The fastest woman today could run a faster marathon than the fastest man—if only we control our physiological differences
The fastest a man has ever run a marathon: 2:02:57, clocked by Kenyan Dennis Kimetto. For women, it’s Paula Radcliffe, who ran 26.2 in 2:15:25. Unfortunately, no woman will be able to bridge that thirteen-minute gap: The disparity is due to the fact that men are physiologically wired differently (they have a higher VO2 max—the maximum volume of oxygen that an athlete can use—for example) than us, so they'll always have that speed advantage. But, don’t get too jealous. Research shows that us girls can actually pace ourselves better than boys.
The running community is in fierce debate over who will break Kimetto's record by running a marathon in under two hours (and when that will happen). But, since men have a sort-of unfair advantage, researchers wanted to find out the equivalent of the two-hour marathon for women. Their hypothesis, published in a recent study in the Journal of Applied Physiology, is that it’s already been done—that Radcliffe’s 2:15:25 is as tough for a woman as running 26.2 in 2:02 is for a man.
There are three factors that predict marathon performance: max oxygen consumption, lactate threshold, and running economy, says study author Sandra Hunter, Ph.D. "Rarely do you find these three things in one person," she explains. Radcliffe is one of those rare beings, which explains why she's such an anamoly when it comes to 26.2-mile races. Knowing that, researchers took her world record marathon times out of their calculations and found that there is a 12 to 13 percent sex difference in marathon times. That would mean that Radcliffe's 2:15:25 marathon is equivalent to a man's 2-hour marathon.
Radcliffe is the peak of female potential, so let her inspire you to amp up your own running routine! Get speedier with these 5 Tips to Run Negative Splits For Positive Results and find out how to Run Faster, Longer, Stronger, and Injury-Free. Or (we dare you!) sign up for your first half or full marathon.