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Men are breaking marathon records; women are building contenders

November 6, 2011 – 7:38 PM

By Laura Pappano

Lately, major marathons have become a showcase for record-breaking male performances and today’s New York City Marathon was no exception: Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai finished in 2:05:05, setting a new course record (all three top male finishers broke the record).

So much men’s record-breaking has been going on, in fact, that American marathoner Meb Keflezighi predicted that a two-hour marathon was not only possible, but “hopefully we can see it soon.”

This is not happening on the women’s side. But something else IS happening: We have more top women runners, more contenders, more speedy women clustered at the top of marathon finishes. Consider New York.

While Ethiopian Firehiwot Dado won New York with a 2:23:15, New Yorker Buzenesh Deba was just four seconds behind — and the top 10 female finishers were within 5:48 of Dado. Last year, the top 10 women were within 1:35 of one another.

Obviously, each year’s particular field changes, but if we go back a decade – to 2001 – top finisher Margaret Okayo’s time of 2:24:21 was 7:22 ahead of #10.

In 1991, the difference between Liz McColgan’s 2:26:32 and #10 was 14:34.

In 1981, Allison Roe’s winning time, 2:25:29 was 17:21 ahead of 10th place.

In 1971, we didn’t even have 10 top women, but let’s just say that the gap between #1 Beth Bonner at 2:55:22 and #4 was, well, nearly two hours.

This, believe it or not, is progress. In the decade marks between 1981 and 2011, the top female finisher’s time improved by just 2:14, but the spread between #1 and #10 over that time improved by a stunning 11:33.

Yes, we need to be faster, to break records – and we can. But to have so many top women in contention is surely a start.

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