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Alissa St Laurent becomes first woman to win Canadian Death Race ultra


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I want to take a bit of break from politics and other bad news stories, and focus on a good news story that came in this weekend: Alissa St Laurent winning this crazy, grueling ultramarathon race in Alberta by a long shot, and what it says about the issue of advantages and disadvantages for women in sports.

We are well aware that women are at a significant disadvantage with men in most league sports because men have much greater upper body strength on average. And the power advantage gives an edge in individual sports as well. When we get to the endurance sports, men have an advantage because of lower body/fat ratios, but when we push the distance further, in swimming and running, we find a much smaller contingent of women closing the gap and overtaking men in long distance swimming and ultramarathons.

In running, this is mostly because 22 to 24 miles is as far as any non-drug aided body can go using blood sugar (glycogen) as fuel. After that, you have to be running at a pace slow enough that you can metabolize body fat for fuel....which I think would probably be walking pace for me....anyway, a different kind of runner takes the lead in races over 26 miles and many of them are women, despite the relatively low number of serious competitors.

The Canadian Death Race is a punishing footrace through the Rocky Mountains held every year in Grande Cache, Alta. Over its course, runners climb more than 5,000 metres, reach three summits and cross several rivers.

St Laurent clocked in at just under 14 hours — beating out not only the other solo runners, but also the relay teams. She ended up crossing the finish line about 90 minutes before her closest solo competitor.

"[it felt] pretty amazing. I feel like I went out pretty bold and it worked out for me," she said.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/alissa-st-laurent-becomes-first-woman-to-win-canadian-death-race-ultramarathon-1.3177415

St. Laurent says she would like to inspire more girls and young women to take up ultra-long distance racing, and I hope the notoriety she gets motivates other young women to compete:

She told CBC News that she hopes the victory will inspire other women to take up long-distance running and take on challenges like the Death Race.

"A lot of women hold that back, that competitive drive. I'd like to see it more."

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/alissa-st-laurent-becomes-first-woman-to-win-canadian-death-race-ultramarathon-1.3177415

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I wonder if we'll ever see a woman, any woman, enter the Erzberg Rodeo. We have female competitors who participate in other variations of the sport but they don't compete against men. They have their own series and don't mingle with the men. Not running but equally or more gruelling, in fact competitors have died from exhaustion and heat stroke.

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thats pretty awesome. Not only did she beat the solo competitors she also beat the relay teams. And this isn't just ultra distance running. This is running on mountain trails, fast flowing rivers requiring tremendous amounts of strength and endurance. A woman hasn't ever won this in 15 years. Good for her!! She is an inspiration.

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I wonder if we'll ever see a woman, any woman, enter the Erzberg Rodeo. We have female competitors who participate in other variations of the sport but they don't compete against men. They have their own series and don't mingle with the men. Not running but equally or more gruelling, in fact competitors have died from exhaustion and heat stroke.

"Erzberg Rodeo!" That's a question I certainly cannot answer, not knowing anything about the challenges and skills needed for competition. But, there have been concerns in other sports where an elite female athlete has no serious competition among her peers and wants to compete against men (like golf), that the women's competitions will be adversely affected.

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Women outrunning men in marathons has been known for a long time.

Here is a random '97 study on this:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9044230

Actually, the abstract of the study in that pubmed link is a study comparing 28 female ultramarathoners with male competitors, and notes the narrowing gap between men's and women's times as the distances increase. This is especially significant for those of us who are older and well remember the times before women were allowed to run in marathons and track&field athletics competitions restricted female events were limited to 3000 meters. It was just taken as a given by the men who started the modern olympics movement and amateur sporting, that women's bodies were too delicate to withstand the stresses of such competitions.

That study which points to greater fatigue resistance among the 28 women studied, shows that the exact opposite is true! Even among men, it's known that ultra-competitors in running, swimming, triathalons etc. have to hold a much higher body fat ratio than competitors at shorter distances. I haven't checked around, but I would think that the average higher body fat ratio for women would provide some advantage in these competitions.

There might also be an issue of pain tolerance, where in a lot of studies, men don't do so well compared to women! When it comes to running middle and long distances, a physically gifted runner can turn into a washout who is never able to reach an elite level of competition if he can't stay focused and keep calm when his body is telling him to stop or slow down. I've never tried an ultramarathon, but I would imagine that dealing with pain and discomfort over a long period of time is a significant factor, and it would be interesting to add that to a gender study of ultra-athletes.

One point that hasn't come up that I'm sure will be a factor before larger numbers of young women show up competing in long distance races is that many hours of training are required to prepare for competition. The public safety issue can become a factor...especially in urban areas, because a woman out running or jogging alone is going to be noticed...and possibly noticed by the wrong sort of person! When I was still active in a local running club, most of the women who were active and putting in high mileage, didn't go out even in the day time, without at least one running buddy. That might be a big problem for anyone putting in the long hours preparing for ultramarathons.

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