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Why Women Are Better at Marathons


We already know that men generally make riskier decisions than women (driving faster, gambling—you know what we mean), and it turns out running is no different. Men are more likely than women to slow their pace while running a marathon, according to new research in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, recently covered by the New York Times. And the reason may boil down to decision-making.

Researchers used data from 14 marathons and almost 92,000 people, finding that—on average—men ran the second half of the marathon 15.6 percent slower than the first half, whereas women slowed by an average of 11.7 percent. Men were also about three times more likely to slow down ‘dramatically’—by 30 percent or more—than women. And this disparity in pace held across age groups and finishing times.

In fact, the changes held even after adjusting women’s performances by 12 percent to address men’s greater maximal oxygen uptake and their typically faster performances (men’s world records are 10 to 12 percent faster than women’s). While scientists aren’t entirely sure why men slowed their pace more so than women, a press release on the study explains, “Women typically use more fat and less carbohydrates during endurance exercise. This should make them less likely to ‘bonk’ or ‘hit the wall’ because they are less likely have their muscles depleted of glycogen."

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But back to that whole decision-making issue. “I believe men are much more likely to fall apart because they’re more likely to make reckless decisions,” says lead study author Robert Deaner, Ph.D., who studies the psychology of sex differences. Men tend to think that because their buddy who they can keep up with in workouts ran a marathon, they can too, whereas women are much more likely to take a cautious approach, explains Deaner. Co-author Michael, Joyner, M.D. agrees: “The best explanation is just a certain number of men are either setting their goals too high or going out to fast and then blowing up by being over confident.”

Surprisingly, the study also took into account how previous race experience would impact results. And while the number of marathons completed did help runners pace better, the effect was much smaller than the effect of sex.

So when it comes down to it, slow and steady may really win the race after all. And now you have the perfect reason to tell him that you really are right in your decision-making—most of the time at least!


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