Women Overtaking Men ?
April 14, 2003 10:00 AM   Subscribe

Yesterday, Paula Radcliffe won the London Marathon. She ran 2:15:25, setting a new world best, and in doing so beat all of the British men racing (she would have placed 15th in the men's elite race). Are the women catching up with the men?
posted by daveg (13 comments total)
Here's an article google could find for me on this subject, but I distinctly remember that the gender gap has been closing in marathons for years, and in ultra marathons (50 and 100 mile races), the gap is almost gone, with a women often finishing in the top three overall. I haven't kept up on ultramarathon news, but I remember there was one woman that was poised to start winning events overall and beating men several years back. If I remember correctly, the basic differences in muscle mass keep a gender gap in short races, especially sprinting events, but on longer events physical build isn't as much of a factor, and on the longest events, psychological strength may be more important than physical.

(more googling)

Oh look, Pam Reed did beat all the men in an ultramarathon last year.
posted by mathowie at 10:27 AM on April 14, 2003

The trouble with ultra-distance racing is that it doesn't seem to attract top flight athletes, the challenge seems to be more in the survival than racing as fast as possible and beating other competitors. Maybe I'm doing them a disservice, but I've never considered ultra-distance racing as a real sport (more in line with dance marathons).
posted by daveg at 10:37 AM on April 14, 2003

clarification: To me ultra-distance would be > 2 marathons (52.4 miles).
posted by daveg at 10:39 AM on April 14, 2003

I hereby propose a new sport:
Run or walk - the competitor that covers the most ground before collapsing wins.
posted by spazzm at 10:45 AM on April 14, 2003

Radcliffe again upped the pace, setting her second fastest split mile of the race of five minutes and six seconds after 22 miles on the road.

This is so mind-boggling. I've run one marathon, and I'll spare you the details of how many times Radcliffe could have completed the course before I got through it once (hey, it's less than three!), but I can barely even imagine doing this. I'm sure I could do a five-minute mile from a good warmed-up start, but after already doing a mile or so, there's no way I'd be close to that - and she hits it after already doing twenty-two friggin' miles? Then two miles later, she gets even faster? As Vizini says, "inconceivable!!!" Go Paula!
posted by soyjoy at 10:56 AM on April 14, 2003

This is great. The 2:20 barrier was elusive for so long. Now the women seem to be crushing one another's performances.

I don't think women marathoners are going to catch up to the men any time soon. The men are running sub-5:00 miles the whole race. A 4:45 mile is a full minute slower than the mile world record but only about 30 seconds slower than the women's world mile record. To run taht close to the world record 26 times in a row is an unlikely breakthrough for now.

I would love to see a women's record of 2:10 to 2:12. It would be a message that a woman could win all but the fastest marathons.
posted by neuroshred at 11:34 AM on April 14, 2003

A woman DID win the London Marathon (kind of). I posted earlier about the Flora 1000 Mile Challenge (running 1000 miles in 1000 hours with the winner being decided by the running of the London Marathon. Shona Crombie-Hicks bested the field of men and women in an impressive 3:08.

I believe that 2:20 was first broken in 2001, so this is quite a leap for the women.
posted by Frank Grimes at 3:47 PM on April 14, 2003

it's dangerous to do any comparison between populations using outliers. in other words, even if paula r beat all the men you could only say that she was very good, not that women in general were closing (it could be that women in general are staying the same and paula is simply an amazingly good athelete the likes of which we'll never see again).

[i'm not saying that women aren't closing the performance gap, just making a pedantic point about statistics and inference.]

what always puzzles me is why people move from track to marathons when they get older. is it that the prizes are generally lower? or does endurance increase with age (up to a point)? why doesn't a good young long distance track racer clean up on marathons? presumably paula is near or past the peak of her fitness - what could she have done a couple of years ago, instead of getting us (and her hubbie) all worked up at the olympics? ;-)

soyjoy - could you really do a 5 min mile? i'd have thought a 5 hourish marathon time would imply not (i'm not criticising that time, just questioning your assumption - i run too, but am way too much of a coward to ever do a marathon).

i've a vague feeling i've asked this before here. maybe i'm so old i'm becoming senile...
posted by andrew cooke at 4:07 PM on April 14, 2003

why doesn't a good young long distance track racer clean up on marathons?

I think endurance takes time, and in all the years of running at high school and adult levels, I've generally never seen good young distance runners, nor have I seen any good old sprinters.

It's funny to look at the results of a 10k, half marathon, or marathon. The fastest group is often the 26-35 group, with the winner often around age 32. I've won my class in a pretty crowded 10k for doing 8 minute miles (not great at all, just average running) when I was 24, but after I turned 25, I frequently ended up in the tail end of the top 100 in my class. If you plotted race times vs age, I'm sure you see your mean somewhere in the low-to-mid 30s, with many finishers in their 40s outperforming finishers in their 20s.
posted by mathowie at 4:39 PM on April 14, 2003

No one can really say at this point how well women will ever do in athletic activity into the future. You men have been participating in competitive sport since time began. Women were for the most part discouraged until fairly recent history. Even now few women realize how powerful their lower bodies are (as opposed to the natural upper body strength men have). Not many women understand that the natural shape of a woman's calfs are due to the underlying muscle structure. From my understanding it is easier for a woman to build calves then men. Ergo, if so few women still do not understand thier own physical being you are still not taping the vast reserves of womens athletic abilities....You and I will never know what the possibilites are.
posted by SweetIceT at 7:00 PM on April 14, 2003

The trouble with ultra-distance racing is that it doesn't seem to attract top flight athletes

No, you simply have a very limited view of what an athlete is.

Michael Jordan and Bo Jackson...great athletes, could train for a lifetime and never win a marathon. They have bodies and skills better suited for other sports.

the challenge seems to be more in the survival than racing as fast as possible and beating other competitors.

Go to a marathon and watch the top runners. I promise you that running 4, 5, 6 minute miles is not 'surviving'.

Maybe I'm doing them a disservice, but I've never considered ultra-distance racing as a real sport (more in line with dance marathons).

Well, you said it. Not to be mean, but you obviously know nothing about marathons, and while we all have our definition of what a 'sport' is, comparing it to a dance marathon is both an insult and an ignorant statement.
posted by Dennis Murphy at 7:07 PM on April 14, 2003

I believe daveg's point is that top-flight marathoners, if they chose to compete in ultra-marathons, would win. But they have no incentive to, so they don't, which makes the results less valid from a certain perspective.
posted by smackfu at 7:35 PM on April 14, 2003

soyjoy - could you really do a 5 min mile?

Sure I could. Yeah. Having trained specifically for it, in beautiful 62-degree weather, at my peak time of day, wind at my back, coming off a hill, with thousands of cheering fans boosting my psychological reserves - in some conceivable combination of circumstances it would be possible for me to run one five-minute mile. (I do distance running as my main exercise, and am pretty good at holding a kind of lazy sprint for at least a half a mile - so far...) But my point, of course, is that this is the outer limit of what I could ever conceivably do, once. I can get all these factors together and imagine how they could add up to my getting across that 1-mile finish line just barely by the five-minute mark (or 5:06, technically, in the Radcliffe example). Now add to that the concept not only of having to run afterward (ha!), but of having just run twenty-two miles and my ability to conceive of such a thing is overwhelmed.

I know real marathoners do this kind of thing all the time, but having done that 26.2 miles once (and remembering the experience of mile twenty-three - "move yourself forward, you must keep moving forward, you must not stop and lie down on the soft grass") just makes the contrast that much more mind-boggling for me.
posted by soyjoy at 7:29 AM on April 15, 2003

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