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40th NYC Marathon look back: Women are faster, but what next?

November 9, 2010 – 8:47 PM

By Laura Pappano

Yes – the 40th running of the ING NYC Marathon on Sunday was a chance to salute the fastest marathoner alive — Haile Gebreselassie (no matter that he dropped out at Mile 16 – he still holds the record of 2:03:59 set  in 2008).

But Sunday was also a chance to consider four decades of marathon running – and stunning gains female runners have made. Leaving aside the small problem that women weren’t allowed to run in 1970, the top male finisher that year at 2:31:39 would have come in 14th among the women running Sunday.

Will women close the marathon gap? There’s your official dinner party question.

It is clear that women are embracing this sport in increasing numbers. Overall, more men than women run the NYC Marathon (28,000 men and 16,000 women), but participation among those aged 20-29 is about even. When you consider that many top female marathoners hit their stride in their 30s, this means that we have runners to watch.

For now, it’s true: Yes – the very fastest men are faster than the very fastest women – but there is a notable overlap between very fast male and very fast female runners.

— Among American runners, #2 finisher Shalane Flanagan’s time of 2:28:40 put her #10 overall among American runners, male or female.

— Flanagan and Katie Mcgregor were the only American women who finished among the top 25 American men. BUT, the next nine American women finished among the NEXT 25 American male finishers.

— Over the last several decades, top women’s marathon times have improved at a far faster clip than men’s. See graphic here.

YET, we are stalled and poised for progress.

It’s time for the next leap. In 2003, Paula Radcliffe captured the women’s marathon record with a time of 2:15:25 in London. (That time is comparable to the men’s world record time in 1960.) Her record came as the capstone of a terrific series of record-breaking runs that started in 2001 when Naoko Takahashi ran a 2:19:46 in the Berlin Marathon.

Before that moment, there was talk: Maybe women simply couldn’t run faster than a 2:20. Maybe, physiologically, they were limited? It wasn’t in them?

And then there was Takahashi. Then, a month later Catherine N’dereba ran a 2:18:47 in Chicago. A year later, Paula Radcliffe ran a 2:17:18 in Chicago and six months to the day after that she ran 2:15:25, a record that still stands.

New York is not a course for setting work records. But it is a stage. It is where Gebreselassie announced his retirement and — hopefully — where where a new generation of female marathoners — speedy newbies like Shalane Flanagan — may begin the next assault on the women’s marathon record.

  1. 2 Responses to “40th NYC Marathon look back: Women are faster, but what next?”

  2. thanks for posting. i know in our local marathon many men and women train together and run together. the end results are almost negligable, a man has always won, but the top woman does beat 99% of every other men, and the aggregate times are nearly even.

    i get winded even reading about a marathon, so hats off to anyone who can do it.

    By mcjack on Nov 9, 2010

  3. how interesting! great stats. can’t wait to see the 20 year old women running in their next decade!

    By Katie on Nov 16, 2010

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