The longer the race, the stronger we become.
April 25, 2017 12:07 PM   Subscribe

The longer the race, the stronger we become. From the article: "A growing pattern of race results suggests that the longer and more arduous the event, the better the chances women have of beating men."
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates (23 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
the cycle of life comes to mind
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 12:09 PM on April 25, 2017 [4 favorites]

I don't think that's hugely new news, is it? That women in general have more endurance than men?
posted by tavella at 12:10 PM on April 25, 2017 [4 favorites]

Well, yes.
posted by infini at 12:11 PM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

If only that was the case last year
posted by wheelieman at 12:16 PM on April 25, 2017 [14 favorites]

I don't think so. It's true that women do beat men at ultra events (not often, but it happens), but a lot of that is due to the small number of entrants in most ultra events. Women have won marathons outright as well (not big ones, obviously, but still) and women don't do as well in the big ultra events like Comrades. I'm not aware of a single ultra event, anywhere, where a woman holds the outright record (there have been some cases in the past where a woman wins the inaugural race (and thus is the overall course record holder), but they don't hold the title for long).

The article goes on to state:

Across many sports, though, the closing of the gender gap has largely stalled out, with the fastest ­women about 10 percent slower than the fastest men in cycling, swimming, speed skating, rowing, kayaking, and the marathon. The exception is ultra-­distance events.

An exception? Really? Here are the world best times for men and women for various ultra distances:

50K: 2:43:38/3:08:39
100K: 6:13:33/6:33:11
100miles: 11:46:37/13:47:41
24 hour: 303km/255km

The 100K record is interesting, but other than that it doesn't look like the top women are closing the gap.

The course records for Hardrock 100 for men and women are 22:51:35 and 27:18. For Western States they are 14:46 and 16:47. For Leadville it's 15:42 vs 18:06 (admittedly, the men's record was set by Matt Carpenter, who is a freak of nature, but the female record was set by Ann Trason, who appears to have alien DNA as well).

We can do the same with Ironman races. Fastest overall for men is 7:35:39 and the fastest for women (set by the definitely not completely human Chrissie Wellington) is 8:18:13.

The article does talk about ultra endurance swimming, a sport about which I know nothing, so I can't comment on that. Maybe women have a real advantage here, but I've been hearing for years about how women do better than man at ultra running and are closing the gap and while I am second to none in my admiration for these athletes, it just ain't so.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 12:52 PM on April 25, 2017 [15 favorites]

Well as always, RTFA answers some questions:
To be clear, female victories in mixed-gender events remain rare. In the marathon, top women ­finishers are about 15 minutes slower than the top men. But the growing number of standout performances by women in ultra-distance events has athletes, coaches, and researchers believing that ­women may still be far from achieving their full ­potential as athletes. The sentiment is buoyed by the simple fact that women have been compet­ing in ­endurance sports in large numbers for a ­rel­atively short amount of time. The first woman wasn’t allowed in the Boston Marathon until 1971, seventy-four years after the event was born. Scientific understanding of women athletes is also sorely lacking. Until Bill Clinton signed the 1993 National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act, which required most federally funded research to include them, women were excluded from the majority of studies of exercise and biomedicine. Even now there are only a handful of researchers focusing on female athletic performance.
posted by fraula at 1:44 PM on April 25, 2017 [18 favorites]

I wonder how much of this natural endurance might have to do with the fact that women (well, many women) must experience labor and childbirth. That's speaking as someone who went through 50+ hours of labor with little sleep, no food, and no water other than ice chips. (And it ended in a C-section -- yay.)
posted by trillian at 1:59 PM on April 25, 2017

There's a lot of anecdote in this article so it's hard to tease out the point, but, it isn't intending to compare women's performance in endurance events to men's performance in the same events to suggest that women rival men in this arena or that they'll overtake them anytime soon. Rather, it suggests that women have a greater capacity to perform closer to men in endurance events than in sprint events because of physiological factors, like movement economy (where women are at or closer to parity with men), that are a bigger factor over long distances.

Seems reasonable, to me, that women will do the best they can as women in the types of sporting events where success depends less on the physiological advantages that men typically have.
posted by scantee at 2:09 PM on April 25, 2017 [4 favorites]

I've been wondering for a while if the emphasis on women athletes to be slim and feminine, and often to diet and restrict weight gain, might be artificially undercutting women's potential. Muscle weights a lot, so restricting women's diets so they remain at a low weight will cause their bodies to be weaker and thus not as effective at any physical activity.
posted by Deoridhe at 2:17 PM on April 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

It would be interesting to plot the level of "elite" in a given athletic discipline where being-a-dude becomes a requirement.

Over the weekend, some friends of mine took part in the local Ironman (), and the two folks I followed were an under-39 guy and an under-29 woman. She beat him by 3 minutes, both respectably under 12 hours. (Her margin was a half-hour faster swim; he made up time on the bike and run, but not quite enough to make up for his swim.)

Anyway, the top man set a course record (7:52:44, with splits of 51:46/4:14/2:42); the top woman (8:56:32, on 1:02/4:44/3:03) was in 28th place overall. Obviously, she finished ahead of lots of very fast men.

Lots of this is still representation, as noted. Are we sure we're getting as many of the "best" women to compete as we do men? Probably not; you can see the uneven representation even at the "enthusiastic-amateur" level of cycling I do. I'm middle-aged and un-slim, and while I'm not slow I'm a long way from what is legitimately fast on a bike. But my times on some Strava segments in town -- segments where I'm FAR from the men's leaderboard -- are at or very close to the women's QOM time.

Given my age and shape, that's 100% due to representation/participation.
posted by uberchet at 2:20 PM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Well as always, RTFA answers some questions:

Yeah, but that paragraph sort of contradicts the previous statement. You can't say that women are closing the gap in ultra events and then at the same time explain why they haven't done that.

Maybe women still have a lot of improving to do and will start to approach men's times (I have my doubts), but it's a fact that they don't today and there's really no indication that they are closer to doing it in ultra running events than anywhere else. The gap between the top men and top women at six day races is about the same, percentage wise, as the gap between the top men and top women at 100m.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 2:40 PM on April 25, 2017

You can't say that women are closing the gap in ultra events and then at the same time explain why they haven't done that.

Why not? The article says the gap between women and men has gotten smaller over the last few decades (= "closing the gap", as a still ongoing action), and it looks like what may be missing is just participants and time. (At least that's how I read it.)

Anyway, interesting article all around with a lot of links to delve deeper into the subject. Thanks for posting!
posted by bigendian at 3:11 PM on April 25, 2017 [5 favorites]

and it looks like what may be missing is just participants and time.

And rules, unfortunately. The ass backwards UCI just increased the limits on race length for women to a not very progressive 160km per stage, 140km average distance. It does look like this might have increased two years in a row though, which is a surprisingly good sign. Anybody know for sure? Says here that the changes in red are from January 1st 2016?
posted by Chuckles at 4:22 PM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

The overlap between the curves for men and women is substantial, but the top finishers are going to tend to be male. When I ran a marathon once, I beat a lot of men, to be sure, but the fastest men (and women, for that matter) were out of sight.

It depends on the sport, too. I'm a fencer, and I have seen women beat men in open tournaments, because fencing is largely a matter of distance, timing, and craftiness, with athleticism important but not a deal killer. I have won mixed competitions myself (and at 65 can often beat teenagers). But the Division I National Championships? No way.

I've always been impatient with these comparisons, though. I'm smaller and lighter than a man of my age, with less explosive strength in relation to my body weight even though I lift weights and work out. But it's not terribly important to me to beat a guy (though as we age, we tend to become more alike than different). My real competition is women in the age 60-69 category, and I have to work harder to beat them than I do some random dude in a mixed open, because they're training to beat me.
posted by Peach at 7:10 PM on April 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Looking at the times posted by It's Never Luigi as well a a few others, it's really interesting how absolutely consistently (except for the 100k, basically) the top male and female times show a 15% or so male advantage (the 100k is only 6%). The gap is such that it would be quite surprising if it were to be closed regardless of vague "full potential" commentary in the text.
posted by rr at 8:29 PM on April 25, 2017

I'm not aware of a single ultra event, anywhere, where a woman holds the outright record

In addition to some of the other explanations for this that have been offered, it's possible that it's both true that women are likely to beat men and that individual men are likely to be the outright record holders, if the way the endurance+speed combo distribution looks is that women's median is a bit higher and tails are longer for men.
posted by wildblueyonder at 8:31 PM on April 25, 2017

For once, I would like to see a sport designed to maximize women's physiological advantages. The game is a reflection of the designer.
posted by fritillary at 9:38 PM on April 25, 2017 [18 favorites]

I'm not aware of a single ultra event, anywhere, where a woman holds the outright record

I mean, it's not an event as such, but you might want to look at who holds the overall FKT for unsupported traverses of the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Arizona Trail. It ain't a guy.

Which kinda points in favour of the longer the event is, the less differences there might be.
posted by maupuia at 12:17 AM on April 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Look to endurance swimming for a distance sport that women do actually regularly beat men.

Buoyancy matters in distance swimming, and women are more buoyant than men.
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:57 AM on April 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

Buoyancy matters in distance swimming, and women are more buoyant than men.

Well I've always said that men were denser than women.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:38 AM on April 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

Looking at a local ultra, I used the 2014 50Mile results because of easy parsing and more than 30 finishers. (results here)

Separating by gender, 78M and 38F attempted, 56M and 27F finished for 72% of Men completing and 71% of women (essentially the same completion rate).

Looking at placing, while the top ten only had 3 female finishers, average place for men was 40 and average place for women was 45 meaning that overall placement was quite similarly distributed for the number of participants.
	mean place	mean time	mode time
men	40		38441		36142
women	45		39829		38459
women*	44		38911		38459
The women* was the removal of the last place finisher. Places 81 and 82 were under 15h:20m while 83 was 17h:41m. This is clearly cherry picking the data, but I find it interesting how close the mean's were with such a large difference between the last place from the 2 before it.

Even excluding the cherry picking of removing the last place 2 hour long tail entry and average woman's time was less than 4% less than the average men's time. The difference bweteen the mode for genders was less than 7%. So in this one small event we see the average woman performing better than the 10-15% gender gap expected. Heck, the 4-7% for mean/mode is half the gap expected.

I don't currently have the time/inclination to look more broadly, but I'd like to see what a lot of other racers (both with elites, and non-elites (like the one I examined)) how the average times compare within genders. Additionally to mode, the top 25% and bottom 75%. I suspect that women in general will have less deviation. With ratio's still not approximately 1:1 I think it's a safe statement to say that there could be many other women out there who might be at the top, if they only tried running, and at that distance. I guess I should be glad that my local race had a 1:2 ratio as opposed to 1:4 (like 2017's current entrant listing looks to be).
posted by nobeagle at 9:35 AM on April 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Interesting results nobeagle, but I'm not sure what they mean. If you have more elite women (or more old and slow men waves) participating then the average for women will be higher, but that doesn't actually say anything about men's times vs women's times at the elite level.

According to a stat I dug up on the internet (which makes it correct), the average marathon time for men in 2015 was 4:20 and for women it was 4:45 which, hey, is about 10%. But the average marathon time for men in the London marathon in 2015 was 4:04 for men and 4:39 for women, which is more than 10%. London is a very fast marathon, but it seems to benefit men more than women. Or does it? Maybe slower women are more likely to participate in London than slower men. Maybe fast men are much more likely to run London than fast women. Maybe there are more fast men.

I note with more amusement that the average finishing time for the Comrades Ultra (which is, by far, the biggest ultra in the world) has increased by over an hour since 1980, but that's entirely due to increased participation (the average age has increased, too). In 1980 the mean finish time for women was 9:23 (33 women) and for men it was 8:57 (3946 men). In 1990 it was 9:56 (647 women) vs 9:27 (9626 men). 2000 was 10:47 (3311) vs 10:13 (16729). Oddly, the gap here (about half an hour) is about the same as the gap between the course record times for men and women (although it makes up a much larger percentage there).

Conclusion: Numbers are awesome.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:18 AM on April 26, 2017

Similar to the average time for Comrades getting slower, average marathon times are also getting slower. For the same reason; increased participation means that people like me are getting in there gumming up the works bringing down the averages and diluting the results of the elites. At the same time, increased participation gives it more awareness, making it more likely that the alien freaks who will be setting FKT's end up trying it and eventually setting new records.

The numbers I used from my local run weren't meant to say anything about the elites. It's meant to look at the aggregate difference between the genders in participants (which as a 50miler, already has some pretty high self-selection walls up against the general population) to see if there's a lower performance gap for the extreme endurance events vs. more acheivable races/distances. Possibly even looking at the event, and excluding the top 10% and bottomt 10% of each gender.

As the article was trying to show that the gap is closing (definitely not closed) on the male/female elites for upper level endurance, I wouldn't find it far off from the subject to compare mean participant time by gender, and seeing how that is for shorter track events, vs. 5k-10ks, vs. half/full marathons, vs 1 day ultraruns, vs multi-day ultraruns.

I.E. it's not just elite women do better than the 10-15% divide upon going to ultra distances, but the average participant (maybe even average excluding the top and bottom 5-10% outliers for each gender). At that point on looking at the aggregate, it would be easier to say that there's something about a woman's physiology for endurance that only has them at 5-10% of an imbalance at 50miles vs. 10-15% at 5k. With the elites, already they're pretty much outliers and aliens from the rest of us.

Similarly seeing a take on swiming and biking seeing the performance difference from the sprint, to mid, to long, to ultra.
posted by nobeagle at 11:52 AM on April 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

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