In vertical kilometres and short trails we can see a difference in performance between men and women, but almost or no differences in long and very long ultra–trails.
In 2019, a huge woman called Jasmin Paris, wins the spine race in England-Scotland, one of the hardest ultras all around the world, in 83 hours.
The race had 136 participants including 125 men. Her performance was really extraordinary, and on top of that she just had a baby which she was breastfeeding at some race points!!!
It seems that women have a greater fat oxidation capacity and even factors such as greater suffering capacity -innate capacity to tolerate the suffering of childbirth- (Puleo & Milroy, 2010) and a more prudent management of race pacing have been some of the variables proposed.
It is believed that women generally tend towards a higher ‘resistant’ profile compared to a more ‘powerful’ profile of men. And there is also science about it. So, we have physiological and psychological characteristics.
You can read more about it from the perspective of a female Skyrunner Champion, Snezana Djuric below…
Blog by Snezana Djuric, Arduua Frontrunner.
Female and running
Women appeared in the role of runners much later than men. Even up to the modern age, they did not deal with running as close as men.
They were expected to give birth to children, as many children as possible, and preferably one after the other. They were then tasked with feeding them and teaching them basic survival skills until mature men took them on for further training.
Furrows on tracks longer than 400 meters for women were not included in the Olympics until 1964. Without any scientific evidence, it was thought that they could contract some vague disease if they exerted too much strain.
When proven to be very successful in the competitions, their progress was so rapid that the first women’s marathon was held at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
Anatomically, women are generally at a disadvantage compared to men. Especially in the case of long levers that consist of the lower extremities, but they are physiologically somehow better prepared than men, especially for running on very long runs. For example, on ultramarathons. Women, compared to men, have a higher percentage of adipose tissue in proportion to their total body weight, and therefore have higher reserves of energy and deposited fluids that they can rely on. Although, this advantage is evident in activities that take hours, even days.
Women ‘s athletic achievement in ultramarathons most closely approximates that of men. As the length of the course increases, the differences between the sexes in statistical terms become less noticeable. Therefore, it may also happen that one day a woman wins the mixed race, primarily because of better physiological efficiency.
Women are at a disadvantage because they have relatively short thighs that are even more accentuated by their wider hips, making the pelvis closer to the floor. All of this has the effect of shortening the length of the steps. The stride length is perhaps the factor that most influences the running speed. Although the fastest runners may make more steps per unit of time than the slowest runners, their steps may be up to 4 times longer.
The abdomen of men is mainly filled with the organs of the gastrointestinal tract, which, among other things, participate in maintaining the balance of intracellular and extracellular fluid in the body. A woman’s belly also contains a relatively large uterus and reproductive organs that limit the volume of the abdominal cavity.
These are not big differences, maybe only 1 or 2 percent, but they also affect the differences between the relative sporting achievements of both sexes. To this should be added breasts and limitations due to narrower chest and lower lung capacity. Also, smaller feet, which means that the action of the propulsion lever mechanisms is reduced, which further affects the running speed.
However, as men’s long-distance running shows, small body dimensions are not a necessary disadvantage, and physiological differences in favour of women as time and length of race increase can ultimately lead to gender equalization when it comes to long-distance running.
Facts from the book, “Anatomy of Running”
Writers: Joe Puleo, Patrick Milroy
/Snezana Djuric, Arduua Frontrunner