Women are better marathon pacers than men, claims study
Women are better marathon pacers than men, claims study

Women are better marathon pacers than men – study

Fairer sex tends to avoid burning out in the latter stages of a race, according to research

An analysis of nearly 2m results from 131 marathons staged around the world found that women are better pacers than men when it comes to marathon running.

“Although men are faster marathon runners than women they are not the smartest,” concluded study author Jens Jakob Andersen of RunRepeat.com, who estimates that women are 18% better at maintaining a consistent and controlled pace during the first and final stretches of a marathon.

This new study corroborates previous research findings that men slow down more than women in marathons, although more investigation is needed to determine exactly why that is.

Andersen’s findings also match up with triathlon research. A 2009 study of 12 elite athletes (six males and six females) competing in an ITU World Cup event found that during the run, men had a significant decrease in speed throughout the course, while women only slowed down during uphills and downhills.

Pacing in swimming and cycling has not been as well-documented as running, but the tri-related literature generally suggests that of the three disciplines, the swim yields the smallest time differences between men and women.

The study of 12 pro triathletes revealed that in the bike leg, men’s speed and power output decreased after the first lap, while women spent more time above maximal aerobic power in the hills. More recent research contentiously concluded that females consistently start the cycling leg at faster speeds than males in sprint, Olympic, half-Ironman and Ironman distance triathlons. 

Age has yet to be explored scientifically as a factor of pacing in triathlons, although studies indicate that older runners tended to have a more even pace than younger runners during marathons. Andersen’s study found that the best pacers were from the 35-39 and 40-44 age groups, while the youngest (0-19) and oldest (+70) runners tended to “burn out dramatically”.

Triathlete on the ground after The Brutal

Research findings vary slightly as to the peak age for triathlon performance, but it doesn’t veer far from the 30-34 age range. One study found that while there were no significant differences in women’s peak ages across all three disciplines, the best male swimmers were about six years younger than the best male runners.

Another study, published last year, tracked the top 10 male and female placers at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii from 1983 to 2012. The results? Top-ranking triathletes have gotten older – current average ages are 34 for men and 35 for women – as well as faster over the last three decades, and this is true for both genders.

Apart from sex and age, triathlon pacing is also influenced by a bunch of other factors, such as weather and terrain conditions, distance, drafting rules and transition.

What researchers seem to agree on is that the run is the most crucial leg in deciding one’s total time, so a good pace during the run can make a world of difference. Andersen’s suggestions for improved marathon pacing includes starting out “slower than what feels natural” and slowing down as soon as you think you can’t maintain your planned pace, so you can avoid burning out in later stages of the race.

Don't forget to check out our expert advice for pacing yourself in the pool, on the bike and during a run.

Do you think women are better at run pacing? Let us know in the comments!


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I think there are some interesting points to raise out of this whistlestop summary.

1. I query what classifies as "better pacing". It appears from this article that better = more even... whereas most competitively minded athletes would say better = pacing that allows you to run your best time. Let's stake for example an elite marathon runner who is going for the world record and blows up in the last mile but runs a 2:10 time (i.e. very good) the study would classify this as bad pacing, whereas were the same athlete to run a steady 2:20 with every mile the same metronomic pace this would be classified as good pacing. Whereas in fact most runners would say that in the second example the athlete under did his entire run and left a significant amount in the tank and would certainly not feel this was a well paced run.

2. I also find the comparison of elite male and female triathlete's in the run leg and interesting one. It is not clear from the study what type of racing this is in, but, in draft legal racing you regularly here the Brownlees and Gomez talking about going off from the run as if its a 2k sprint and going as hard as they can and hope the other guys break before they do. Where a competitor is racing against the man standing next to him the considerations are different to racing against the clock. You regularly here long course triathletes talking about racing being hoping you can hold onto your run form longer than their rivals, i.e. the idea of an even paced run is, for most simply out of the question, its a war of attrition.

3. Are we really surprised that older athletes are better at pacing than younger ones? On average they are likely to be more experienced and less likely to fall into the pitfalls we have all experienced as novices. Although of course one should caveat this with the qualification of what actually counts as good pacing.

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