Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Battle of the Sexes

From the moment any runner is born, typically their parents have already picked out gender-specific clothes, toys, and rooms for the young tot. These often serve as indicators to others as to whether the androginous, nearly-bald baby is male or female, because any confusion between the two could be interpreted as insulting to the mother and father, who are usually quite conscious of their baby's appearance at all times. What is my point? I received two X chromosomes, simultaneously rendering me female...and physically at a disadvantage to male runners whose potentially lightning-fast times I can only wistfully aspire to come close to achieving.

Don't get me wrong, I am all for feminism and proud to be female (Are you with me, ladies?!). But I'm starting to wonder if it is, in a sense, a running curse. Yes, I can get very fast and aim to set PR after PR. Yet, males at the same fitness as I can simply run at a faster pace. To you boys, indeed, I find myself a tad jealous of your capabilities, all the while trying to accept my standings amongst females to whom I am more comparable.

But my fellow gals, do not despair! There is a reason for this annoying, yet very scientific, disparity. One of the more obvious is that women have a higher percentage of body fat than men, and are sometimes shorter as well (thus taking shorter strides). Testosterone, the prominent sex hormone of males, increases both the production of hemoglobin (a protein that carries oxygen) and red blood cell concentration in the blood. Conversely, estrogen, the female sex hormone, does no such thing. Therefore, each liter of a female's blood contains about 130-140 grams of hemoglobin, dwarfed by the significantly higher 150-160 grams/liter of hemoglobin in the blood of a male. In essence, if you have an X and Y chromosome, your blood will produce roughly 11% more oxygen than that of us females.

Of course, being male does not guarantee you speed, strength, and endurance. These depend on a myriad of other factors, such as diet, training, and genetic endowment, to name a few.

Essentially, comparing the race times of boys and girls is like comparing apples to oranges. Although it is not an exact science, I found a rough
conversion calculator when looking at varying times of the two genders in track and field performances. If you're curious, I encourage you to compare some of you PR's with what the approximate equivalent would be of the other gender.
In conclusion, as a female, it kind of sucks to have been given the shorter end of the stick. If only biology had put both genders on a more even plane. But it didn't, so it is something one must come to terms with. As I mentioned earlier, however, that label of "male" does not necessarily guarantee one will be a great runner. So, in the words of Shania Twain, "Man! I feel like a woman!" Although I may be stuck behind with the view of you boys' butts on the track, I still take pride in myself and my running. Maybe, just maybe, you'll be seeing my rear end in the near future.


  1. I'm never going to grow tired of your posts - this is so good!!

    But hey, we can wear cute skirts and outfits when we run. Male runners never look that cute. :)

  2. What a great post. Love the calculator.