Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Why Women Run Faster With Age

In her column last week in the New York Times, Gina Kolata observed that among non-elite runners, older women seem to be outracing the women in younger age brackets. Kolata investigated some possibilities as to why this might be so and quotes one expert's suggestion that "older women may be faster because, oddly enough, they are trying harder than younger women and discovering for the first time what they are capable of. " And younger women may not be trying as hard because they are inhibited and self-conscious:

Mary Wittenberg, president of New York Road Runners, thinks part of the answer is that most female runners shortchange themselves. Look at them before races she said. Men warm up and do strides, short runs to prepare to take off at the starting line. A lot of women hang back, often because they are embarrassed to be out there with the men, acting like determined athletes, Ms. Wittenberg said.

“They are too inhibited to put their full passion out there,” she said. “They are almost afraid to be serious about a sport. They think that if they’re not the best, they shouldn’t care so much.”

Why aren't younger women as competitive? I think this has everything to do with the prevalence in our society of messages and images that trivialize women's sports. From ads that treat elite athletes as sex objects, to the drumbeat of Title IX-haters who angrily equate women's success in sport as a threat to men, is it any wonder that women internalize the belief that a competitive drive is incompatible with femininity? At least there's hope, as older women, more secure in themselves seem less concerned about holding back in order to appeal to men.

[thanks, Giovanna!]


dsc25 said...

I don't know. I found that article just pure trash. Most people I talked to, including several young female runners, laughed at the explanation. With the explosion of running teams in college and high school as a result of Title IX, there's no doubt that young women have learned to be competitive and train to their highest level. Maybe the older women were never given that opportunity, but the younger women have been and have done it.

Maybe there's a physiological explanation though? One young runner I talked with said that she always heard that women's bodies become more suited for running in their 30s. I don't know if that's true, but that sounds a lot more reasonable than the drivel that appeared in the Times last week. I really think the author just interviewed a few of her friends who had their own theories and thought that would be a good enough basis for an article.

diremirth said...

i know that i have found this to be true in my own life. i run loads fast as a 24 yr old than i ever did in jr. and sr. high. this being said i am not so ready to jump on board with the expanations offered in this article. for me it was all about where my interests were. when i was younger it was theatre and not sports. now i am a huge runner and i love it. maybe that makes me go faster. :)

Anonymous said...

I coach girls soccer, girls become just as aggressive as boys when exposed to the proper mental frame of mind. This article is a joke, aggressive girls intimidate boys and boys coaches. fortunately as a Senior 66+ grand father, I give it back to the jocks, once girls understand I won't take it, they don't either. Yet they still win the Homecoming queen and go to all the proms. They learn to balance it out. Older women are just catching up to their daughters. Wake up! I'd raise heck with my daughter if she came home with this dripple.