The UK’s Lizzy Hawker achieved so many world running records, she was named National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year over male competitors in 2013. New Zealander Anna Frost never met a mountain run she couldn’t conquer and England’s Ellie Greenwood medaled so often, “Ultrarunning Magazine” named her Ultrarunner of the Year twice.
Think that’s awesome? Paula Radcliffe won the New York Marathon just months after giving birth to her first child. But medals and world records don’t explain how and why women run better than men in some situations.
For answers to the mystery, we turn to biology and science to make a case for why “the weaker sex” run rings around guys when it matters most: at the finish line.
Why men have always been considered the dominant sex
Drop in at any Singapore pub to chat, unwind and de-stress and you’ll find gender-specific conversations taking place. Insinuate that men are better than women at some things or that women are superior to men in other situations and a lively debate is sure to ensue.
Try bringing up the topic of women being better, more natural runners than men and don’t plan to leave your bar stool quickly!
Men have always been the brave, fearless sex plundering primitive territory in search of animals back in the era of cavemen and women, but archaeologists have proven that it’s not just the search for food that drives a man’s “hunter mentality.”
Men also possess a biological disposition to conquer, brave the unknown and take risks. These urges are much stronger in men than they are in women.
But, women’s bodies are designed for longer performance
How do you feel when the subject of fat arises? If you’re like most body-conscience runners, the word alone can strike fear in your heart. Who wants to pile on the fat and then drag it around on a 10km? But fat stores play a huge part in women’s ability to run efficiently, so stop wishing all of yours could be converted to muscle!
Modest fat stores benefit runners, particularly around the 18-mile point when glycogen stores tend to get low and the body needs fuel to keep going. Good news. Women are more efficient at using body fat so glycogen depletion is forestalled, and while scientific research into this topic is relatively new, it’s extremely promising.
Bottom line is that if you compare the way women and men burn fat, the process is more efficient in women.
Even hormones play a part in women’s ability to out-perform men. Estrogen attaches to brain neurotransmitters, so if female runners begin to experience muscle fatigue, boosts of the hormone can offset feelings of weariness so women runners can keep on going.
Fact is, biology is destiny and while women won’t run as fast as men, thanks to hormones, women will always perform better in terms of endurance. Word of warning guys: Even post-menstrual women have more estrogen than you do, so lose that “weaker sex” rhetoric next time you compare male and female runners!
We turn to Jens Jakob Andersen for the numbers
Is it ironic that a male researcher in Denmark has proven to be the top dog in the field of running research that proves women superior to men? Perhaps. Jens Jakob Anderson, a former runner and renowned Danish statistician, remains at the top of his field in terms of gender-specific running performance research.
Anderson’s findings are synthesised from no fewer than 1.8 million international marathon results over a period of five years, according to RunRepeat.com.
Says Andersen, the conclusion is clear: women are better than men at maintaining a consistent pace during runs, and all other factors being equal “is the best strategy” for men or women seeking to perform at optimal levels. To women, this comes naturally for one reason or another.
RunRepeat’s funded research adds that women slow down nearly 19-percent less than men during the second half of marathons because they’ve still got energy reserves to pick up the pace.
In a separate study on the topic of the second-part marathon slow down, he learned that while men run faster than women throughout, it’s the consistent pace women exhibit in competition and natural inclination to pace that makes them more successful.
Guys, please don’t sulk
Did this groundbreaking Danish research study produce surprises? It did; particularly in four areas:
- Over the length of the study, the ratio of males to females changed dramatically: the number of men registering to run events dropped while those of women’s participation increased, leading research team members to conclude that women feel empowered by the growing number of women taking part in events.
- Even age plays a factor in this changing dynamic. While men reaching the age of 50 showed only a 55-percent growth in marathon participant numbers, there was nearly a 90-percent increase in the number of women in this age bracket signing up to run marathons.
- Influences on men’s performance included pride, testosterone, moods, fitness level concerns and differences in risk-seeking behaviours. Women weren’t influenced by any of these factors. The rate at which men and women slow down at 5km and 10km events proved the single biggest influence on pace and performance success.
- While women’s average finish time remains longer when measured against a comparable universe of male runners, in the end, it’s the increased speed generated by male runners at the beginning of their marathon performances that proves to be their downfall as they get closer to the finish line.
5 Ways to improve your performance (even if you’re a guy)
Not only did Jens Jacob Anderson provide all runners with a great look at performance differences but his study results form a guidebook for marathon success for anyone eager to improve.
Adopt these tips gleaned from his groundbreaking work for starters:
- Train for upcoming marathons by undertaking easy runs at the pace you intend to keep during the event.
- Don’t allow the crowd to break your focus; crowd-related excitement can—and does—impact performance.
- Leave the start line at a slower place than your body wants to go to conserve energy you need for the end.
- Fight the urge to compete with others in the race. This mindset hinders rather than helps your effort.
- If you notice that your pace isn’t what you planned, don’t compensate by speeding up or you risk burnout.
Have you ever gotten into a debate about whether men are better runners than women? What was the best argument you made for either side?