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UVM student reflects on winning Boston Marathon's first nonbinary division

Marathon Foto
Courtesy of Kae Ravichandran
Kae Ravichandran, front, used the hills surrounding Richmond, Vermont as a training ground for the Boston Marathon.

This year’s Boston Marathon is in the books — but not before a runner with Vermont ties made history there.

Kae Ravichandran, a medical student at the University of Vermont, won the marathon’s first-ever nonbinary division.

The Massachusetts native finished in 2:38:57 — more than 10 minutes ahead of the second-place finisher in the division.

Ravichandran took some time away from the busy end of the semester to talk to Vermont Public's Mary Williams Engisch about the race, and gender inclusivity in running. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Mary Williams Engisch: First off, congratulations! What was your approach to this particular race?

Kae Ravichandran: My approach to the race was initially to sort of take it conservatively, but I just got so excited at the beginning — I was so excited to be myself, and then also be around my closest friends. That just kind of propelled me through the first 15, 16 miles, which were downhill or flat. Then I just sort of told myself to stay strong through the rest of it. And then just pushing a mental battle over the last like 10 miles.

How did you feel crossing the finish line first in your division?

When I crossed the finish line, I was so happy. I didn't finish Boston last year. So this was huge for me to cross the finish line in my hometown course. And do it with a bunch of people that are super close to me, and do it as myself. It was just perfect — all drawn up perfectly.

Describe your training regimen for the marathon. Did you have any favorite routes around Vermont as you prepared for the race?

Yeah, I love just sort of incorporating hills in my easy runs. Lots of elevation, I feel, strengthens out the quad muscles that you're going to really burn through when you're going down that really steep downhill in Boston.

So I love running in Richmond. There are just a couple like really steep and beautiful roads over there that feels tough to go up and then it's also tough to go down. But it really, really strengthens your legs. I was running probably like 70 to 80 miles at my peak. Juggling that with school was a little tough, but it was really, really cool to be able to do that. I feel like it got me ready for Boston.

Organizers created this nonbinary division in the Boston Marathon this year to make the race more inclusive. And I understand that has special resonance for you because you had to participate in last year's marathon in the men's division.

Why is it important to be able to participate in the division that matches your gender identity? And can you explain the difference that you felt running this year versus last year?

Yeah. Unfortunately, athletics tends to put people in these sort of boxes that may not necessarily fit who they are as people. Nonbinary people have existed for forever — whenever humans were around. And I don't particularly feel like attached to the male gender. I feel like my expression and my identity fits more of like a nonbinary or trans feminine sort of mode of expression.

I think it's really important to embolden people to be themselves when doing any sort of athletics. Once you can feel like you can be yourself, you feel more comfortable in that space; you're more apt to succeed; you're more like likely to stick with it; and you're more likely to form lasting connections with other people that sort of share those experiences with you. I think it also emboldens other nonbinary people who are not necessarily into athletics to start running because these organizations are giving them a place to be seen and heard.

And still, the Boston Marathon hasn't totally achieved equity yet. Can you talk a little about the disparity in prize money between the divisions?

Yeah, disparities in prizes have gone back a really long time. Back in the day, women weren't allowed to compete. This year, nonbinary athletes were allowed to compete, but they weren't given any sort of prize money. There was no tape at the finish line for nonbinary athletes. I didn't even know that I won when I crossed the finish line. So even something as simple as that would be huge.

I think that a lot of it comes down to the fact that they believe that there aren't any elite nonbinary athletes are out there — but there certainly are. I mean, Nikki Hiltz is an example of an elite nonbinary athlete. There are so many others that are nonbinary, but they haven't chosen to participate in the nonbinary division due to external societal factors.

I think that putting some sort of prize money will help people be more comfortable coming out and being able to compete in the category itself. I think it's just really, really important we start moving towards equity in terms of prizes and prize money.

And Kae, you do inclusion work with the Green Mountain Athletic Association. That's the group that holds races all around the state. What still needs to be done to make the running world more equitable in Vermont?

I think Vermont's done a lot of good things in terms of making the running world equitable. I think most races now have a nonbinary division, which is absolutely fantastic. The few times that it hasn't been in a race, it's usually just an oversight, or people are starting to look into it.

The one thing that I really want to see happen is more queer-specific running events that either lack a gender category altogether, or just try to improve queer inclusiveness from the top down. Really, just make it a nonbinary and trans-centric event, because the running world right now in Vermont's very dominated by cisgendered and heterosexual people. There are a lot of really fast queer runners here, and I think that we need to just do a little bit better in terms of centering those folks in some of the races. Something else that could be done is having a joint women's and nonbinary runners race — a race to sort of honor gender minorities.

I also think that prize money could be a little bit more equitable here in Vermont. A nonbinary runner may finish first, but may not get equal prize money to the male or female finisher because the race organizer didn't really think things through, or may have forgotten that nonbinary people exist.

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