Starting this fall, high school girls cross country runners will run the same distance as the boys.
The Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union’s board of directors voted Wednesday to extend the distance of races from 2.5 miles to the 3.1 miles the boys have already been running, according to Jason Eslinger of the IGHSAU.
Area coaches have mixed opinions of the change, stating there are both positives and negatives with the decision.
Colfax-Mingo coach Zach Tomas and Collins-Maxwell/Baxter coach Jerry Meinerts guide both the boys and girls teams. So setting up one course at home meets will make things easier and the experience for the fans should be better, too.
“I see positives and negatives,” Tomas said. “It will be nice to set up just one course. I think this makes it easier overall for coaches that coach both girls and boys. You can do the same workouts for both teams.
“This was bound to happen. The coaches association put a vote out last year. I figured it was something that was in the works eventually.”
Female runners at the Iowa high school level have been running a 4K since 2002. The new 5K distance falls in line with many of the states across the country.
“I was unaware of the push for a new distance but believe it is a good move,” said Rachelle Tipton, Newton girls’ head coach. “The majority of states race the 5k distance and we are now in line with them. Most runners will have ran a 5k road race, so the distance is not foreign. I know the Newton girls are capable of making the move up and I look forward to next season.”
Fewer than 10 states were still running the 4K distance last year. Nebraska changed to the longer distance in 2013 and Wisconsin made the switch this past season.
“I wasn’t expecting it to come this soon, but I thought it was in the plans down the road,” Meinerts said. “The girls will have to learn different courses and different loops, but I don’t think running another 1/2 mile will be that big of a difference. I was fine with the girls running the shorter distance but the 5K distance will be better for girls who have aspirations to run in college.”
Whether or not the distance will affect athlete participation is still unknown. Tomas said he has never had a female runner ask to run further but doesn’t expect the change to affect numbers.
“You would hope not,” Tomas said. “My only concern now would be to make the middle school distances longer, too. Those younger kids have a tough enough time adjusting to the high school distances as it is. They need to make the adjustment easier.”
The Tigerhawks advanced to the state meet for the first time in school history this past season. Tomas lost five seniors from that squad so he will have to rebuild the roster anyway.
Meinerts thinks being able to compete for a new school record could help with participation. But overall, he doesn’t anticipate the change affecting the Raiders’ numbers.