Women Pace Marathons Better Than Men

Gretchen Reynolds, a New York Times health blogger, summarizes a study of thousands of marathon runners. Abbreviated version:

• The researchers wound up with information about 91,929 marathon participants, almost 42 percent of them women. The data covered all adult age groups and a wide range of finishing times.

• They compared each runner’s time at the midpoint of his or her race with his or her time at the finish, a simple method of broadly determining pace. As it turned out, men slowed significantly more than women racers did. In aggregate, men covered the second half of the marathon almost 16 percent slower than they ran the first half. Women as a group were about 12 percent slower in the second half. Burrowing deeper into the data, the scientists categorized runners as having slowed markedly if their second-half times were at least 30 percent slower than their first-half splits. Far more men than women fell into the markedly slower category, with about 14 percent of the male finishers qualifying versus 5 percent of the women.

• This disparity in race pacing held true in all age groups and finishing times, the researchers found, even among the fastest runners. The difference, however, was most pronounced at the back of the pack. There, female runners were much more likely than men to steadily maintain the same, less hurried pace throughout.

• Using this data to adjust for marathon experience, the researchers found that men, however many marathons they had completed, were still more likely than equally experienced women to slow during the second half of a race.

• The study was not designed to determine why men more frequently fade during marathons. But the reasons are likely to be physiological and psychological said . . . the senior author of the study. “We know that at any given exercise intensity, men will burn a greater percentage of carbohydrates for fuel than women, and women will use more fat. Our bodies, male and female, contain considerably more fat than stored carbohydrates. So men typically run out of fuel and bonk or hit the wall earlier than women do.”

The study’s senior author also found that men are more prone psychologically to adopt a “risky strategy” in their early pacing. “They start out fast and just hope they can hold on,” she says. She points out that strategy can sometimes pay off in a swifter finishing time. “It’s not necessarily a bad thing to push yourself at the start of a marathon,” she says, “if you have not catastrophically overestimated your capabilities. And Hunter notes, “An evenly paced race is not a well-paced one, if you run slower than you were capable of running.”

Reynolds, the Times blogger concludes, “The message of the study, then, would seem to be that an approach to marathon pacing that borrows something from men and women might be ideal. Maybe go a bit harder than you think you can in training, aiming to calibrate what your actual fastest sustainable pace is. Then stick with it during the event, even if your training partners tear away like rabbits at the start. You’ll reel them in.”

Unless there’s a large percentage of women with “gas in the tank” at the end of marathons, which I highly doubt, this conclusion strikes me as odd. As the study’s authors acknowledge in the larger post, evenly paced marathons are almost always faster than uneven ones; therefore, it’s logical to conclude that women marathoners, on average, are tapping more of their potential on race day relative to men.

And why are men running out of fuel and bonking earlier then women? It doesn’t matter that men “burn a greater percentage of carbohydrates for fuel” when every race provides ample fluid and carbs every few miles. Why don’t men do a better job replacing what they’re burning? Are women more intentional then men about integrating race simulation long runs in their training? Are men more prone to winging pacing and nutrition on race day?

Even if the study wasn’t designed to address why men are more prone to run too fast too early, I have a theory. I used to run with a friend who routinely sped up whenever we came upon a female runner or two on our wooded trails. He wasn’t conscious of this quirk. That experience, plus two decades of watching mostly male marathoners start out way too fast, makes me think male runners’ egos get the best of them.

When passed by older runners, heavy runners, really young runners, or heaven for bid, female runners, the self conscious male runner is prone to pick up his pace, with disastrous results an hour or two later.

Knowing this, I always strive to run my own race based upon the quality of my pre-race training. Consequently, when you pass me at a future race, I will wish you well.

Postscript—during today’s 5.5 miler, I realized my playlist needs some tweaking. Which of these doesn’t fit?

Bonus vid for making it to the finish line.

A Plea to Drivers—Let Us Live

Happy to report that I’m running, cycling, and swimming mostly pain free. Some low level tendonitis, but nothing ice can’t remedy.

I’m hiking from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to the South, on May 23rd. Twenty-four miles in a leisurely 12 hours, assuming a rattle snake doesn’t get me. Then, to the top of Mount Humphrey, the highest peak in AZ, the next day.

A five day cycling camp in and around Bend, Oregon the first week of June.

In late June/mid July, I’m considering entering a shortish local triathlon and/or a nearby half iron.

And thanks to lottery success this year, on July 31st, the always epic Ride Around Mount Rainier in One Day. Here’s another RAMROD write-up. And here’s more course info.

Runners and cyclists have an obligation to follow the rules of the road and run and cycle defensively. Among other things, that means wearing bright colored clothes; using flashing lights early and late in the day; and following the rules of the road, including stopping for stop signs and red lights whenever anyone is within view; and always running behind any car with tinted windows.

Drivers also have an obligation to follow the rules of the road including stopping at stop signs, looking both ways before pulling onto a roadway, adhering to the speed limit, and respecting bike lanes.

I’ve had a scary number of close calls this spring. I don’t know why, but lots of drivers in my community are in a BIG hurry. That means they routinely brake 10-15 feet beyond white stop sign lines. Which can mean broken bones if not worse. Then, the same hurried drivers glance one way and quickly speed away.

Another common occurrence is what I think the police should write up as an “out of sight, out of mind fuck up.” This is when you, the driver, pass me, the faster than you realize cyclist, and immediately forget I’m right behind you in the bike lane. Then, you suddenly turn right, right in front of me. Recently, I locked my brakes up, swerved, and somehow managed to avoid contact with you.

Even worse, recently, a guy buzzed our bike team by passing closely by us at about 65mph and then immediately swerving into the bike lane. Then yesterday, Mark and I were riding side-by-side in a bike lane when a hulking SUV edged towards the line and gunned it. The message, “I could kill you, if I wanted.” As happens on occasion, we caught the offending SUV at a red light 200 meters later. The driver immediately looked down at her cell phone to avoid eye contact with us. Like driving a drone, she didn’t want to see the individual people on the bicycles.

I imagined her chuckling with her husband about her feat at dinner. If her window was down, and I had a chance to collect myself, I would’ve said to her what I want to say to you:

You’ve got about three tons on us, so if you want, you can easily kill us. But we have wives, children, and sometime soon, grandchildren. They would be sad. So please share the road peacefully and let us live. Thank you.

 

RAMROD 11

RAMROD course flyover. 3:25.

Time to circle the mountain again. Next Thursday. I’ve taught less than normal this summer, as a result I’ve ridden more consistently and I feel as good as I’ve ever felt on a bike. To borrow from one friend, “I’ve been climbing like Landis on crack.” I’ve got the base, I’ve done the climbing, and I’m happy to report that despite our country’s finances, they’re still handing out free ice-cream bars at the finish. I’ll be the blur on your left. Listen for the whoosh.

RAMROD Elevation Profile