Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Why you’ll always run like a girl

From parking cars to making bonfires – one battle that is unlikely ever to witness ceasefire is that of the sexes. 

But while both driving and pyrotechnics are improvable and seemingly gender-agnostic, it’s an inconvenient truth that no matter how hard women train, unless they’re remarkably gifted, they are unlikely ever to be able to physically outperform men that train just as hard.

A few decades ago, scientists and athletes speculated that women may actually be physiologically better suited to running long distances because they have higher body fat ratios and are therefore able to store more energy to fuel their bodies.

The theory actually appears very logical. Women, especially if they haven’t eaten recently, are able to burn fat more efficiently.

Most are able to burn simple sugars contained in sports drinks, bars and gels better than their male counter parts too, and statistics on marathon finishing times support this.  Just look at Paula Radcliff – her fastest time over 26 miles is less than 10% slower than the fastest time scored by a man. That's a huge imporvement on the differential seen when women first started running marathons. So where’s the glitch? 

Blame Science

As competitive women, there are two things to point our fingers at: glycogen and testosterone. The first is a so-called polysaccharide that is used in the human body to store energy. When we eat carbohydrates, like bread, pasta and rice, they can be stored as glycogen which means that they can quickly and efficiently be turned into energy to fuel our bodies.

As women though, we naturally store fat more easily than we store glycogen and - due to simply science - we therefore have a significantly lower maximum aerobic capacity, on average, than men.

Testosterone, meanwhile, is a steroid hormone which is found much more abundantly in men than it is in women. That's why men can more easily build bigger muscles than women, helping to power them through sprints and longer runs alike.

An article published by Runner’s World a few years ago does point out that a woman could use other physiological strengths to beat a man, of course. She could have more muscle to move her legs faster, or more hemoglobin to give the muscles a richer supply of oxygen, or even a better running economy. But at the end of the day, truth is that men will always have more testosterone and hemoglobin than women, and running economy studies have shown no difference between the genders.


Suck it up


Even at ultra distances, science is not in our favour ladies. Studies have actually shown that the gender gap gets greater as distances increase. Runner’s World points out that the male record for the 3,100-mile Sri Chinmoy Transcendence run is 42 days, 13 hours, 24 minutes, and 3 seconds. The female record is 49 days, plus 14:30:54. That's a difference of 16.5%.

So what can we do? Suck it up and deal with it.

There’s no such thing as perfect equality. Men will always be stronger and faster than us so let’s not beat ourselves up trying to beat our male colleagues.

Running was once only recognised as a male sport and it took until 1984 for the Women’s marathon to be included in the Olympics. Less than 30 years later women all over the world can compete at whatever distance they choose and take however long they want on the track, road or trail.

Having achieved so much in such a short period of time, why would you want to waste your time chasing men anyway? Chase your potential instead.

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