Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Gender battle races

I'm a little curious as to what everyone thinks of "gender battle" races where the women get an x-minute headstart and the first one to cross the line is declared "overall champion" and gets whatever the prize is. In the Las Vegas Marathon, which I was supposed to run, but had to back out of due to a stress fracture, they had a $10000 additional prize for the first person to cross, giving women a whopping NINETEEN minute headstart. I don't think the gender battle headstart is a bad thing considering that men are physically better equipped to run faster, but 19 minutes? Really? The difference in world records is less than 11 1/2, so where does 19 come from? My guess is that they compared the difference in men's and women's winning times in recent marathons of a certain size or larger. The only problem with this? Look at most of the recent major marathons.

Beijing Olympic Marathon: After 20k, no-one in the field was below 2:30 pace. Based on world record comparisons, this would be like a major mens' marathon being at nearly 2:20 pace at almost the halfway point. If Geb or Wanjiru did the first half of a marathon in 70, people would be literally laughing at them. In Beijing, the gold medalist, Tomescu, finished in 2:26:44, over 11 minutes off the world record. Was the course really hard or something? Apparently not, as the men's winner, Wanjiru, ran 2:06:32.

Boston 2009: The lead pack of men, largely due to Ryan Hall's apparent need to race as hard as possible and try to kill everyone off, went out in 14:34 5k time and the race became a contest of who could endure the most pain, Deriba Merga winning that contest in 2:08:42. The women's pack? They went out in a BLAZING 19 flat 5k, hit the half in well over 1:18, and didn't even try to make it a race until 20 miles in, only 3 of them barely edging our local masters favorite Ben Ingram (he's 40+ now, right?). Goucher even commented in a flotrack interview that the pace was "so easy" that she seriously considered running London the next week.

2009 Marathon World Championships: Despite several sub-2:20 runners in the field, the slow tactical race put the winner at 2:25. The men's winner? 2:06 range.

New York 2009: Women way off the course record, only a couple scrape under 2:30. Paula Radcliffe who has a "terrible race" still finishes 4th.

The list goes on, but in most major marathons, it seems like the top women's pack doesn't push hard until very close to the end, producing artificially slow winning times. The fact that winning women seem to be around 19 or 20 minutes slower on average does not mean that a winning time 19 minutes off the men's winning time is anywhere near as respectable. I think the world record is the only fair comparison.



Oh, and on a related note, family friendly Provo, Utah has a few 5k series where women get a THREE minute headstart to get the cash (by the way, money is the only thing that seems to motivate any runner of reasonable talent here... When major races are reported on in local running blogs and newsletters, the focus is always on how much money they got and what they can then do with that money instead of the actual race...). May I remind you that the world record in the mile differs by 29 seconds and as distances increase, men and women's times tend to come closer together? There are a number of women capable of running 17s for 5ks even at elevation. The number of men around here running 14 minute 5ks at 5000'? Umm, let me know if you here of some...

I am in no way trying to bash top women's marathoners or runners, I just think that when an overall champion is to be crowned based on giving women a headstart, the amount of time of that headstart needs to be significantly reduced so that men won't hammer the whole time and lose to a woman that had a slow easy tactical race with a bit of speeding up in the final 10k.

Let the hating of me begin... now.

18 comments:

///MM said...

That post was too long to actually read. Are there clif notes available?

Collin said...

Yes. There are races now where women get a headstart and whoever finishes first wins. I think this is a fine idea, but the headstarts are too much. Vegas marathon gave the women 19 minutes despite the world record being 11 1/2 different between elite men and women. 19 is probably an average time difference between men's and women's winning times, but it's artificial since in most recent major marathons, the women have "jogged" for 20 miles and then essentially sprinted the last 10k, finishing 10+ minutes off their capacity. In local 5ks in Utah, where I live now, (and they do this stuff a lot), the time difference is typically 3 minutes. Headstart is fair if you want to see who has the best performance based on gender, but 19 minutes for a marathon or 3 minutes for a 5k is way too much.

Andrew Jaffe said...

what was the purpose of that post? don't you have your own blog? :)

Jen said...

Dude, if you have a problem with getting beat by a girl don't do the race. There are plenty of other races you can do, which you probs still won't win or win any cash. Quit bitching.

Collin said...

I don't care if I get beat by a girl and I'm not bitching. I'm just curious if anyone else has noticed that the system is blatantly flawed. This isn't something that happens as much on the East Coast, so maybe it's irrelevant here.

Christy said...

Can we put a 100 word cap on Collins posts?

I would be curious to see the formula they are using.

Ben said...

Ok Collin - I think your analysis hasn't been deep enough. To determine the actual fairness you should do a geographic specific analysis - looking at all races in an area for an entire year. You could find the average difference (actually it should probably be mean difference) between males and females - that would be the time of the head start. I would suggest looking at each metro statistical area in the US - as these differences seem to vary from city to city.
Although that might be too simplistic as well - maybe you should include prize money as an independent variable as well - because the difference probably varies by the amount offered. That information isn't always available on event web pages - but, you could contact each race director. Just want to make sure we get this right!

RM said...

I actually don't think this is a bad post.

Just entirely too long. Collin, you need to learn how to write in sentences, not paragraphs.

I'll leave this up here for a day or two and then I'll probably delete it because it just takes up too much space.

Lifetime Fitness Triathlon has 250,000 for first place to cross the line. They give women a 15 minute head start in an OLYMPIC distance tri. Is it fair? No, not really. But does it make things exciting? Yeah. And after all, the only reason there's money is because someone's willing to sponsor such an event.

So next year when I help the Skirtchaser 5k take place in Baltimore, which gives women a 3 minute head start and first to cross the line is the winner - so be it.

///MM said...

Here's a great article about BQ times for men and women.
http://mysite.verizon.net/jim2wr/id202.html
A common misconception (held including by your struly) is that it was much easier for girls, based on record times. This article does a good job of refuting that argument, using age-group times. However, when you're using times to award $$, not to let people into the race, record times seems more fair. Either way, I'm not gonna see that paper so I'd rather have more shorties to scope at the race. Lets INCREASE the advantage for girls!

///MM said...

And it should probably be the median difference. The median is generally even less sensitive to single outliers and outlier groups.

alyssa said...

haha, you dudes are ridic.

I agree that a woman shouldn't be given any sort of title of "overall winner" if she had a headstart. But I also don't think it's a bad thing to give them a headstart advantage...like Ryan points out, it's good for competition and makes for a good race.

That being said, this is why ultras are awesome because distance/terrain/conditions are great equalizers and dudes run scared of women all the time. Totes awes.

Ben said...

after the boston marathon the first words out of my wife's mouth weren't "great job honey!" but rather "you got girled!"

Ben said...

And having four women in front of me after the first 15 miles of JFK definitly lit a fire under my ass.

Collin said...

Hahaha. Alyssa, I don't think there's a problem if a girl gets "overall winner". If the top woman runs 2:16 and the top man runs 2:10, she ran a better race! And yeah, obviously, as Ben has so eloquently alluded, there's no way to pick the perfect time difference, but it's usually a little skewed.

gladfelter said...

It has to be easier for the dudes with a whole group to catch and mow down, vs. being caught and deflated.

Collin. Collin. Collin. Less is More

Ben said...

so sayeth barfolomew.

alyssa said...

"If the top woman runs 2:16 and the top man runs 2:10, she ran a better race!"

you obviously didn't get what I was saying because if the above is true, then I don't think that the girl ran the better race. Yeah, she was a baller and ran the best female race, but a dude still beat her, therefore he gets the "best race."

gladfelter said...

If I ever run 2:16 and a chick beats me, I really won't care. I mean I just ran 2:16.