A new study put together by the International Association of Ultrarunners and footwear review company RunRepeat, analysed data from more than 15,000 ultra running events over 23 years. The findings suggest that females are faster on foot than men when venturing 300km or more.
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“The longer the distance, the shorter the gender pace gap,” the researchers said in a statement.
“In 5 kilometres, men run 17.9 per cent faster than women, at marathon distance the difference is just 11.1 per cent, 100-mile (160.9km) races see the difference shrink to just .25 per cent, and above 195 miles (313.8km), women are actually 0.6 per cent faster than men.”
However, the jury’s still out on why exactly this is.
“I am not sure that differences in anatomy and biomechanics would explain this finding,” Professor Evangelos Pappas, head of physiotherapy at the University of Sydney explains. “There are some sex differences in muscle fibre composition that may or may not contribute to this finding but I would be searching at other domains.”
“Women seem to be better than men with maintaining a steady pace which is important for long-distance running performance.”
Pappas hypothesises that mental resilience may also play a role, especially in distances over 100 miles. Previous studies suggest that when men and women are subject to harsh conditions, women are more likely to survive despite commonly-held “assumptions about masculine strength and feminine frailty.”
Still, seeing as it wasn’t peer-reviewed, Pappas suggests the research should be taken with a grain of salt (soz, ladies!)
“A hypothesis-driven study with a large number of runners and appropriate statistical (covariate) adjustment” is needed to fully explore the differences in physical performance between genders, he concludes.