Women are not physiologically capable of running the marathon distance. At least that’s what the race director of the Boston Marathon told Bobbi Gibb in 1966, she was categorically not allowed to compete. Because she was a woman.
On 19th April that year Bobbi did something that would change everything in womens running forever…she went and ran the Boston Marathon anyway.
We let out a roar that day, sensing that this woman had done more than just break the gender barrier in a famous race…
Diana Chapman Walsh – 1966 Boston Marathon spectator
The race official tries to pull Bobbi off the course but, in a move of solidarity, her fellow runners wouldn’t let him.
That day, Bobbi successfully challenged archaic gender stereotypes and prejudice and proved that women were more than capable of competing it long distance running alongside men. She finished in 03:21:40 with two thirds of the pack still behind her. What a woman.
Of course, change didn’t happen overnight, it took 30 years for Boston to officially recognise Bobbi’s 1966 (and subsequent 67 & 68) wins, but today, women compete in all distances, and indeed all sports, at both a professional and amateur level.
However, it begs the question, do physiological differences between men and women affect athletic performance?
Arguably, yes. Paula’s 02:15:25 marathon world record is over 12 minutes slower than Kimetto’s 02:02:57 and no one has even come close to taking that record from her which was set in 2003…
Recognising that women are different to men, Cat arranged an evening of female-specific training, nutrition, performance & recovery advice for the Chaser ladies. It was a great excuse for a cocktail and a catch up!
Whether you’re male or female doesn’t always determine who will be the fastest runner (hey, I beat 58% men in the Brighton Marathon…just saying), but men do have some physiological advantages over women that give them greater capacity to go faster and this is evidenced across all distances at a high level. Amy and Laura, physiotherapists from Body Logic, explained to us what these differences are.
Firstly, women naturally carry more fat than men simply because that is the way we are meant to be, women need more fat to be healthy. Unfortunately, this doesn’t do us any favours when it comes to running… Not only this, but men also have a greater percentage of muscle mass than women making them naturally bulkier, stronger and often leaner.
So we’re a little bit fatter and a little bit weaker, not a great start. However, we can help to combat this by increasing the amount of strength training we do, this is especially important as we get older because apparently after the age of 40 we lose 1/3 lb of muscle every year!
Amy suggests 2-3 sessions per week strengthening the arms, legs and core and you only need 8-12 reps once or twice per exercise to make a difference.
Aerobic capacity (using oxygen to produce energy)
Men have larger hearts than women which mean they can pump more blood round the body with each beat. Within this blood, they also have 10% more hemoglobin than we do (science bit: hemoglobin is the protein that carries oxygen from the lungs to body tissue). So, women are getting less blood and less oxygen being pumped round the body with each heartbeat.
The good news is we can help improve this through interval training. The bad news is we have to do interval training…
Skeletal / Muscle Structure
Skeletal structures differ between men and women and our structure makes us more prone to knee, hip and foot injuries.
Men are stiffer round the hips making them more quad dominant and overactive on the hamstrings. Women tend to be weaker in the hips which can lead to crossing when running, a bit like trying to run on a tightrope, and cause ITB issues.
Unfortunately, wearing high heels has a negative impact too and can contribute to an increased arch in the back which leads to a weaker core. Sadly, pretty shoes always come at a cost.
So, strengthen the hips and do some planks, and if you love your heels…double plank work!
Men tend to have an advantage of the mind – they often believe they can do something much more than women can and I think there are many, many reasons for this.
In the workplace, I was once told that men put their hand up 6 months before they’re ready, whilst women put their hand up 6 months after they’re ready. Ever since I heard that, and realised it was in fact true, I’ve forced myself to be much more confident in my abilities because it was the only way my career was going to move forwards.
That confidence doesn’t transpire into my running. I often don’t believe I can do something, sometimes I genuinely know I can’t, but more often than not I just don’t believe it. I know the reasons why I think a certain way but it doesn’t help me change them.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re standing on the start line or turning up to a job interview, if you don’t believe you can achieve the goal, you’re already at a huge disadvantage.
The Body – Conclusion
So, women are a little bit fatter, a little bit weaker, working with less oxygen, having to do double core work just so we can look good on a Friday night and struggling to believe in ourselves…that’s quite the challenge, doesn’t that just make chicking someone all the more sweeter?!
It’s not alllll bad news for us ladies because we’re able to burn more fat than men, very useful in the tough stages of a marathon – hurrah!