Are Women Better Runners than Men?
Are women better runners than men? Jens Jakob Andersen, founder of RunRepeat.com, a Danish running shoe review website, believes so. Andersen is the lead researcher on the largest marathon study ever, titled “Women Are Better Runners Than Men.”
Andersen examined 1,815,091 results (including 5K splits) from 131 worldwide marathon races from 2008 to 2014, with a stated purpose of analyzing performance in the marathon via results and addressing potential sex differences. He found that women are 18.69% better at pacing during marathons than men.
What does that mean exactly? According to the data, women slow by only 11% over the last half of a marathon, whereas men slow by 14%.
Andersen postulates that this is due to psychology. In a Washington Post article, he says
I think it happens because we men tend to have an unrealistic idea of how good we are,” he said. “It applies to everything. Look into a mirror for men, and it’ll be, ‘I’m super fit and strong.’ And for women it’ll be, ‘Oh, I’m too fat.’
He added that men are bigger risk-takers than women.
And perhaps too simplistic. It is possible that there could be factors other than over-inflated ego (men) and low self-esteem (women) at play. A similar study looked at the 2007 and 2009 results of the Chicago Marathon, specifically at how finishers who broke 5 hours paced themselves.
This study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, specifically examined heat stress and sex in marathon results. The researchers also found that women slowed less over the last half of the marathon, but hypothesized physiology, not psychology, may have been the culprit. The study, highlighted in Runners World, noted that women might be better at burning fat than men, and therefore less likely to hit The Wall and slow down when they run out of glycogen.
Racing experience, and marathon experience in particular, was not accounted for in either study. A third study, published in Medicine & Sport In Science & Exercise, did account for experience. The study used four “experience variables”:
- years of running experience;
- prior marathons;
- prior races at any distance;
- fastest previous marathon.
Women Slow Less
This study also found that women were less likely to slow down over the last half of the marathon, but did not find that experience was a factor. They stated that “although greater experience was associated with less slowing, controlling for the experience variables did not eliminate the sex difference in pacing.” The researchers concluded that “the sex difference in pacing is robust. It may reflect sex differences in physiology, decision making, or both.”
At the end of the marathon, it appears that there are multiple factors correlated to women’s pacing ability being better than men’s. If the analysis of these studies indicate anything, it’s that both men and women would benefit from slowing down at the start of a marathon.
Andersen says “…keep in mind that both men and women could improve a lot. Being slightly more conservative with regards to the starting pace would, everything else equal, make you perform better. Better performance leads to better experiences. Better experiences leads you to practice more, which leads nations to be healthier.”
What do you Think?
That’s good advice, no matter your gender, psychological make-up or level of ambition. The research clearly shows that women slow down less over the course of a marathon, and it most likely can’t be explained by a simple gender stereotype. More than most distances, marathons are a mental game. Now that I know that women have a better handle on that, I’ll be following a woman at the start of my next marathon!
How do these findings (whether you are male or female) reflect your own experience? Anecdotal or not, share your thoughts below.