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Nonbinary Runners Find Their Lane 

Avenue of the Giants Marathon moves toward inclusion

Nonbinary category winner Madison MacGregor boasting their Avenue of the Giants first-place trophy and medal. 

Courtesy of Madison MacGregor

Nonbinary category winner Madison MacGregor boasting their Avenue of the Giants first-place trophy and medal. 

Eureka local Madison MacGregor made a promise to themself to one day run in the Avenue of the Giants half Marathon again. It had been seven years and two hip surgeries since they last attempted the race. Following the lead of other major marathons, Avenue of the Giants hosted its first nonbinary category, and MacGregor was able to race in a category that affirmed their identity.

MacGregor nearly missed the start, rolling up to the line just in time to hear the 30-second warning. They didn't enter the race expecting much, just hoping to fulfill their promise. To their surprise, they walked away with first place — with a time of 2:11:26 — among the handful of nonbinary athletes the race hosted. There were three other athletes in the field, but MacGregor expects the numbers to grow.

"More people will join. I think many people just didn't know it was an option," MacGregor said. "We've been historically excluded for so long I just don't think anyone knew there would be a category for us."

MacGregor believes that marathons are a great way for trans and non-binary athletes to participate without feeling singled out. The integration of gender-diverse athletes into spaces that have been binary for so long can be cumbersome. Since the field runs all together, there's no way of telling who's registered with what gender category. From young to old, MacGregor said, everyone is out there supporting everybody.

"It's not like the local rec teams out here for soccer and basketball are doing anything; it's all very binary," MacGregor said. "Bigger cities have queer and trans sports clubs. Here it's so small it feels like this is the one sport we get to be included in."

Chad Christensen was the only nonbinary athlete in the full marathon. This was their 16th marathon but the first they've been able to run in a nonbinary category. Christensen sees the nonbinary community in sport growing. They said it was nice to race as themself in somewhere as beautiful as Avenue of the Giants.

"I'll be back again to race in the nonbinary category [in the 43rd Humboldt Redwoods Marathon] in October," Christensen said.

Race organizer Cindy Timek says the integration went smoothly. Six Rivers Running Club intends to offer more opportunities for athletes to race in a comfortable way. She said there's no harm in offering another category. Inclusion means allowing athletes to race where they feel comfortable, not using the nonbinary category as a catch-all for any trans or gender nonconforming athlete; that would be exclusion.

"We can take baby steps to make everyone more comfortable," Timek said. "We can just start with registration, asking 'How do you identify?'"

Timek says that there are misconceptions about trans and nonbinary athletes that can result in their exclusion. Nationwide debates over the inclusion of nonbinary and trans athletes cite inherent advantages tied to gender. "There's a perception that if you're trans, you might out-compete other athletes." However, she says. "That's just not true because top athletes are top athletes regardless of how they identify."

Then there is the argument that cis women's opportunities are threatened by the inclusion of trans and nonbinary athletes against whom cis women are assumed to be unable to compete. However, the Avenue of the Giants half marathon results supported Timek's point about top athletes as cis female runner Sarah Klass from Emeryville, California, finished with the fastest time, 1:17:52. She was almost a minute faster than any male or nonbinary athlete.

MacGregor was able to fulfill their self-promise and then some. They've always identified as an athlete, from softball and soccer to running and martial arts. This race allowed them to combine two parts of their identity in a way they weren't allowed. Trans and nonbinary athletes are looking for the community and embodiment that sport offers.

"This is the first time we've had a category but it's not the first time nonbinary people have asked for inclusion," said MacGregor. "We've always been here."

Ollie Hancock (they/them) is a staff writer at the Journal. Reach them at (707) 442-1400, extension 317, or

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