I was delighted, excited, inspired on discovering the news of Jasmin Paris's victory as the first woman to win the Montane Spine race, a 268 mile race that covers the entire Pennine Way. A quick look on the race's webpage sees it sell itself as "one of the toughest ultra-distance races in Europe." Not only that, but she smashed any previous record (including men) by 12 hours. She is in the middle of a PhD and works as a vet. And of course she is still nursing her 16 month old and so had to express breast milk at stops along the way.
The first thing that struck me, as a breastfeeding mother, was if there is ever an example of how life can continue while breastfeeding this is it. Quite often you will hear other mothers complain that they need to stop breastfeeding as they want to "get their life back" (is this even possible after having a child?!). If you are still breastfeeding your baby, toddler or child, it is often assumed that you should stop for the same reason, that this will somehow give you your life back, and that a nursing mother will resent the attachment she is maintaining with the child. Every mother has her own very individual reasons for why they may want to end breastfeeding at a certain time, and this is of course to be respected. But personally I feel that it is having the child, if anything, that has curbed feelings of independence rather than the breastfeeding itself. Further still, for me it is actually quite the opposite. I feel that by maintaining breastfeeding a mother can potentially feel more independent as she can feel reassured that their child is getting the comfort, security and support through all those wonderful chemicals in the breast milk and the physical act itself, therefore allowing herself a little more peace of mind for the child's wellbeing - and therefore a little more head space for yourself! Jasmin Paris is an example of how nursing a child can exist harmoniously with an individual's lifestyle - and just how far that can be taken.
The other thing to strike me was of course that a woman had won this race and beaten any previous male records. My first naive thought was - so that can happen? On doing a little more reading on the matter, apparently in longer endurance races, the advantage the male has over the female begins to disappear, because such races are much more about psychological strength over the physical. A little more reading into long distance running differences between genders suggests that women are better at maintaining a pace than men. Men tend to push themselves too hard and then have to reduce their pace, where as women maintain the same level more easily. Great - but are women therefore not pushing themselves as much as men, are are there other physiological reasons for this? If women assume they are not going to be as good as their male competitors, to what degree does this impact on the female psyche and therefore their overall performance in sport? I would be interested to see the impact on future sportswomen if such gender distinctions in sport were removed. I can't help thinking their is a lot of unlocked potential out there.