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.

Living Healthily By Feel

As I wrote recently, modern life requires some dependence upon expert recommendations, but when it comes to our health, we’re too dependent upon scientists; when it comes to our money, we’re too dependent upon financial planners; and when it comes to our spirituality, we’re too dependent upon religious professionals.

A recent Wall Street Journal story described a study of older recreational athletes. The conclusion, past age 50, running more than 15-20 miles a week at faster than 7:30 per mile is associated with higher mortality rates. That makes sense since fast long distance running is a form of stress. So far, I’ve ran about 1,470 miles this year or almost exactly 30 a week. Most of those miles were in the 7:30 neighborhood (well, not the last 8 in Canada). In addition, I’ve swam about 185 miles and rode 5,272—all personal highs thanks to my Ironperson Canada prep.

According to some scientific experts, I’m killing myself in the predawn perpetual light rain, in the sense that I’m shortening my life. If you listen carefully, you can hear couch potatoes everywhere cheering lustily.

So do I dial things back? I accept the studies’ peer-reviewed conclusions, but I’m too skeptical to change my overly active lifestyle as a result of the study. When determining how far and fast to run, swim, and cycle; instead of living purely by science; I choose to live mostly by intuition or feel.

I know myself better than the scientists who conducted the study. Consequently, I’m just arrogant enough to think their study doesn’t apply to me. I’ve slowly built my endurance base over the last twenty years, I eat well, I prioritize sleep, and I’m pretty good about minimizing everyday stress. Regularly going semi-long contributes to the excellent quality of my life. I’m convinced I’m physically, mentally, and even spiritually healthier than I otherwise would be if I cut back based on this study’s recommendations.

I would like to live a long life, but I’m even more interested in maintaining a good quality of life. Late in life I want to remember my past; read The New Yorker; write regularly; and walk without falling down.

I could be wrong. About one of the most important decisions imaginable. The horrors, I may not be special. If some of you are at my funeral in two or twenty years, I give you permission to laugh one last time at me.

Saturday morning, I extended myself for only the second time since Ironperson Canada (the other was the Seattle Half Marathon two weeks ago). I ran 10 miles with my favorite right wing burners, inhaled a large bowl of oatmeal, and then celebrated Hob’s 52nd birthday by swimming 52 100’s. Dear longevity researchers, stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

IMG_1628

Iron-Distance Triathlon Training Update

Is it possible to write about triathlon training in ways that aren’t painfully narcissistic? To write about it as a means to more meaningful ends like greater self understanding, greater appreciation for health and nature, for self improvement more generally?

I’m a triathlete and I find most triathlon writing uninteresting. Too many triathlon writers assume others are as interested as them in the details of their training sessions, their equipment choices, what they had for breakfast at 4:30a.m. pre-race, who they happened to run into right before the swim, their frustration that everyone drafted on the bike, and “their amazing support crew.”

Maybe triathlon writing will never be of interest to people who would never think to string a swim, a bike ride, and a run together. I’m diving in based on the theoretical possibility that one can engage the non-triathlete world if the niche sport is a springboard for thinking more deeply about struggle, life purposes, and things social scientific. If this post gets more than average page views I’ll weave in occasional swimming, cycling, and running posts. If not, I won’t.

I’m four weeks into training for Ironperson Canada on August 26th, an athletic event consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and a marathon (26.2 miles, but you knew that already). The four weeks in March called for increasing volume beginning with 51% of max, then 58%, 65%, and 72%. This week, hallelujah, I’m dropping back to 58%. In March I swam 29.6 kilometers; rode 392 miles inside, 150 outside; and ran 167 miles. I’m giving myself an “A-” for the month. I hit the swimming and running targets, maintained some core work, even lifted a bit, but fell a bit short of the cycling targets. I’m blaming La Niña for that. If we have many more colder and wetter than normal weeks, I may snap.

I’m not too worried about being behind on the bike. In May, I’m cycling up and down the Eastern Sierras and then I’m riding up, down, and around Southern and Central Oregon in late July. Eventually, I will return to summer 2011 form. Last weekend the weather broke for 48 hours and I got out for the first long group ride of 2012. I got dusted on the climbs by people I dusted last summer. Of course they hadn’t run 10 miles beforehand, but still, I realize I can’t replicate the intensity of group rides when I’m soft-pedaling indoors while watching Downton Abbey (that’ll intimidate my competition).

On the plus side of the ledger, I’m doing a better job of embracing a process I’ve long resisted. I’ve made peace with my decision to go long. I’ve always considered iron-distance training and racing a form of lunacy. Here’s why it’s taken me so bloody long to dip my toes in the long-distance waters:

1) Long-distance triathlon training and racing confounds one of my more important life goals—to maintain balance between sleep, work, family, friendship, citizenship.

2) Long-distance triathlon has become a big business and participating in it confounds another goal—resisting mindless consumerism. For me, the incessant in-your-face advertising that accompanies the increasing commercialization of the sport takes away from the beautiful settings and the purity of the activity. Go ahead and call me inconsistent, but I acknowledge the benefits of capitalism while simultaneously disliking the conspicuous advertising that is integral to it.

3) Long-distance triathlon is exceedingly expensive and I already play one country club sport—golf. And a person, if they’re a 99-percenter, should only be allowed one country club sport. I’ve benefitted greatly from capitalism, and I don’t begrudge any business legit profits, but I don’t like contributing to the supply that enables the World Triathlon Corporation to charge exorbitant entry prices. More triathletes need to say enough already, I’m seeking out less expensive races, or I’m sitting out the season altogether.

4) Long-distance triathlon is a poignant example of peer pressure something we should grow out of, by say, fifty years-old. I like to think of myself as individualist, but I have to admit I wouldn’t have committed to this race if it wasn’t for my brother and Lance who I will no doubt be cursing at my lowest moments on game day. I’ve never heard anyone of their own volition say, “Next weekend I think I’ll swim for an hour, then cycle for six more, and then run for four or more.” Hey, can I join you? And I have an idea, let’s wait until it’s the hottest day of the year.

5) Admittedly paradoxical, but I suspect long-distance triathlon has detrimental effects on one’ health. Especially for those who make it a lifestyle and repeatedly go long. If one trains seriously and then swims 2.4 miles, rides 112, runs a 10k, and then rests a lot, their body probably benefits. It’s the last 32k of the run where the health tipping point is most likely crossed. Apparently, studies of veteran long-distance triathletes are already showing the health costs of their mania.

Now though, I’m viewing it as a one-off project. And its part and parcel of the interest and identity tweaking I alluded to in the previous post. I told the GalPal, unless I don’t perform to 90% of my (perceived) ability, it’s one and done. If I don’t race smartly and thereby am not able to capitalize on my training, I reserve the right to a do-over in Santa Cruz in fall 2013 or 2014.

Also, in reading a bit about aging, I’m learning it’s important to mix things up on occasion, to break out of one’s normal routines. It’s easy to get in a rut—at work, while working out, in the sack, in one’s relationships. It’s important to travel to new places on occasion, meet new people, experience new things. This is about experiencing a few related things—getting in the best physical shape of my life and discovering my mental and physical limits. And I’m curious about how well I can spread my effort out throughout the day and how long I can force myself to run. Six months of lunacy to learn more about my mind and body.

Correction. Only five more months of long-distance lunacy.

Training the Mind

Regretfully, only now that I am an over the hill marathoner do I realize I have not been intentional enough about training my mind for race day. I suspect there are as many ways to train one’s mind as there are successful endurance athletes, but I’m most in tune with three strategies.

The first, and probably best known and most commonly practiced, is visualization. I dabble with this. Last Saturday, I told Dano at mile 14, “We’re exiting Seward Park (the 14 mile mark in the Seattle Marathon).”

The second entails repeating short positive phrases like “smooth and strong”, “steady strength”, or “fluid motion”. Often though, another tape bleeds into that one, one that sounds like this, “Where the hell’s the mile marker?! Who moved the mile marker?!” “Is this pace sustainable?” And “Is that the hammie about to go?”

The third involves finding inspiration from harder core athletes like Terry Fox, Lynne Cox (Swimming to Antartica), Dave Gordon (still awaiting his book), and Joanie.

If you’re Canadian you know all about Terry Fox. If you’re not, do yourself a huge favor and watch this film.

Lately, Joanie has been in the news. From a recent New York Times profile:

Perhaps running best suited her Yankee upbringing of thrift and individualism in Maine, nothing needed beyond a pair of shoes and an open road. That is how she won the Olympics, running fast and alone.

See for yourself in this four minute clip. Start about 50 seconds in. Her transcendental focus in the 1:20-1:37 segment is mesmerizing. Filing away that image for my run into Memorial Stadium.

As I was circling the Olympia High track in the pitch black one recent morn, I was thinking something similar. The beauty of running is how primitive it is. Especially when compared to cycling. The perfect sport for a minimalist.

Read about Joan’s Chicago Marathon triumph here. Excerpt. “Did I think I was going to be back here running competitively, trying to get an Olympic marathon trials qualifying time 25 years later?” Samuelson asked. “Heck no. But it’s the passion that still burns, the challenge to see how fast I can go.”

The passion still burns. . . and inspires.

Fitness Update

Swimming. I’m not a joiner so I surprised myself when I signed up for the January/early February Masters swim team session. Paying extra to swim with other people? New year/decade kind of thing I guess.

I’ve been getting in about 3-3.5k three times a week. 10k, a regular day in the life of a “swimmer”, a solid week for me. Got some grief for not signing all the way on and buying a team suit before the big meet on February 6th, but I was proud of my excuse, “I’m a triathlete disguised as a swimmer.” Same reason I kick with fins!

That’s a versatile one that I’m ready to use with the cycling team.

Speaking of suits (product pimping alert), the other day I was marveling at how long I’ve been wearing my polyester Speedo Endurance jammers. If I had known about these a decade ago, I wouldn’t be driving a Honda Civic.

Flashblack to the first practice of the New Year. I’m hanging on the wall during a rest interval when all of a sudden, the magic jammers up and quit. A fissure of biblical proportions, just tush and water.

When I got home, my best friend who has a lot of friends on the team demanded I tell her exactly what I did next. So of course I had to embellish it. Truth be told, I timed my locker room dash perfectly and kept my privates out of public view. I had a backup suit and was back in the water with only the coach knowing how close a call everyone had.

It’s important to make a good first impression.

Cycling. See my Christmas present to myself below. Now when the rain or snow is blowing sideways I kick on ESPN and laugh at Mother Nature. Oh, the seven? That’s my Lance Pharmstrong impersonation for Lance. Notice the blurred feet, serious power.

Today’s numbers, off a run, 849calories, 219 watts avg., 28.8k in 1:05. 30m warm up followed by 4 on, 3 off. One benefit of the new bike, I can now be a watts geek.

L, G, and I entered a lottery for an epic ride/race that’s not in Washington State. We entered in that order. I may not know until mid-August if signing up was the result of positive or negative peer pressure.

Running. Taught all day Saturday most of the month so my posse is in more disarray than the Democrats. Missed the Saturday 10-milers. Solid week-day routine though, about 25m/week.

Week that Was—12/21-12/27

12/21 M T W R F SA SU Total
S 2,000

16:31 1k

2,000

16:28 1k

700

famrelays

4,700
C 16 14

fam

30
R 6 6

mid 4-:29

6

marathon

pace

5-38:49

18

S: Outdoors in Flo-rida. SCM. Busted a knuckle up pretty good during family relays. It was all worth it though because I smoked 17 during that 50 back/breast race segment. My sissy shared an interesting thought last week, “It’s not all about me.” Oh, I beg to differ. As I pulled away with 14 cheering wildly, it was all about me. Seventeen never should have said “YOUR doing breaststroke?” Although, fourteen and forty seven were victorious, everyone smoked me in the back/butter/breast.

C: W indoors, Su outdoors. Sunday’s ride was done at 10mph with my better half on a hybrid way too small for me. Our mission, find Derek Jeter’s new house. We were unsuccessful. I should have done the research beforehand. We actually saw it near the end of our ride from across the (Tampa) Bay. Once built it will be 30,000 square feet. Seems kinda silly for a single dude. Actually seems kinda silly for a polygamist with double digit children. Had a thought during the ride Lance. If I rode an Ironperson at that pace, I probably could tag on a marathon. 1:05 swim, 11:40 bike, 4:00 run, :14 transitions. Oh wait, they have a cut off after the bike, nevermind.

R: I was running T and the temp was in the high 60’s. Yes, I took my shirt off and yes runners going the opposite direction were shielding their eyes. Call me the Solar Eclipse. A cyclist passed me wearing arm and leg warmers. So nice to run in warm sunlight. Which brings us to Christmas eve service. The offertory? “In the Bleak Mid-Winter”. I’d like to trade mid-winters for just one more week to help the people of TB truly understand the meaning of “bleak.”

Week that Was—11/23-11/29

Tapered for Sunday’s half marathon.

One swim, 3,000m.

First zero for cycling since I can remember in a long, long time.

Ran M, W, Th, 6.7, 6.4, 4.8. A few faster than normal miles thrown in.

Seattle Half Marathon. Perfect conditions, overcast (duh), high 40’s, breezy. New personal record by nine whole seconds. 1:31:14. Very honest effort. Unfortunately, forgot the Garmin. I remember the following splits. 1, 6:52; 2, 6:54; 4, 27:29; 8, 55:34; 10, 1:09:34 (new p.r. too). Went out faster than normal and hung on decently. Despite the hills, I think I ran every mile between 6:52 and probably about 7:05. Not bad considering I probably can’t break 6:15-6:20 for one mile. Lost the 1:30 pace setter on the down hills. I’ve asked Lance to teach me how to run downhill but he just yammers something about “proprietary knowledge” and “competitive advantage”.

GalPal said she can’t get over some of the people who finish in front of me. “What 300 pound women?!” “No, not quite, but not people who I would guess are faster than you.”

Positive morning completely overshadowed by incredibly tragic shooting of the Lakewood Police Officers. I drive by that coffee shop several times a week.

Start and Finish

Recovery nectar

Recovery Nectar