Thursday, May 10, 2012

Tearing the Tape, Crossing the Finish Line, it's... Women!

I’m very excited to write this post because – thanks to the Title IX post – I’ve figured out how to incorporate an idea from a book that changed my life into this class. Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall is a documentary centered around, well, the reclusive Tarahumara natives, ultra-marathoners, and a particular footrace that brought them both together. It blends history, science and entertainment into a fantastic narrative that, frankly, I believe everyone should experience, as a member of the human race.

Here is a video – a TED Talk, if you’re familiar – of McDougall explaining many of the concepts from his book (it’s a 16 minute video but the first 2:30 should suffice for my following argument). It outlines various points pertaining to running, one of which is the relation between the skills and abilities of women and men.

Men are faster than women, in general. Men are stronger than women, in general. This is not debatable; it’s a scientific and genetic truth. Sure, professional female athletes can destroy high school junior varsity athletes at the same sport, but this is an unfair comparison to make and thus irrelevant. According to McDougall, the women’s world record for fastest marathon time is a full ten minutes slower than that of men. (Heck, women weren’t even allowed to compete in marathons until the 1970’s because respected medical professionals truly believed that running 26.2 miles without stopping would cause the uterus to become detached and literally fall out of the vagina.)

But something interesting happens as the races get longer and longer in length: women catch up. In the (small) world of ultra-marathon runners (50, 100, 150 mile races), women are just as competitive as men. This amazing fact, coupled with the idea of childbirth, makes up for all the physical advantages that men have over women. It provides support for a theory as to how humans evolved to be the way we are today: upright, relatively hairless, social, etc.

More importantly for this blog, it proves that women ARE physically equal to men, at least in some ways. Many guys would scoff at the idea of a woman beating them in any honest competition, but when it comes to long-distance running, it’s more than a possibility. It’s a scientific and genetic reality.


  1. How does the "amazing fact" that women run comparative to men in larger-length distances lend support to the fact that humans are "upright, relatively hairless, social" creatures?

  2. The book reveals all! (The video possibly covers it as well. I'm not exactly sure how much information he crams into those 16 minutes; I haven't watched it in its entirety in a couple months)

  3. "xoxo, GossipGirl", I read your previous post on Pokémon and commented on it before reading this post, actually mentioning this exact topic, of physical strength in males vs. females. If I had read this post first, I might not have said the same things! I said that females are not as strong as males in general, which I guess is still true, but this information on marathon runners being equal is actually extremely surprising news to me. It makes me reconsider my thoughts that while women may be able to achieve intellectual equality and a separate sort of equality with males. I now have more faith that women may actually be more close to "equal" to men! This is a very inspiring post to me; I'll have to check out the book.

  4. I know lots of women that could beat me in an ultra marathon race. Those must be brutal to one's body, especially mine. It's nice to know that women can be physical equals to men. Not a lot of people would know though because, as you point out, ultra marathon running is a small world. If this was a sport, like basketball, a lot more people would notice that women can be physically strong, too.

    One reason that women may compete as well as men do in these types of events is that women usually don't weigh as much. That allows for less stress on their bones as they run. That in turn leads to less pain while running. Science, as you said GossipGirl, explains why women can be competitive with men in these types of events. It needs to spread to other sports as well. The book looks and sounds interesting to me. As a sports fan, I'll have to check out the book as well.

  5. I find it fascinating that research conducted has finally found evidence to support women as physical equals to men. I also think that this research provides support to the possibility that the gender inequality prevalent throughout our society could be a result of each gender simply focusing on its natural talents and abilities. It's just like how individuals are born with innate talents and abilities and are most successful when they fully take advantage of and develop these talents. Perhaps much of the gender inequality which is supported by evidence of men being greater than women in certain areas could also be refuted by looking at the same variable in a different context. Just like these females running supermarathons, perhaps re-evaluation of women in other fields will find them equal to the men of those fields. Don't you think?


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