I’ve run the Boston Marathon twice, including in 2013, the year it was bombed. I’m often tempted to drop out of races, but I never actually have. Pushing through affords plenty of time to question the wisdom of prolonging what is sometimes extreme pain. I’m always relieved when I finish — but I never really consider why I bother.
This marathon made me wonder if gender might play a role. You can find a whole range of theories on why women out-endured men in Boston — body fat composition, decision-making tendencies, pain tolerance, even childbirth — but none offers a perfect answer.
One theory is that women handle cold weather better because their bodies naturally have more fat. In general, it’s true that the essential body fat level — one you can’t medically dip beneath — hovers around 3 percent for men and 12 percent for women (when it comes to racing, breasts aren’t exactly performance-enhancing, but they’re still usually part of the deal). And the insulating subcutaneous fat layer under the skin is twice as thick in women as in men.
But at the same race in 2012, on an unusually hot 86-degree day, women also finished at higher rates than men, the only other occasion between 2012 and 2018 when they did. So are women somehow better able to withstand extreme conditions?
That answer could involve psychology. Endurance may feel objective, but your ability to keep going — even if it means slowing down — is often ultimately up to you.
Read her entire Opinion article here.