Forty-five nonbinary runners finished the New York City Marathon on Sunday, making it one of the largest nonbinary divisions as a movement to expand race access grows.
The importance of such a large crowd is twofold, said Anna Baeth, director of research for Athlete Ally, an organization that supports LGBTQ+ athletes. More representation encourages others to be out in sports, and greater numbers of nonbinary athletes make it harder for race officials to refuse to make changes to improve the process for nonbinary athletes.
“I sincerely hope that there will be more and more nonbinary adults competing in sport at all levels to show those younger generations what’s possible,” Baeth said.
Last year, when the NYC Marathon introduced its nonbinary category, 16 nonbinary runners registered in the race and all 16 finished. This year, 45 nonbinary runners finished the marathon after 62 registered. The Chicago Marathon, which quietly added a nonbinary registration category this year, had over 70 nonbinary runners registered for the race as of August, with 41 runners finishing.
The top finishers received prize money — which many races, despite accepting nonbinary runners, still do not pay out. The marathon describes itself as the first of any Abbott World Marathon Majors race to award prize money to nonbinary runners. The top five runners in the nonbinary category received winnings of $1,000 to $5,000.
J Solle, who finished third in the nonbinary category, told The 19th prior to race day that they were excited to see the field growing and for more runners to be recognized for who they are. Solle is director at large of Front Runners New York, an LGBTQ+ running club.
Since being able to start racing in nonbinary divisions at the beginning of this year, Solle has often felt like they have something to prove — and that feeling was stronger in the lead-up to the NYC Marathon. While racing the Staten Island half marathon last month, Solle felt like they had to race to prove their worthiness to be there at all: The running community has not fully supported allowing nonbinary athletes to compete in separate race divisions.
“I have to go prove that we belong. I have to run a fast time to show that we’re just as good and deserve to be acknowledged for what we’re doing. But we shouldn’t have to feel that. We should be able to just go out and run a fantastic race,” they said.
After medaling in the NYC Marathon on Sunday, and with other nonbinary members of Front Runners New York placing in the top five, Solle said they felt like they lived up to their expectations — and that they got to show the world that nonbinary runners belong in the sport.
Jake Caswell, who finished first in the NYC Marathon for the nonbinary division, told The 19th prior to race day that running is one of the core ways they have connected with other nonbinary people in the city.
Caswell, a member of Front Runners New York who plans to take a break from planning their schedule around marathons, said they make a point to tune out criticism about nonbinary runners — often found in comment sections of news stories — and just focus on the race.
“I try to stop caring what other people think and just go on and run it, and whatever happens, happens,” they said.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Anna Baeth's surname.