In the fitness space it’s not uncommon to find male achievements and male sports dominating the headlines and attention. Men and women both excel in various spaces in a variety of ways, but new research suggests there’s one space that women run rings (pun intended) around men in: ultramarathon running.

joint study between the International Association of Ultrarunners and RunRepeat, an athletic shoe review company, explored the trends in ultra running over the last 23 years. In the largest study ever done on ultra running, they analysed over 5million results from 15,451 ultra running events to plot trends in the sport. They found that not only has ultra running had phenomenal growth in the last 23 years, a 1676% participation increase to be exact, but that more women are running than ever. 23% of participants are now female, compared to just 14% 23 years ago, and that may have something to do with their success!

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Overall, the study found that female ultra runners are faster than their male counterparts for distances longer than 195 miles (314km). The data showed that as distances get longer, the gap in pacing between genders shrinks until women come out on top. In 5km runs men run 17.9% faster than women, at marathon distance the difference is just 11.1%, 100 mile (161km) races see the difference shrink to just .25%, and above 195 (314km) miles, women are actually 0.6% faster than men. Danish research from 2018 echoes these results, finding that women are 18.61% better than men at running with a controlled and consistent pace when comparing results for the first and the last part of the marathon. You just have to look at incredible females like Samantha GashLucy Bartholomew and Jacqui Bell to see that ultra running is truly a women’s game.

Interestingly though, the study found that runners are actually getting slower on average! Across several markers such as distance, age and yes, gender, the average pace has been increasing. In 1996 the average was 11:35 min/mile, currently, but in 2020 its grown to 13:16 min/mile. This is 15% slower than it was in 1996! The experts can’t explain it exactly since the data set is so large, but their hunch is that as ultra running becomes more popular (remember, more people than ever are participating!), there are more variables in skill levels and this can change the average.

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Want to get into ultra running? Start with small distances of 5kms and work your way up to 10kms, then a half marathon, then a full marathon, and then move onto ultra running. Running Calendar Australia is a great resource to find running events in your area.


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