Women are better at it. They find a rhythm and can maintain it. They are conservative at the start but grow into it, they warm up, lose their inhibitions and push on. They have a capacity to hold it at threshold
without over reaching. Some women even get quicker towards the end. In contrast to their male counterparts they are clearly focussed on their goal, have a plan and stick to it. But men get caught up in passion. Blinded by the lust for speed, men tend go out fast only to blow up prematurely, and at the half way point of the race they get passed by dozens of well paced, sensible female athletes. This may seem strange, but lurching full speed ahead at the start of a race is a common mistake, committed by more men than women. Who’d have thought it?! Recreational female runners are better at pacing their races than men, particularly in a marathon; men are more likely to slow their pace than women (Santos-Lozano et al., 2014).
Even pacing is considered one of the ideal strategies for running races. Running the first mile of a 5km race 3% faster than the planned pace is the best possible tactic. On the other hand, running the first mile of the race at anything more than 6% quicker than goal race pace greatly reduces performance; so much so that running at this pace may even result in a failure to finish (Gosztyla et al., 2006). As the race distance increases the optimal pacing strategy changes. The appropriate strategies for a marathon are the reverse theory of a 5km. The aim is a pace that is about 3% slower the goal marathon pace for the first 3 miles. Danish research conducted by Jens Jakob Andersen has been the most thorough investigation of marathon results in history. The study included nearly 2 million marathon results from 131 marathons. This research showed as expected that men are faster marothoners than women (due to gender differences), but it also exposed that rather than achieving an even split both men and women slow significantly in the second half. But women perform significantly better in the second part of the marathon by almost 20% when compared to men. So women don’t slow as much as men, they run with a controlled and consistent pace. But why?
The reasons may be either physiological, psychological or both. These patterns show that even though men may be quicker they’re not smarter runners. Male marathoners may have an unrealistic view of how good they and are more inclined to take the risk of blowing up, essentially reinforcing the proposition that men are idiots and idiots do stupid things (Lendrem et al., 2014). Female athletes on the other hand may underestimate their ability, meaning they tend to start conservatively and due to this slow less in the later stages of the marathon. However the difference may not only be down to the stupidity of men, women are possibly more efficient at accessing and utilising fat as a source of energy. This would mean they are less likely to hit “the wall’ – the point when carbohydrate is depleted. Both men and women slow significantly but could improve their marathon results considerably just by starting out slower
Not only can racing at an inappropriate pace ruin performance, training at too fast a pace relative to ability can increase the risk of injury (Fredericson & Misra, 2007). Too many runs completed at high intensities can cause a predisposition to injuries of the achiles, calf and plantar fascia (Nielsen et al., 2013). Faster running places more stress on the tissues of the lower leg and feet. So pacing isn’t easy,it takes practice. Developing a better sense of pace could potentially lead to better results and prevent injuries. But in the heat of the moment, at the start of the race with the adrenaline rising the common sense of “pace control” disappears to the back of the mind only to rise when the pain hits in and the thought “WHY, WHY did I go out so quick!””
Fredericson M & Misra AK. (2007). Epidemiology and aetiology of marathon running injuries. Sports Med 37, 437-439.
Gosztyla AE, Edwards DG, Quinn TJ & Kenefick RW. (2006). The impact of different pacing strategies on five-kilometer running time trial performance. J Strength Cond Res 20, 882-886.
Lendrem BA, Lendrem DW, Gray A & Isaacs JD. (2014). The Darwin Awards: sex differences in idiotic behaviour. Bmj 349, g7094.
Nielsen RO, Nohr EA, Rasmussen S & Sorensen H. (2013). Classifying running-related injuries based upon etiology, with emphasis on volume and pace. Int J Sports Phys Ther 8, 172-179.
Santos-Lozano A, Collado PS, Foster C, Lucia A & Garatachea N. (2014). Influence of sex and level on marathon pacing strategy. Insights from the New York City race. Int J Sports Med 35, 933-938.