Psychologists and stand-up comedians can argue about whether women are more levelheaded than men, but when it comes to running marathons, they’re definitely steadier in their pacing.
That’s according to a new study by researchers at the University of Dayton, who analyzed data from the 2007 and 2009 Bank of America Chicago Marathons. The number-crunchers chose those races due to their large turnouts (more than 33,000 total runners) and wide temperature variation (78 degrees in ’07, 36 in ’09). They also wanted a flat course to nullify any impacts of incline on pacing.
Looking at non-elite runners, researchers found that men slowed down more than women in the final seven miles of the two marathons. Interestingly, age wasn’t a factor—the young and old are similarly adept pacers—but heat was. In fact, temperature was the single greatest influence, accounting for a 9 percent decrease in pace, and the warmer things got, the more the differences in the sexes became apparent.
"Women’s superiority in pacing over men increased from cold to the hot racing conditions,” wrote the study’s authors, according to Runner’s World. The reason may have to do with the fact that women have more body surface relative to mass, and that means more heat dissipates through the skin.
As with most studies of this kind, there are a couple of key footnotes. The 2007 Chicago Marathon was cancelled midway through, and those who hadn’t crossed the midpoint by 3:35 weren’t allowed to finish the race. That might have skewed the findings, as data shows slower finishers—folks with times of 3:40 to 4:07—are less successful pacers than their quicker counterparts, regardless of gender.
What’s more, gender differences don’t carry over to elite runners, who excel at pacing regardless of sex and temperature. Runner’s World speculates that their success in avoiding late-race drop-off has less to do with being fast than with knowing their bodies and being mentally prepared.
That’s great for them, but what about the rest of us? The study’s authors offer some tips.
“In hotter temperatures, coaches of novice runners should advise their athletes to implement a slower initial velocity in order to maintain or increase running velocity later in the race,” they write, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg