There is an agonising, muscle-draining intensity to cross country running. It can be cold, wet and exhausting and – at a competitive level – campaigners argue it’s also unfair.
Runner Maud Hodson is fighting to try and drag the sport she loves into the 21st century.
“I love the hills, I love the mud, I love the beautiful places we run in. But I find it had to believe that women are still not racing over the same distances as men.”
For women who run competitively, in England races are often much shorter. At the English National Championships, the men run 12k, while the women are only allowed to run eight.
“People outside of running have no idea that this sort of discrimination is happening,” says Ms Hodson.
“On the roads we all run marathons and half marathons, on the track we all race over the same distance, but cross country is stuck in a bit of a time warp.
“There are many reasons we’re given, the main one seems to be tradition, that it’s the way it’s always been done. They also say there isn’t enough time to run a longer race.”
In a statement to Sky News, the English Cross Country Association said: “Distances for cross country races are determined by the individual competition providers rather than as a requirement of UKA Rules for Competition.
“As a result, in many races male and female competitors at all levels compete over different distances at senior level. In championships this is usually 8k for women and 12k for men. These distances have evolved over the years and are at present the ones traditionally used.”
It went on to say: “We are pleased to confirm we will be conducting a survey with athletes at next month’s National Cross Country Championships in London.”
In the meantime, Ms Hodson has started an online petition demanding change. She says there’s a simple solution.
“We could all run the distance in the middle, so for instance instead of 8k for women and 12k for men, we could all run 10k. This is what’s happening in the world championships, this is what’s happening in the Scottish nationals, but not yet here in England.”
British long-distance runner Jo Pavey, a World, European and Commonwealth medallist, agrees it makes little sense.
“I think it is patronising, when women are competing in the same events as men across all the different distances on the track and the road, and actually when you go to longer distances physiologically women have been shown to become more equal to men, rather than the other way around,” she says.
“Women are achieving such great things, there are great role models out there. Women have obviously been running the marathon for many years now and it is very patronising to suggest that women aren’t as capable as men.”