2021 Women to Watch

Special edition: the women we’re betting on to change the sport in 2021.

Hi everyone,

It’s that time of year again! In 2019 and 2020, I sent out special editions of the newsletter highlighting some of the running women who are poised for big things in the year ahead. With very little official racing this year thanks to the pandemic, I was especially interested to hear from readers and others in the women’s running community about who they’re looking out for in 2021. Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of overlap in the responses this time around (everyone loves Aliphine!), but I love that this edition really highlights something I’d been hoping to accomplish with the previous iterations, too: most of these responses aren’t about performance and racing. The women most of you are excited to follow in 2021 are the ones who are speaking out about injustice in the sport (and beyond), pursuing ambitious creative projects, or using their platforms to talk about things other than race results. Of course, as fans of the sport, most of us are eager for high-level racing to return so we can also talk about race results. But the women we admire in this community aren’t one-dimensional athletes, and this year has given us more opportunity than usual to get to know other sides of them. I, for one, hope that continues long after large-scale races return. 

Thanks to everyone who submitted a response this year! If you didn’t but would like to add someone, go ahead and reply to the newsletter. I’d love to hear more picks from all of you!

The Picks

“I cannot wait to see Aliphine Tuliamuk in the Olympic games. She stands to break barriers, racing newly postpartum and as the first Black American woman to represent in the marathon in the Olympics. I was able to see her electrifying performance in Atlanta but was disappointed at the lack of coverage for it; I hope that the media is prepared to get it right this time. Knowing Aliphine, she will come back even stronger and once again amaze all of us with her performance. The post race kiss with her baby girl will be priceless! My other pick is Gwen Berry and all the women athletes who will use their podium moments at the Olympic Games to keep the conversation and attention on issues of anti-black violence and social injustice. Despite significant setbacks on account of her protesting, Berry is determined to be victorious in competition. I believe that Berry’s performances in competition and in protest at the games will set the standard for what it means to be an athlete activist and I hope that it sends a signal to sponsors that supporting athletes who dare to use their voices is not a risk but a must.” —Alison Désir

Dinée Dorame, one of our Tracksmith Fellows, is a Navajo runner based in New Mexico who’s drawing inspiration from her culture's tradition of storytelling, distance running, and connection to create her own platform. She's launching the Grounded podcast in January. The show will explore the unique relationship between the runner and the land, diving into conversations around community and the histories behind the places we run. Grounded aims to uplift Indigenous runners, while also providing a space for learning about the intersection of land, movement, and wellness. I’m so excited to listen, but also to see this continuing trend of women runners making their own spaces and changing the sport through creativity and connectivity. She's one to watch!” —Lee Glandorf

I’m excited for a lot of athletic performances (will Sara Hall keep shooting for the moon? Will Keira D’Amato keep redefining what an amateur can be?). But I’m really interested to see athletes make their marks outside the racing arena, especially as long as we’re all stuck in this interminable pandemic waiting room. Alison Désir’s activism, Lauren Fleshman’s memoir, Alexi Pappas’s filmmaking, Tianna Bartoletta’s blog—they all translate the work we put into our sport into something that stands for more (and bring constructive attention back to women’s sports in turn). They’re just a few of the women who in my opinion make female runners some of the most interesting athletes out there. I can’t wait to see more of it, and to help make sure the rest of the world does too.” —Lindsay Crouse

“Waverly and Rebeka are New York City’s runner power couple. I met Rebeka Stowe at Nike's Moonshot training camp where she effortlessly led and inspired hundreds of runners of all abilities. I ran with Waverly Neer in the Orchard Street Runners 10k and can confidently say she has pushed me more than any other runner ever has. Alone, they are decorated distance runners, but as a couple they are unique: both train at a high level, thrive in their careers, and bring energy and mentorship to the New York running community. I will be eagerly watching what these multifaceted women bring to 2021.” —Sasha Whittle

A post shared by Rebeka Stowe (@rebekastowe)

“I’m really excited and encouraged by the many women runners who are using their platforms to discuss racial, environmental, and economic justice. There are several that keep me inspired on the daily but one that stands out is Peyton Thomas: she is only 24, ran an impressive 2:42 marathon debut, and then followed that up with a 2:42 on the super tough OT course in Atlanta a couple months later. Aside from her running accomplishments in 2020, Peyton has been working with Protect our Winters on environmental justice and Get Out the Vote initiatives (and I’m sure many other things we don’t know about). I’m grateful for her voice.” —Caitlin Phillips

Everyone. I know, it's a cop-out answer, but that's the first thing that comes to mind when I think about the women to watch in 2021. Heading into an Olympic year after a year like 2020 when everything was on pause, it feels like anything is possible, just see Keira D’Amato! There's a sense that everyone is itching to race and raring to go. We got a peek at that during The Marathon Project in December and I can’t wait to see what goes down at the Olympic Trials and the Games this summer.

One runner I'm excited to watch is Dinée Dorame. She’s part of the first cohort of Tracksmith Fellows, which supports runners and their creative projects. Dinée is launching the Grounded Podcast in January, digging into the intersection of running, land, and community and I can't wait to listen to her conversations with other runners. 

I’m also really excited for Aliphine Tuliamuk and her partner to welcome a new member to their family. While all eyes will probably be on her to see how she's able to manage the quick turnaround between giving birth and he Olympics—and I hope she does amazing—I’m more excited about the seeing the conversation around women, parenthood, and sports continue to evolve, that sports and parenthood aren’t mutually exclusive, and that there's so much more to athletes beyond just splits, podiums, and PRs.” —Christine Yu

Alison Mariella Désir is a stranger to few in the outdoor advocacy space now, but she’s just getting warmed up. Runners have long held onto the ideal that we are a safe and inclusive space for all, and 2020 (and leaders like Alison) helped us see that significant work still needs to be done for this to ring true. While it is encouraging that so many people have committed to listening and learning, Alison is the kind of leader who won't let us stop there, and in 2021 I expect she will be a key figure in holding the outdoor industry accountable in shifting from good intentions to enduring change.” —Lauren Fleshman

A post shared by Alison Mariella Désir (@alisonmdesir)

Jordan Marie Daniel—or Jordan Marie Brings Three White Horses Daniel—is not only a fantastic runner that I admire, but an incredible human being to learn about over the last year. Jordan's voice is strong, unapologetic, and exceptionally necessary for this unpredictable year that was presented to us. She educates the masses through her social media presence and community work, and raises awareness about the Indigenous, Black, Asian, LGBTQ, non-binary communities and beyond. Through her work, many benefit from her words to be better allies for marginalized communities and makes me proud to advocate in this space.” —Latoya Shauntay Snell

“I would say Colleen Quigley, who has become a close friend of mine—mostly because she supports me for my efforts and ambition on and off the track! She is truly pushing herself to admirable places as an athlete, but also off the track as a role model and leader in sharing her endeavors as a whole person. She’s not under the radar by any means, but I have truly loved getting to know her and felt grateful for how she feels like a peer in my chasing many dreams, competitive running and otherwise.” —Alexi Pappas

“I love that Jordan Daniel is using her running to raise awareness for indigenous rights and issues. I hope to see more in the running community follow her lead in running to highlight causes, and I'm happy to see people finally embracing that runners can and should do more than simple run fast and win races. We are humans with unique voices that should be applauded!” —Amelia Boone

A post shared by JORDAN (@nativein_la)

Right now, I'm really inspired by Aliphine Tuliamuk, winner of the Olympic Marathon Trials. I mean, c’mon. Who wins the Trials, makes the Olympic team, then oh yeah, has a baby while the world gets through a pandemic, while creating a solid plan to be back in shape for Tokyo?! She did what works for her, and created her own timetable. It reminds me of the mantra: Let sports be a support system for life, not the other way around.” —Sally Bergesen

“I'm really excited to follow Aliphine Tuliamuk’s journey this year. She's due to give birth to her first child in January and then will compete in the Olympic marathon for Team USA in August. There's a few elite runners who have pulled off incredible performances in a similar timeframe (Kara Goucher finished fifth at the 2011 Boston Marathon seventh months after giving birth to her son, Colt), but it’s pretty rare to rush back to elite competition that quickly, and all the more unique due to the circumstances of COVID: she won the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon, then chose to pursue her personal goal to start a family after the Olympic Games got postponed to 2021. Aliphine and her NAZ Elite teammates are pretty transparent about their training and active on Strava, so it will be fascinating to see her progress back into marathon shape this year. I have some personal interest in this as well since more than a few of my runner friends also got pregnant this year, including two OTQ marathoners who actually have January due dates just like Aliphine—shout out to Cate Barrett and Allison Cleaver!” —Johanna Gretschel

“Diversity advocates Alison Désir (Run 4 All Women) and Verna Volker (Native Women Running) of course jump to mind, but to that short list, I'd add their lesser-known co-leaders of the Running Industry Diversity Coalition. Martha Garcia, the Director of Global Brand Creative and Communications at HOKA ONE ONE; Shannon Woods, Senior Manager Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion at Brooks Running and Robyn Goby, Vice President of Development, Fleet Feet. The patience, persistence, and grit it takes to bring about real change in an industry steeped in the habits and mindset of racism is monumental. While their work is less visible—though becoming more so, check out this podcast with Martha and Shannon—it's no less important than the elite performances we fans love. Let’s be sure to support and cheer on these behind-the-scenes voices.” —Michelle Hamilton

Peyton Thomas! She ran in the Olympic marathon trials, collegiately at Baylor, and also runs trails! She’s finishing her PhD in marine biology and is a brilliant environmentalist and activist in Wilmington, NC. She helped out with Protect Our Winters’ election PSAs this year and helped start a Sunrise Movement chapter in Wilmington. Let’s be real: she qualified for the Marathon Trials, wants to run a mountain 100-miler, studies climate change on baby shark muscles, and finds time to volunteer for climate justice—I think she’s the coolest. 

I’m also excited to read Addie Bracy’s forthcoming book, Mental Training for Ultrarunning. Granted, I’m biased because she’s one of my best friends, but for anyone running ultras, mental training is in many ways more important than physical training. I want to learn the science behind our best and worst habits in the last stages of a 100-miler. I want to train my brain to work more pragmatically and efficiently in the craziness of a long race or run.” —Clare Gallagher

“There’s no way to pick just one. There are so many women in this sport that I'm basically proactively inspired and energized by for this next year—to see them rising to the tops of their games in 2021, or just continuing to be unabashedly themselves. 

At the very front of my mind is Aliphine Tuliamuk. She’s going to the Olympics!! And having a baby between now and then. That’s incredible. I have no doubt that she’ll demonstrate in style (and potentially while wearing beanies) that women are able to 1) create life and 2) be elite athletes nearly at the same time. She’s one of my favorite follows on Twitter and I can’t wait to cheer her on in Tokyo, or however she decides to see what she’s capable of in 2021. 

Then there’s Dana Giordana—who’s big bet on quitting her job to be able to train full-time has rewarded her with an amazing breakthrough on the track—the Olympic Trials standard in the 5k with a blazing 15:18! She worked her way back from injury last summer/fall (2019) to come back swinging and take down a PR. I’m excited to watch her this spring and summer! 

In what I believe—though I could be wrong—was Sarah Cumming’s debut 50-miler this fall, she came in second place. Sarah is a master of the marathon, so seeing her make the switch over to longer distances makes me pumped to see what she can get done in that arena. 

Alison Désir is someone I’ve enjoyed watching make things that seem difficult or impossible happen anyway. Not just in 2020. She’s been accomplishing this type of feat for many years, and I’m sure that 2021 will be no different. My eyes are always peeled to read any writing from her and I'm hoping that 2021 will bring the chance to read more! 

Kate Grace is another athlete I have loved getting to keep an eye on for the past few years. I'm always learning new things from her—like this tendon health gelatin recipe she posted on her Instagram that I still haven't managed to replicate in a way that tastes better than flavorless gum. I also loved getting to see Kate’s line of thinking around the idea of tithing and being conscious in how she allocates her money. It’s a topic I wish more people felt comfortable talking about, because I think it'd normalize the idea of thinking critically about how and which organizations and communities might need support.” —Jeanne Mack

Who’d we miss?

Like I said at the top, I’d love to hear about others who aren’t listed here. If you have a pick you’d like to send along, reply to this issue or send me a message on Twitter

Drop me a line

I want to hear from you! Tell me about what you like here, what I missed, and what’s going on in your running life. (You can also follow the Kick on Twitter, and on Instagram.) Thanks for reading, and enjoy your miles. 

Molly