Men run more slowly than they think

May 27, 2017 - 06:20

Men embellish and overestimate, while women have a more realistic idea of how fast they can run.

Men think they will cross the finish line much sooner than they actually do. Women are more modest on their own behalf. Several studies show that males have an inflated belief in their abilities in other areas too, for instance mathematics. (Photo: Shutterstock/NTB scanpix)

When men guess their result in a running race they expect to perform better than they end up doing. Women can also be optimistic, but not nearly as much men.

A Swedish researcher has studied the results of long-distance races and what the participants guessed their times would be.

“The runners overestimate themselves and male runners are more optimistic about their times than females,” says  Associate Professor Mitesh Kataria in a press release from the University of Gothenburg’s School of Business, Economics and Law.

Minutes count

He collected information from 4,800 runners in long-distance races.

They participated in ten Swedish races in the course of two years. The half marathons in Gothenburg and Stockholm are the standard 21.1 kilometres long, a race in Lidingö is 30 km and of course the Stockholm Marathon is 42.2 km.

Men on average subtract two-and-a-half minutes more than women do from what their times end up being in a half marathon and five minutes more in the 30k race. Men overestimate their results in a full marathon by four minutes more than women do.

This might not sound so far off in a competition where participants run for hours. Most male and female amateur joggers in such contests use about two hours on a half marathon and twice that for a marathon.

But every minute counts. Actually, in the 2015 Oslo Marathon , the winner crossed the line with a time of 2:20:49 – spectacularly almost nine minutes ahead of the runner-up. A good marathon runner will take about two-and-a-half hours.

Knowing their own capacity

Although participants train assiduously and keep track of the time it takes to run particular distances, very few manage to guess the result they will end up with. The fastest runners were the most realistic in their predictions.

In the Swedish races there was also motive for guessing correctly. Those who came closest could win travels, as the race was sponsored by the Swedish railway, SJ. 

SJ and a web organisation for runners – JOGG – registered the times that runners estimated prior to the race. 

Rather few entered in this contest to win travels. Those who did ran with slower times on average than the rest of the runners.

Great self-confidence

The tendency to overestimate capabilities was seen in both sexes. Over half the women who guessed their times prior to running were overoptimistic. However, amongst men this overconfidence was seen in two out of three.

A number of studies have shown that men tend to have inflated faith in their abilities and performance in areas ranging from mathematics to how physically active they are.

The Swedish researcher is cautious about applying his findings to other areas.

But he speculates in his article: “Moreover, these characteristics to overestimate their capacity could be typical for not only male runners but for males in general.”

Men earn more than women. Perhaps their distorted self-appraisals help them talk their way into higher salaries?

“In a hiring situation we ought to run a test where a person can demonstrate their abilities. Because if we only listen to what he or she say about themselves, we risk favouring the man,” says Kataria.

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Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no

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Translated by
Glenn Ostling