Photo from Mount Royal, Frisco, Colorado.

"That is happiness; to be disolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep." - Willa Cather

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Winforce 100km: are women better at ultras?

Pia Joan Sørensen and Maibritt Skovgaard at Winforce 100km 2013. Photo by Martin Paldan

This weekend was the inaugural Winforce 100km trail race. The face of ultra running in Denmark is changing, with now two popular ultra trail races: Salomon Hammer Trail 100 mile, 50 mile and 50k and Winforce 100km.

As the leaders went out on their 4th and final 25 k loop, the crowd (including myself as race physician) was wondering, hoping (even though we love Per Egon) that Maibritt would win. Indeed it was close and Maibritt in her first trail 100k was only around 20 minutes behind Per Egon Rasmussen, taking second place overall!! (seriously, it was awesome to witness) And the talk began--- are women just made to run ultras? Granted there were only two women (pictured above) among the 38 starters. So one could say, only the super tough chickas were racing (it should be noted that Pia Joan Sørensen dropped with plantar fasciitis at 50k and we can only speculate over the possibility of her winning outright).

Then we got home and at a family party, the subject was broached again--- "but women ARE just better at ultras". Being the anal statistician that I can be, I looked into it. And the percent difference between men and women (mostly by world records) is as follows (bear in mind, I did these calculations in my head not wanting to use a huge amount of time, so yeah, if I am 0.1 or 0.2% off I apologize--- I'm busy).

Percent difference between male and female world record finish times by distance
(female time-male time)/average of the two

100 mile 17.7% (taken from 2013 Western States as I couldn't find the female WR)
24 hour    20.0%
100 k: 5.0%
50 k         29.5%
42.2 k 9.3%
21.1k 11.6%
1000m 11.7%
5000m 11.9%
1000m 12.8%
400m       9.7%
200m 10.6%

Interesting, isn't it? It actually appears that men are better and better the longer the race is. Of course, if we look at the AVERAGE man vs. the average woman, the numbers might change, but I am not sure. I kept feeling as I was doing the calculations that there is a gravitation towards that 11% difference and maybe as more ultras are run and more women run them, the 11% will also become the rule of ultra distances. 

SR also raced and his very humorous, humble report is here. This photo shows one of the many tough aspects of the course. It was after 50k here and he was reportedly feeling great. Photo by Martin Paldan.
Unfortunately, SR dropped out after 75km with severe nausea. Of note, nausea is the top listed reason for dropping out of ultras, I learned during my stint at Western States. How to prevent it is a hotly researched topic; one study at Javelina has pointed to the importance of a lower carbohydrate diet while racing. The study might be too biased to trust, though. Pam Smith raced Western States with Zofran in case she developed nausea but didn't. SR is asking me to write prescriptions for Zofran and have them along in my doctor bag. I have mixed feelings about this since it might simply cover up the symptoms of hyponatremia and put runners' lives a risk. 

My thoughts about getting SR to finish involve simply going slower. He ran through 75km well under 8 hours on a very hard course, which was a relative PR for him at this distance-- and then he was supposed to run 25k more... Running ultras is really about finding that perfect balance between speed and endurance (and believing it is of utmost importance that you finish (yes, it is crazy, but we don't allow ourselves to think this while we are out there, right?). Usually women lack speed and men lack endurance, in my experience (Piccola Pine Cone and Chris Scotch notable exceptions), and if you want to improve, you need to train at what you lack. I have started coaching two women and speed work, fun speed work, is the first thing we are focusing on. 

And what about my right hip/new bone?

Pacing SR the first 25 k at Winforce 100k. I had always wanted to try racing with my hair down :0). We had fun.
I went to our tri-club friend, Søren, who is an osteopath (the equivalent honestly does not exist in the US) and he did a very good job of convincing me that the problem was not the knot turned to bone in my calf, but my right hip. Basically the acetabulum in my right hip is inflamed and the ligaments around my hip very loose. When he heard I practiced yoga, he was very clear to state it was making my hip worse. Turns out I am hypermobile (OK I knew that and it is one of the reasons I love yoga, because I am naturally "good" at it) and I have loosed my right hip to such an extent that my hip strength can't hold the dang hip in place while I run and this causes pain and inflammation.

So I have a hip strengthening exercise to do for the next week and then he says he will loosen up the L3-L4 region of my left back and I should be on track again. If not, ultrasound-guided steroid injection into the acetabular space is what he recommends. 

Last night, Andreas and I held a Salomon trail running workshop for employees of Novo Nordisk. It was seriously a ton of fun watching people hop over roots and rocks and struggle up hills to greet fabulous views. Ha. Dream job. And they loved the Salomon shoes. Ok- they seriously DO make you feel more secure on technical trails. Photo Nynne Friling

Since I don't have a song of the day, I will offer my "word" of the day, which is "rigamarole". I found myself writing it to a friend today and had to stop up and think--- is this a word I made up? Anyone else use it? If yes, where are your from?


Unknown said...

yes on rigamarole! I recently had to quell a similar doubt about "paraphernalia" while trying to explain it to a non-native speaker. From the midwest :)

Anonymous said...

I think the reason some people end up thinking that women are better at ultras is because ultras *sometimes* have planning, tactics, organization, mental strength, etc. as significant components (at least far more than your average road race, anyway). So while men have the biological advantage at running fast, neither gender has an advantage with those other components, which means if the top guys get it wrong on those components, the top women can beat the guys. But when you look at enough races, it averages out to the usual male-female percentage difference in performance. That's my theory anyway!

I always have Zofran with me when I race and I end up using it maybe every other race. I can't really see how it would mask hyponatremia, unless you're going to assume that vomiting is always a sign of hyponatremia?

Good thing you have those nice new shoes for technical trails; I was out on the SHT this past weekend and was reminded how technical some of the early parts of the 50/middle parts of the 100 are!


PiccolaPineCone said...

1. so interesting and timely (at least for me) this post about % differences... I have been asking myself (for professional reasons) if % difference is the best way to evaluate differences between groups bc I have the problem in my data that as the numbers get larger the % differences btwn groups get larger (as is the case in your dataset) even though i don't think (for other reasons too long to go into here) the larger sets of numbers are any more "different" than the smaller set of numbers. my working theory is that larger numbers are just inherently noisier (though i don't think that applies in your case)

2. hypermobility in hip sounds way less scary than bone in calf.

sea legs girl said...

PPC--- oh my gosh! We are cosmically connected. As I was at step class of all places I kept thinking about how if I used the larger womens' time number as the denominator, it would somewhat correct the problem, but I think what one needs to is to multiple by "difference of the two constant" so the values with bigger differences don't appear bigger than they are. (as in this case). If one uses the larger number as the denominator, the percentages are uniformly smaller, but one avoids the false inflation of the percentage difference in larger differences. As you can tell, I thought a bit about this, but this is where I will stop since I really have no clue what I'm talking about. Good luck :0)

sea legs girl said...

Yeah Alicia, I think men have a much higher chance of "falling apart". Plus men who are not well-enough trained are willing to start these ultras, whereas most women would NOT start unless they were trained enough.

I've been looking at pictures of the Superior course and I have worked lots of roots, jump roping, stair stepping and hopping over creak crossings into my runs. Not quite the same as practicing the course, but it will have to do! It is fun!

Well, with Zofran, from what I understand, hyponatremia causes nausea. Certainly that is not the only cause of nausea, but I would think it ranks highly up there in ultras. I have not data on this though...

sea legs girl said...

Rebe, ah good to hear it wasn't a word just our little town made up. I acutally looked it up and read "no one under 40 knows this word" hehe. Unless you are over 40, I guess we are just from backwards towns!

Olga said...

I think the reason the rumor about women being almost equal to me in ultras floating around due to SOME women (a.k.a. Ann Trason and Ellie) being some damn good, and some men being so damn dumb and go out fats and fall apart, then those handful of women end up being close to the front. And we notice it and talk it up a lot. Couple more things: women are better at patience/pacing, at planning, and an enduring pain/mental toughness. However, technically, that does NOT make up for pure muscle/genetic advantages men have.
Now, about that whole leg thing. I never thought a pea-sized knot, boned up or not, would cause you lots of problem you seem complain of. But at the same time blaming a hip mobility purely is not fair either. First of, just HOW mobile are you? From those few photos of you doing stretches/yoga I did not see anything extra ordinary or even that awesome. Some 10 years ago, I had a mobility and flexibility of a gymnast (and practiced Bikram 7 days a week on top of those 100mpw), and while there was someone who said the same thing to me, those were my best years. I also subscribe to idea that mobile/flexible (not EXTRA) joints allow for a wider gait naturally, what covers more distance (always remember amazing race at NYC marathon some 12-13 years ago televised and an African woman, tall and lanky, and a Russian short one, run in Central park side by side with the same length of step). Then, of course, we all come to that whole discussion about center of gravity needing to be under the I retrieve my motion of discussion. However, while I do believe in strengthening the hips and other joints (weight room all the way!!!), my question, again: how mobile ARE you?

sea legs girl said...

Olga- from the waist up I am super mobile-- I can almost 100% bend over backwards. I can also easily do all of those moves where you wrap and contort arms around the body, etc. I get a lot of looks at our local yoga classes. But my legs are stiff like nobody's business. That whole "lock the knee" thing is nearly impossible for me. And I can't even get close to doing supta vajrasana because my ankles also refuse to bend. So it is super hard for me to kneel and sit on my feet--- even for the breathing postures at the end of Bikram: they hurt like hell because I am so stiff in my legs. Of course it can all be chalked up to years of running, but the problem is my SI joint and lower back are super mobile, or so it seems.

Olga said...

I don't buy that. I can bend over backwards (still), I also have no problems doing what you described as impossible for you. I just can't kick out right now either leg: one had torn hammy and scar tissue/shortened, one has strained hammy and sciatica locked in it (fresh injury, that one was still kicking). Anyway, mobile SI joint as a mean of a hip pain...may be, possible? What are you strengthening?

Olga said...

I'd rather look into extra tight legs, not locking knee (WHY?), stuck small feet bone joints (navicular?) and trace from there up?

sea legs girl said...

Olga- I love getting your opinion on this. I am quite confused myself. There is however no doubt that my symptoms appeared after I started practicing Bikram. But now not being able to practice yoga is really, really tough for me! I love it almost as much as running... Anyway, my strengthening involves lying on my back and lifting my bodyweight to my shoulders with one heal at a time-- stretched out leg. It is super hard. And it hurts incredibly when I do it with the right leg.

Olga said...

Heal? As in Heel? As in for iliopsoas strength? All the way to the shoulder one leg at a time? I gotta see that...I have to go help move my girlfriend, but lets talk!

sea legs girl said...

Olga- yes "heal" as in "heel"; dang it old habits die hard. I never learned to spell that one. Dyslexia variant + too many foreign languages = poor speller, at least in my case. Go move your GF :0).

Karen said...

I took a lot of Zofran during chemotherapy treatments, interesting to hear people use it in races.