Readers Roundtable: Do Men Make Women Run Faster?

Woo! Mary Keitany went for Paula Radcliffe’s 2:15:25 world record in London, but came up a little short in 2:17:01, good enough for the “women’s-only” all-time best. Women’s-only? Yeah. That’s a thing.

You see, after Paula Radcliffe ran 2:15:25 world record in a race with male pace-setters, the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF), the international governing body for the the sport of track and field, made a rule that a women’s world record would only count if run in a women-only race — meaning either a women-only race or, as is the case for most major marathons these days, in a race with an elite women-only start. Meaning, the IAAF decided it might be easier to run faster with men around rather than just women.

So we wanted to know, in theory or in your experience, for only elites or the rest of us:

Does running with men help women run faster? Why or why not? 

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Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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18 comments

  1. As a mid-to-back-packer, anybody who is faster than me is going to help push me, regardless of gender. My two best running buddies are one woman and one man, and no matter who I run with they both push me faster. For the men, maybe they could have a bicycle pacer? With a rabbit on the back? Or a carrot? What nonsense that records must be held in women-only races. As if somehow she didn’t run that insane pace.

      1. Okay, so this is really as insane as it sounds. So her record only stands if a) only ladies are running the race as a whole and b) only ladies will pace her. Ugh. Or am I missing something?

        1. No, I think that’s about right! Only women can pace women and only men, men. If anything it’s probably less fair for women because there are fewer top-echelon athletes who could possibly pace even for part of a longer race!

  2. Agree with Chicory, I’d rather have anyone around than no one. Depending on the race that usually means I’m around more men- and I’m fine with that. But I don’t think that I push MORE to stay with a man than I would to stay with a female competitor. I’d like to think I can push regardless of the gender of the person or people I am running with. But, yes I have gotten comfortable racing and running with men around me and not just using placement (i.e. running around other women) as my only motivation.

    I understand that it’s harder for men to find pacers than women but still seems that the rules for records should be the same between genders.

  3. I’d rather have fast people around me to pull me along than to have no one around, and that typically boils down to having guys around. I’ve run a women’s only half twice, and while it’s nice knowing anyone you can see ahead is a competitor, it also reduces the number of people to chase by about half!

    I’m with MG. If men can set records with pacers, the women’s records should be the same.

    1. But if we’re comparing men’s top performances and women’s top performances, is it fair if men cannot find pacers who are faster but women can because men can pace them?

  4. I think having pacers in general makes people faster. It seems kind of stupid (and sexist!) to me that they are asterisking the women’s record as being pacer-free, while men are allowed to set records with pacers. (Right? I assume that pacers are still allowed for the men’s record). Men’s and women’s records should be held to the same standards.

    1. I think the difference is (purportedly) that men who pace someone like Paula are capable of running faster than Paula, but any women pacing Paula could not run faster. For a man to run a world record, he’s not going to find a human pacer capable of pacing him, right? Maybe we just need robot pacers for all! Ha!

      1. For men’s WR attempts, I thought that the pacers didn’t usually run the whole race, so that they could find people faster. But women then have the advantage of being paced the entire race while men do not.
        Yes, robot pacers for all — even the midpack!!

        1. I mean, if you’re going to charge $40 to run 3.1 miles in the streets we run in regularly anyway, might as well get a robot pacer thrown into the goodie bag! haha.

    2. I’m pretty sure pacers are not allowed when setting world records for men either – everyone must start the race from the beginning and no one can jump in it during its course. If that’s right, then I think it’s absolutely fair that women’s records must be set in women-only races. Regardless of the gender, I think we can all agree that running ahead of a field is hugely different from having other people to catch up. I don’t think it’s sexist to claim that men are faster than women and can act as pacers, which are not allowed when setting records, men or women’s.

  5. YES absolutely. I run and workout with the guys my coach coaches every day and I think they play a huge role in helping me get stronger and faster. It’s always a bit of an extra struggle for me to try to keep up with them in workouts and they push me to an honest pace in every single training run. I’ve accomplished workouts behind a guy that I never could have nailed on my own. Sure, I’m capable of completing the workout alone, but not as capable of pushing myself to really dig deep and find another gear I didn’t know I had.
    Also, because my paces are not as hard to a guy, he can relax throughout the workout and that helps me to relax as well, rather than panicking about how the effort feels and making the workout unnecessarily hard.

    1. That last point is really interesting. It reminds me of something I read when I was researching this topic – that men who pace the fastest women likely are a little faster and have a little more “slack” in their effort level, which I think goes to the fact that they’re more comfortable and relaxed than most women going the same pace. It’s just a numbers thing. Women going at the very highest levels for women runners are so much rarer than men going at those paces.

    2. I agree that is an interesting point on the last part- having someone who is relaxed holding a pace can help you relax. But as a counterpoint- sometimes I need to know the person I’m running with is busting their ass too. I can get frustrated if I know how hard I am working and it’s a cake walk for them. If the person (male or female) running in front of me is working hard I know that I need to work hard to stay with them- that motivates me not to be the slacker of the two!

  6. I can’t speak for everyone but I’ve chased down more men in races than women. Especially if it’s a smaller race and I’m winning the women’s race by a lot. I think having a male rabbit in front of me does make me go faster, however I would chase down a woman if she was there as well. I think having a faster man in the race makes me go faster.

    1. Yeah, there are more men who are as fast as the fastest women in most races, so for a lot of us, we’re either running alone or with dudes.

      1. Related to this – I’m not super speedy, but generally find that at local races, I’m mostly surrounded by guys rather than gals. I recently ran Boston and was at the back of Wave 2, which was just under 3:30. Since 3:35 is the BQ women’s under 35 time, I was almost entirely surrounded by women at the start – it was so neat!