The sex constant in running

Posted by – August 21, 2011

There was a news story yesterday about a Finnish teacher who beat the qualifying time for the women’s marathon for the Olympics at the Helsinki marathon. She’s not being selected for the next world championships, which is being questioned. Her time was pretty good: 2.38:05. Only ten runners in the men’s category in the same competition were faster than that.

I always had the impression that men have less of an edge at longer distances over women, but for some reason I decided to check it out. The following is a list of the extra time the female world record holder took compared to the regular world record holder, as a percentage:

100m: 9.5%
200m: 11.2%
400m: 10.2%
800m: 12.1%
1500m: 11.9%
mile: 13.0%
2000m: 14.2%
3000m: 10.3%
5000m: 12.4%
10000m: 12.3%
marathon: 9.2%

It’s much more consistent than I thought, at a bit more than 10%. The women’s sprints are probably the most doping-affected – the current top can’t match the enhanced women of the eighties. In the couple of middle distance events where women don’t do so well, I suspect the culprit is the lesser competition at some lesser-raced events. (Incidentally, it looks like a woman might never beat the famous four minute barrier in the mile race: the record is 4:12.56). Men compete the hell out of anything they figure they could do well at, even if nobody cares.

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