First published in Mint on 9 March 2009. Edited longer version below.
Weighing in on the war of the sexes
Morris notes that the average man has 28kg muscle, compared to 15kg for the average woman. “The typical male body,” he says, “is 30% stronger, 10% heavier and 7% taller than the typical female body.” On the other hand, he says, “The female body, being so important for reproduction, had to be better protected against starvation. As a result, the average woman’s curvaceous body contains 25% fat, while the stringy male has only 12.5%.”
But does more muscle make a man stronger? Ever heard of male pain vs female pain? Male pain refers to people moaning and groaning over minor discomforts, non-issues. Female pain refers to real pain, since women have to go through labour pain, the mother of all pains! If men were the ones in charge of reproduction, we would not have got beyond Adam and Eve.
Trust me, this is coming from someone who deals a lot with pain. I am either trying to help people deal better with pain, and if possible get rid of it, or I'll be found giving a select few, a lot of pain at my crazy run called La Ultra - The High. More about this soon.
Mistress of pain equals more gain
This gives women an advantage when it comes to endurance sports such as distance running, where you must burn fat, and fight pain and fatigue.
In 2002, Pam Reed, a 100-pound mother and stepmother of five, ran the Badwater Ultramarathon—the most demanding race on the planet—covering 217km non-stop from Death Valley to Mt Whitney, California, in temperatures up to 55 degrees Celsius. She beat the course record (for either sex) by more than 5 hours.
In 2003, she again made distance-running history. She braved the hottest weather in years to successfully defend her title, defeating celebrated (male) ultra runner Dean Karnazes.
Age is just a number
In Constantina Tomescu, we had another great example of what women (and mothers) are capable of. It wasn’t just that she became an Olympics champion in Beijing on a field where she didn’t count among the big names. Nor was it that she won after losing four months’ training time (to a leg injury in 2007). Not even that she went through a divorce just before the Olympics, from the man who is also her coach, which led to a four-month professional split too. It was that at 38 she became the oldest woman Olympics marathon winner by eight years.
At my own race, La Ultra - The High, a 333 km race up in Leh - Ladakh, ladies have taught me a few things about living and not only about running. At the first edition in 2010, only three people got to the start line and one of them was Molly Sheridan. She fought her way to about a 100 miles in the then 222 km race but had to pull out. She came along next year to finish the race.
Even though only one finished in the first edition of La Ultra - The High, in the second year we had 4 ladies and only 2 gents at the start line. At this race, all who make it to the start line are already winners.
A 48 year old asthmatic Sharon Gayter from UK won the race yet again showing that age, gender and medical conditions if tackled properly can easily be overcome. She beat Ray Sanchez, a former professional boxer who loves pain.
Lisa Tamati from New Zealand, another participant at the second edition fought her way through the 222km even though she has asthma. In the documentary below she shows how to take impossible head on.
To hell with the naysayers
Another ultramarathon runner, Siri Terjesen, a friend who pushed me in to ultra running, was diagnosed with scoliosis (abnormal curvature of the spine) at age 7. She wore a full-body brace for nine years, and was able to remove it for just an hour each day. She was left temporarily immobilized when at 16, two steel rods were implanted in her back, from the top of her neck to her tailbone. Now, at 33, a professor at Indiana University, she has run about 100 marathons and ultramarathons. She won the 100km UK championship, 50km titles in Australia and England, and a 40-mile title in Wales. Although an American citizen, she was named British Ultrarunner of the Year in 2003. She won the 50km 2008 Cowtown women’s ultramarathon in Fort Worth, and the Cowtown marathon in 2007. Not only was she the first woman to finish at the 2008 Cowtown, but third overall. Two places behind her was another woman, Gert Freas.
Ladies, prove ’em wrong, please!
Women weren’t even allowed to compete in the Boston marathon until 1972. Not until 1984 were they permitted to compete in the Olympics. And here they are now.
So ladies, yours are awesomely well-designed bodies. Make the most of them, treat them the way they deserve to be treated. Now get up, put on your shoes and prove everyone whoever said “It’s not for women” wrong.