Are women being discriminated against in the sport of backyard ultrarunning?

This is the gruelling sport where runners run 6.7km loops, on the hour, until the last person running is declared the winner.

The question arises because a 15-person New Zealand team’s being selected for the world backyard ultra champs late this year, and so far the top 15 in line for selection are all men.

However, knocking on the door in 16th place is local nurse Brooke Thomas, who at Auckland’s recent Riverhead Backyard ReLaps Ultra finished 4th overall, and top woman.

Thomas, who turned 36 last Saturday, pulled out after running 38 laps in 38 hours, or 254.6km — her best result after clocking 37 laps in the inaugural Arrowtown Backyard Ultra last November.

She admits she’s conflicted as to whether women should be allowed to have their own category.

‘‘On the one hand, I want to encourage females into the sport, so I think giving females more opportunities, by having a female category, might be a way to encourage more of us to do it.’’

On the other, Thomas — who broke the women’s record for running the length-of-NZ Te Araroa trail in 2021 — says ‘‘I like racing the boys, and I like the fact females are the underdogs of the sport’’.

‘‘It’s a harder challenge for us, for sure — we’re physiologically disadvantaged, but we are still starting to close that gap, and that’s pretty cool if you ask me.’’

She adds: ‘‘Supposedly, over 190km the playing field becomes even between guys and girls.’’

Thomas says if she was only racing women, ‘‘I don’t think I’d be as motivated, to be honest’’.

‘‘My fire is burning stronger because, I’m like, this is a real challenge — man, I want to beat the boys.’’

Meanwhile, she’s not sure if she’ll get another chance to qualify for the 15-‘man’ team.

She’s going to Europe for the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc ultrarun in August, ‘‘so I have to decide if I’m going to race … in June [in Whangarei] or whether I’m just going to give it away for the year’’.

Not that ‘give it away’ is usually found in Thomas’ vocabulary.

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