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Rach McBride may be the only pro headed to the Ironman World Championship in St. George, Utah, in three weeks who also races gravel in their free time.
This season, McBride will be taking part in the elite Life Time Grand Prix series, alongside a full calendar of Ironman races. But the 44-year-old has actually been racing gravel for nearly as long as triathlon—and the differences between the two sports are starting to stand out.
Last year, McBride finished first in the non-binary category at Big Sugar Gravel in Arkansas. While it’s definitely not their biggest sporting achievement (McBride is a three-time Ironman champion), it is one the Canadian is especially proud of.
The 100-mile gravel race was McBride’s first time competing in a non-binary category, and they think that triathlon is lagging far behind gravel when it comes to acknowledging gender fluidity. Non-binary is an umbrella term for gender identities that are neither male nor female, identities that are outside the gender binary.
“There are some local grassroots triathlons that are adding third categories, but it’s really local level racing,” McBride said. “It’s not on the level that gravel is. Not at big races. Ironman is not doing it. They’re pretty anti-trans too, they make it pretty difficult for trans folks to race. So I don’t see that happening for a long time. So the fact that Life Time has done this and so many other gravel races are, it’s incredible. They’re really setting the bar.”
McBride, the only out non-binary pro in triathlon, points to a few anecdotal reasons that gravel is ahead of tri when it comes to more inclusive finisher categories.
“I think the fact that gravel is still really grassroots,” they said. “And there’s a certain dynamic of people who are creating these races and it started from a place of inclusivity in a lot of ways. Triathlon is already established for several decades. It’s notoriously been very, very straight and very straight-laced.”
In the last few years, many of the U.S.’ major gravel events, like Big Sugar, Unbound Gravel (and their sibling events at Life Time), and Rebecca’s Private Idaho, have added third categories for riders who identify as non-binary.
While there was an audible cry for this in gravel, McBride said that’s not the case in triathlon. However, McBride is using their presence to make it known that not only is it possible, it’s important.
“I’m just being visible out there as a triathlete at the pro level,” they said. “I don’t think that we’re gonna have non-binary categories in triathlon for a very long time, but I have been working with local race organizations in Canada to add categories. I presented at the national race directors conference last year about how to add third categories. I’m doing that kind of work and sharing my story and telling folks how easy it can be. So I think we’ll see, at least in Canada, a lot of triathlons adding third categories. Hopefully that will trickle up into more major races.”
This summer, McBride will be participating in the Life Time Grand Prix series, an off-road event consisting of three gravel races and three mountain bike races. There was no non-binary category for the overall series, so McBride will be competing in the women’s field. However, at each race that has a non-binary category (and all do except the recent Sea Otter Fuego 80K), they will compete in that field.
McBride said that small victories like this are important in the larger fight for inclusivity.
“I had been talking with them [Life Time] trying to get a non-binary series as well but it just didn’t happen yet,” they said. “But they also encouraged me to apply anyway.”
As a longtime triathlete, and even longer-time gravel racer, McBride is used to competing in women’s fields although they identify as gender non-binary. Even if competing in a non-binary category might put them on the podium in a field of much fewer riders (at Big Sugar, McBride was one of two non-binary registrants), embracing the shift toward third categories is more important than the result.
And McBride likely won’t be in a field of two for much longer.
“There were 10 at Mid South!” they said. “It’s happening.”
Yet they are also quick to acknowledge that adding third categories for gender fluid racers is not without controversy. McBride said that as gravel races continue to become more popular and thus harder to get into, people are taking advantage of third categories.
“People who don’t actually identify as non-binary are signing up for it,” they said. “It’s really unfair.”
McBride said that the solution has to involve community policing. They point to other endurance sports’ trans’ policies as a benchmark.
“There are policies around what to do if someone doesn’t believe that someone is racing honestly, so there are ways to check it,” they said. “And it is athlete driven, participant driven. Usually it has to be at least one participant that raises the question and will contest that person. Then, if that person has raced and/or identifies on social media as a different gender then there’s an investigation. But it is really tricky. Maybe it’s someone who’s just come out. But I think it needs to be on individual basis. It’s community policed.”
As McBride is still competing at the highest level of triathlon—and at domestic gravel races, for that matter—they have not given themselves over to full-time advocacy. But like many athletes who support a cause adjacent to their sport, McBride feels that while they’re raising awareness and generating interest, they can only do as much as one person.
“I do what I can, but what I want to be doing is about performing as an athlete so most of my energy goes into that,” they said. “I am very happy to spend the time to do media and podcasts and talk about my story and do what I can. And I know that if I had more time, I would do more. And maybe when I’m not racing as much that will be what I do. But my main thing right now is being an athlete and trying to get the most that I can out of the body that I’ve got.”