999

14 "I felt like you do 24 hours a day for nine months straight. Three times! If you're going to be sick, you

might as well do it on the trail as in the aid station!", Rebecca Clark, personal communication during a 100


15 Personal communication on the internet ultra list.

16 My master plan for growing my own crew is nearing fruition. The oldest of my three daughters now has

her driving learner's permit. Within a year, she should be fully trained and qualified to drive winding

backroads in the dead of night to minister to my needs at remote aid stations. No doubt her value as crew

would be enhanced by bearing a few children. I'm willing to wait a few years for this, however.

17 Or was it 1990? I'll have to ask Cathy Leclaire, who I got it from.

18 The Starr Report, Phil Kuntz, Ed., Pocket Books, New York, 1998.

Published in UltraRunning Magazine, Vol. 19, No. 4, September 1999

19 Dennis Slifer and James Duffield, Kokopelli: Fluteplayer Images in Rock Art, Ancient City Press, Santa

Fe, NM, 1994.

20 That would be me. I got an A+ in freshman Physical Anthropology in 1976 at U.C. Santa Barbara. I

have also been the lead runner in many ultras. Get it??

Figure 2. (a) Kokopelli, the mischief making fertility icon of the Anasazi,

(b) Gary Cantrell, the mischief making modern ultrarunner and Barkley RD.

Published in UltraRunning Magazine, Vol. 19, No. 4, September 1999

Blake P. Wood is a staff physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He

completed his Ph.D. in electrical engineering at U.C. Berkeley in 1991.

He has completed dozens of ultras, including the Hardrock Hundred (four

times) and the Barkley 60 mile Fun Run (three times). He still thinks he

can finish five loops at Barkley. He calculates that his total accumulated

unpleasantness from running ultras adds up to about 1% of that endured

by his wife in the course of producing three beautiful children. He has

stated that "it would be interesting to be pregnant, maybe for an hour,


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