Race Analysis of the World's Best Female and Male Marathon Runners

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Feb 13;17(4):1177. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17041177.


Background: Beyond the difference in marathon performance when comparing female and male runners, we tested the hypothesis that running strategy does not different according to sex. The goal of the present study is to compare the running strategy between the best female and male marathon performances achieved in the last two years. Methods: Two aspects of the races were analyzed: (i) average speed relative to runner critical speed (CS) with its coefficient of variation and (ii) asymmetry and global tendency of race speed (i.e., the race's Kendall τ ) . Results: The females' best marathons were run at 97.6% ± 3% of CS for the new record (Brigid Kosgei, 2019) and at 96.1% ± 4.4% for the previous record (Paula Radcliffe, 2003). The best male performances (Eliud Kipchoge, 2018 and 2019) were achieved at a lower fraction of CS (94.7% ± 1.7% and 94.1% ± 2.3% in 2018 and 2019, respectively). Eliud Kipchoge (EK) achieved a significant negative split race considering the positive Kendall's τ of pacing (i.e., time over 1 km) ( τ = 0.30; p = 0.007). Furthermore, EK ran more of the average distance below average speed (54% and 55% in 2018 and 2019, respectively), while female runners ran only at 46% below their average speed. Conclusions: The best female and male marathon performances were run differently considering speed time course (i.e., tendency and asymmetry), and fractional use of CS. In addition, this study shows a robust running strategy (or signature) used by EK in two different marathons. Improvement in marathon performance might depend on negative split and asymmetry for female runners, and on higher fractional utilization of CS for male runners.

Keywords: critical speed; endurance; health; performance; running strategy.

MeSH terms

  • Athletic Performance
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physical Endurance*
  • Running*