Zackary Harris just became the first ever non-binary division winner in the 50-year history of the New York City Marathon, the largest race of its kind in the world.
If only those jerks in high school could see them now.
As a teenager, Harris liked to run, so naturally, they joined their high school’s track and cross country teams. But their experience was disastrous. Harris came out as queer at a young age, and in their conservative town outside of St. Louis, was an anomaly. Harris’ teammates chased them away with bigoted taunts and jokes.
But then Harris found themself at the University of California Berkeley, where being queer was not unusual — to say the very least. That’s where they got back into running, and reclaimed it for themself.
“It felt like a rebirth,” Harris said. “Running has always felt like second nature. It felt relieving to be able to get back into running and find joy in it again, almost like a ‘fuck you’ to the students who pushed me out of running with their taunting in high school.”
Harris’ first race in college was the San Francisco half-marathon, then they were off to New York. Around the same time, Harris started to have a reckoning with their gender identity. Running gave them the time and freedom to think about those sorts of things.
“Running has been that time where I can process things that are going on in my life, and make sense of them,” Harris said.
While running has helped Harris find clarity, it’s also created some anguish. Most races only allow contestants to enter as “male” or “female,” forcing Harris and other non-binary and trans runners to suffer an unnecessary humiliation.
“It’s a pain point for most people,” Harris said. “In some strange way, I’ve had to swallow it to make those decisions all the time to do the sport that I love. I think the best analogy is, just constantly getting pricked with a needle. That’s what it is every time.”
But now, Harris is getting pricked a little less often. Earlier this month, they competed as a non-binary runner in the NYC Marathon. It was the first year New York Road Runners created a separate non-binary division. There were 16 competitors in total.
“It was an important moment for a marathon as big as the NYC marathon — because it’s basically the biggest one that gets put on around the world — to actually recognize non-binary runners for the first time ever, and letting us race as non-binary runners, and then finishing and having that recognition in our results,” Harris said.
Still, Harris is lacking one piece of recognition the other winners received: prize money. They say they haven’t been contacted by marathon organizers about their first-place finish.
“As part of NYRR’s commitment to increase inclusivity and representation in the running community, a non-binary gender identification and category for membership, race registrations, and program offerings were launched earlier this year. Due to the pandemic, NYRR’s age-group awards, prize money, and full club point series were suspended this year,” a NYRR spokesperson told Outsports.
Later this week, NYRR will announce the non-binary time qualifying standards for the 2022 NYC Marathon.
“Since running is so far-reaching, you would think at some point we would eventually realize the system we’ve created is kind of built off a false notion of the people who exist in the world and the identities that exist in the world,” Harris said.
With time, Harris is hoping more races follow NYC’s lead, and they will be there for it. Harris, who attends law school in NYC, has found a community of LGBTQ runners in the city through Front Runners New York, a popular LGBTQ running and triathlon club. A grand total of 178 front runners participated in the NYC Marathon Nov. 7.
When Harris is on a distance run these days, they know those who are beside them have their back.
“I was the only out out queer person on my track and cross country teams, so to be surrounded by all LGBTQ people who are also runners just brings a lot of joy and pride,” Harris said. “It feels like the community is behind me, and we’re all there supporting each other no matter our abilities.”