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Performance differences between sexes in 50-mile to 3,100-mile ultramarathons

Authors Zingg M, Knechtle B, Rosemann T, Rüst CA

Received 27 October 2014

Accepted for publication 8 December 2014

Published 22 January 2015 Volume 2015:6 Pages 7—21


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 3

Editor who approved publication: Professor Freddie H Fu

Matthias A Zingg,1 Beat Knechtle,1,2 Thomas Rosemann,1 Christoph A Rüst1

1Institute of Primary Care, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland; 2Gesundheitszentrum St Gallen, St Gallen, Switzerland

Abstract: Anecdotal reports have assumed that women would be able to outrun men in long-distance running. The aim of this study was to test this assumption by investigating the changes in performance difference between sexes in the best ultramarathoners in 50-mile, 100-mile, 200-mile, 1,000-mile, and 3,100-mile events held worldwide between 1971 and 2012. The sex differences in running speed for the fastest runners ever were analyzed using one-way analysis of variance with subsequent Tukey–Kramer posthoc analysis. Changes in sex difference in running speed of the annual fastest were analyzed using linear and nonlinear regression analyses, correlation analyses, and mixed-effects regression analyses. The fastest men ever were faster than the fastest women ever in 50-mile (17.5%), 100-mile (17.4%), 200-mile (9.7%), 1,000-mile (20.2%), and 3,100-mile (18.6%) events. For the ten fastest finishers ever, men were faster than women in 50-mile (17.1%±1.9%), 100-mile (19.2%±1.5%), and 1,000-mile (16.7%±1.6%) events. No correlation existed between sex difference and running speed for the fastest ever (r2=0.0039, P=0.91) and the ten fastest ever (r2=0.15, P=0.74) for all distances. For the annual fastest, the sex difference in running speed decreased linearly in 50-mile events from 14.6% to 8.9%, remained unchanged in 100-mile (18.0%±8.4%) and 1,000-mile (13.7%±9.1%) events, and increased in 3,100-mile events from 12.5% to 16.9%. For the annual ten fastest runners, the performance difference between sexes decreased linearly in 50-mile events from 31.6%±3.6% to 8.9%±1.8% and in 100-mile events from 26.0%±4.4% to 24.7%±0.9%. To summarize, the fastest men were ~17%–20% faster than the fastest women for all distances from 50 miles to 3,100 miles. The linear decrease in sex difference for 50-mile and 100-mile events may suggest that women are reducing the sex gap for these distances.

Keywords: running, sex difference, running speed, ultraendurance

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