Linking current research to running
By Nikki Reiter
Most marathoners tend to run faster in the first half of their race. To explore this further, a recent article suggests that non-elite men are more likely to slow their pace in the marathon, as compared to non-elite women.
While women certainly do have a greater capacity for endurance based on their muscle physiology (women do not fatigue as quickly), is there also a psychological reason for women to better maintain their first half pace? Are men more willing to risk a quicker pace early in a marathon? This study investigated race results data in order to resolve if men or women are more ‘even’ pacers.
Here’s how it went: Over 90,000 performances from non-elite marathoners from 14 US marathons were included in the study. The authors compared the splits of the first half to the second half of the race. Race experience and men’s greater VO2max were also analyzed as factors affecting pace maintenance.
The result: On average, men tend to decrease their pace 15.6%, while women typically slow down 11.7%. Slower overall finishing times were associated with greater slowing in the second half of the race, especially for men. Further, the adjustment made for women’s slower overall times due to their lower absolute VO2max as well as factoring in experience level, did not affect the occurrence of women maintaining their first half pace better than men.
What this means: Whether for physiological or psychological reasons, non-elite women tend to pace themselves better in a marathon.
A final comment: While an evenly paced race does not necessarily indicate a well-paced race, selecting the correct race pace is important. Be realistic about your current ability. Going out too hard in a marathon will ruin your chances for your best possible performance and certainly make 26.2 miles feel a lot longer! If you’re not sure how to pace your next marathon I recommend checking out this Run SMART article, “What’s Your Actual Marathon Race Pace?” or consulting with a coach.
Nikki Reiter is the Laboratory Coordinator in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences at the University of British Columbia Okanagan in Kelowna, BC, Canada. With a master’s degree in Biomechanics and as a trained exercise physiologist, she ensures students are taking the scientific approach to training through their lab experiences. Additionally, Nikki offers online gait analysis through Run Right Gait Analysis. Visit her website www.run-right.ca for more information.