The successes of middle-distance star Nikki Hiltz, who identifies as transgender and nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, helped give the topic of gender equity in running a national platform, drawing measures of derision and applause.
Hiltz won the 1,500-meter national championships in July in Eugene, Ore. For now, Hiltz is allowed to compete in women's fields as long as they don't pursue gender-affirming care, such as using testosterone. They're choosing to accentuate the positive.
"I just feel like the LGBTQ community needed a win," they said after the 1,500 final.
When it comes to inclusiveness, Twin Cities Marathon (TCM) organizers are seeking wins, too.
This Sunday's race has the most nonbinary runners yet, continuing an upward trend since the marathon created the division in 2019.
The numbers might seem small but they represent legitimacy to some in the LGBTQ community for an industry still finding its way.
In the last year, several marathons regarded as "world marathon majors" like Boston and Chicago have followed TCM's path. Chicago's nonbinary runners this month (130) are more than triple the number who lined up in 2022, and in November, the New York City Marathon will be the first among the majors to give prize money to its top nonbinary finishers.
TCM has 52 nonbinary participants registered across this weekend's races (5 kilometers, 10K, 10 mile and marathon), a slight increase from 2022.
Mikah Meyer is a TC 10 Mile entrant and an advocate and activist in the LGBTQ community who appreciates TCM. He also emphasizes that other members in the running community who market and organize the activity have more learning to do. Meyer has literally, at times, taken his advocacy on the road. His Run Across Minnesota three years ago emphasized a message that the outdoors is for everyone; he's followed that with more runs outstate, and is selling related Outdoor Safe Space gear in Minnesota's REI stores.
"It's really awesome to see Minnesota be a leader in this," said Meyer, who is gay.
Meyer said some others in the running industry have a lot of catching up to do. He cited the dearth of programming at recent trade conferences and other gatherings.
"Not only has the industry as a whole been naïve, they've been purposefully ignorant because myself and other activists have been saying, hey, you are doing nothing, and 20.8% of Gen Z [born between 1996 and 2010] identify as not straight," he said. "So you are ignoring one-fifth of the largest future market in America."
An executive at Running USA, a nonprofit and trade organization whose foundation includes major players like TCM, said the group "appreciates and supports that Meyer continues to push for inclusion across the running industry." But Kathleen Titus, president of Running USA's board of directors and a member of the LGBTQ community, challenged his claim of inaction. Titus is a founding member of the board's Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging committee, formed in 2022.
"This committee reflects that the issue is a major priority for the organization," Titus said in an email to the Star Tribune. The board also has brought on Michael Clemons, who helped create the national Queer Running Society (which has a walking and running group, Frontrunners, in the metro). He was appointed with the goal of expanding representation at the 2024 industry conference in Orlando.
"Inclusivity is a critical pillar of our ongoing work at Running USA," Titus added. "Our core mission is to deliver education, industry content, research and networking opportunities for our members. We have incorporated inclusivity into each of those areas."
Jake Fedorowski (they/them), a Minnesota native now living in Seattle, recalled asking Grandma's Marathon to create a nonbinary division when they wanted to return for the popular race in Duluth. Grandma's was willing — they recalled organizers saying it was on their radar — and Federowski entered the division for the 2022 race.
Like Meyer, Fedorowski has become an impassioned advocate to widen running's reach, and continues to work with races. A current partner is the Chicago Marathon. They have written a guide on their website (nonbinaryrunning.com) to help race directors because "there is not a how-to to help people do this."
Fedorowski said TCM's moves are impactful, too.
"I think it is really important [work], and the Twin Cities is up there with some of these other events," they said. "They are industry leaders."
A panel at 2 p.m. Friday at the marathon's health expo at St. Paul's RiverCentre will get into the meaning — and authenticity — of inclusivity. Meyer and other members of Minnesota's LGBTQ+ community are part of TCM's "Run Proud" panel.
Jana Shortal, a KARE 11 anchor and reporter, will moderate. Other members are Micah Helle, Queer Space Collective board member; Andi Otto, Twin Cities Pride executive director; and Ashley Hicks, Brooks Running events marketing manager. Brooks is a partner of TCM, and sponsors Meyer.
Meyer, too, has been invited to speak twice at the Running Event conference later this year in Austin, Texas — a gathering he criticized. Perhaps this invite, like a panel at a big marathon and increasing nonbinary entrants, is a sign of progress, too?
"The more we invite LGBTQ+ people, more nonbinary people, more trans people to participate in things like Twin Cities in Motion events as their authentic selves, the more and more we'll see people showing up," Meyer said.
TCM President Dean Orton said adding a nonbinary division was just the beginning. Last year, for example, prize money was added. This year's top finisher will win $500. By comparison, the top elite male and female finishers will each earn $10,000.
"It's a journey," Orton said. "There has been an appreciation of us finding a way [to be more inclusive] and doing that in a thoughtful manner."