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Boston Marathon: Many women as fast as men (in their age group)

April 20, 2009 – 7:59 PM

By Laura Pappano

The lead women’s pack at mile 18 of The Boston Marathon 2009

One of the most frustrating things about watching the Boston Marathon is that it’s hard to tell how fast the runners are. I’m not talking TV coverage or the delay in the Boston Athletic Association website in recording runners’ progress (it’s actually a GREAT site). Or even the what-just-went-past? sensation one has watching from the race course.

What I mean is that we are keenly aware – especially this year – of how much slower the elite women’s pack was than the elite men’s pack. But that glaring gap misses the story.

Pause to note: This comment doesn’t diminish the fact that the women’s race was a riveting, nail-biting-scream-at-your-TV-exciting finish. American Kara Goucher put on a stunning effort for the USA, finishing third at 2:32:25. And she wasn’t even the one offering the tape line drama of Salina Kosgei of Kenya edging out Dire Tune of Ethiopia  — that’s 2:32:16 over Tune’s 2:32:17. Tune collapsed at the finish line. (Wouldn’t you, if you’d just lost a 26.2 mile race by ONE SECOND??!!)

My point, though: The men’s race was less dramatic, but swifter, with Deriba Merga gliding across the finish at 2:08:42, nearly a minute ahead of second place finisher Daniel Rono of Kenya and Ryan Hall of the USA.

BUT because the women’s race begins before the men’s race and because results are reported by gender first, the take-away is about how much faster the men are than the women (and, again, particularly this year when the women started off slow – the part of marathon running that is not about sheer speed but about gaming and strategy and how to beat your field).

Yet, if we look at the big picture of marathon running, we see that – heck – many of these really good women are running as fast as these really good men. Take Colleen De Reuck of Colorado (she led the women for a few moments at mile 18), who finished in 2:35:37, that was top among women aged 45-49. A little-made comparison: She came in second among the men in the 45-49 age group, right after Oleg Strizhakov of Florida (2:31:27) but before Michael Platt of Massachusetts (2:39:07).

Go through the race results and you find women finishing among top men around their own age. In the 40-44 age group, Alina Ivanova of Florida (2:36:50) was just a few seconds behind Robert Landry of Massachusetts (2:36:46), who finished 10th among his age peers.

Marathons are reported as men’s races and women’s races, but when we look beyond gender, it’s hard to miss the other story: There’s an awful lot of overlap among really good male and female distance runners.

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