When I first started running ultra distance I read somewhere that the gap between men on women runners decreases as the distance increases. The theory at the time went something like this: glycogen stores run out after about 1.5 to 2 hours and after that the body burns fat. Woman have more fat than men and therefore they can run stronger longer. It’s not just the extra stores of fat either, for an unknown reason (at least right now) women are more efficient at burning fat.
But maybe it’s not so simple… there are plenty of women in ultra running who finish before their male counterparts and take first place overall in Ultras. In fact, there are many ultra runners who still hold steady to the belief that women are better at ultra distance for a number of reasons. Here are a few of their ideas:
Women deal with heat, on average, better than men do.
Estrogen, yep, estrogen has many benefits for endurance athletes. It attaches itself to a neurotransmitter in the brain that delays the brains recognition of being tired. It also has some long term benefits such as acting a an antioxidant, keeping the free radicals down, and helping to keep arteries from becoming clogged and hardening.
Women are smaller. Being smaller helps on the descents, because your body takes less of a pounding, which means less soreness and fewer aches as you move forward. Shorter legs also helps because you have faster leg turnover and a higher cadence. Men have larger lung capacity. Being able to breathe well, helps on the ascents, but not enough to counter balance the benefit of being smaller and the decrease of impact to the body. Men’s muscle mass also benefits them at shorter distances, marathon and less, but at ultra distance, the extra muscle doesn’t help them get to the finish line any faster.
The stifling of women. Women have fought to get where they are in sports, sports which have been dominated by men since well…forever. Because of this woman have a mind frame of determination and tenacity while men continue to think in lines of harder, faster, and stronger.
Women have a higher pain tolerance. There have been a number of research studies, including myth busters, who have found that women do actually have a higher pain tolerance than men on average. Women were built to have children. Giving birth to a child is an endurance event of its own and most women have to deal with multiple levels of discomfort and pain during pregnancy and then during labor and delivery. I’m not sure if this is the underlying reason for a higher pain tolerance but it is sure the number one reason that is put forward to support the theory.
And finally, women are more detail oriented and anyone who has prepared for a 100 mile race knows there are a lot of details that need to be accounted for.
Women have a higher percentage of finishes in ultra endurance events than men and women continue to gain confidence in their ability to complete and be competitive in ultra events. So look out guys your about to be chicked!