…this is a continuation of a previous article.
Depth on the women’s side is higher than it’s ever been, with 8-10 women capable of a top-5 finish at any major race. How does it compare with the best men, though? Do women actually have better depth this year?
US National Series
To answer this, I looked at how far back of the winner each of the top-20 racers finished at each of the 5 US National Series races. In general, performance drops off noticeably around 20th place, especially on the women’s side, so I mainly wanted to focus on the best of the best racers. No surprise, those 5 races have the highest strength of schedule ratings so far this year for both genders.
Rather than give you a huge table with 60+ lines, here’s a quick overview of the time gap between 1st and 5th place for both genders at the 5 USNS races.
As you can see, the time gap between the winner and 5th place is much different for each gender. The fastest female (Lindsay or Nicole) beat her nearest competitor by nearly 3 minutes in all but 1/5 USNS races. How would the men’s results have changed if the time gaps switched genders? In other words, look at Jacksonville on the women’s side. Second place (Lindsay) finished 6:46 behind the winner (Nicole). How many men finished within 6:46 of the winner?
Amazingly, 15 men finished within 6:46 of the winner (Ryan Kempson) in Jacksonville, as shown in the table above. Go through the rest of the races and you’ll see that (on average) the 7th place male finished just as close to the male winner as the 3rd place female finished relative to the female winner. Based on time gap, the 20th place male would (on average) finish in 8th place had men had the same time gap as women that same race.
The gender time gap is more obvious when you see it on a graph. Notice how the two lines aren’t parallel and separate going to the right? That means that both gender’s performances aren’t consistent the “worse” you place (not that 15th at a USNS race is bad). There’s already a 10% gender difference at only 6th place, and the difference only gets bigger after that. On average, the 20th place male only finishes 15.7% slower than the male winner, while the 20th place female is 30.5% slower than the female winner.
Gender Differences Through the Years
Percent of the winner is a better ratio to account for fast and slow finishing times at every race distance from Stadium to Ultra Beast, though. Fortunately for you, I’ve spent countless hours compiling Spartan Race results since 2011. The data shows that the average female Spartan Race winner has historically finished only 79.1% as fast as the men’s winner that same race worldwide since 2011. In other words, if the male winner in a race is 1:00, then the female winner who finished 79.1% as fast would finish in roughly 1:16.
This graph probably looks crazy, but hopefully that math example above makes things clearer. Let’s be real: you probably would’ve stopped reading this article long ago if you weren’t interested in complex data. Values for the % of winner female vs. male are summarized in the table below the graphs for each region and year.
This relative ratio of female winning time vs. male winning time has remained pretty consistent worldwide, with most years and regions historically ranging from the upper-70s to low-80s. The fact that these ratios have stayed consistent means that the top male AND female racers have improved proportionately through the years (at least within a few % of each other). Both genders have stepped up big time this year, but the men’s field is still deeper than the women’s field by a good margin.
Look back through the early years of Spartan Race for the men, specifically. Most of the 10 best racers not named Hobie or Cody from 2011-2014 would struggle to place in the top-10 at major races these days. It took about a decade for depth on the men’s side to reach its current level. I’d argue that the women’s side is a few years behind the men in terms of depth, meaning the current state of the women’s field is right around where the men were in 2014 or so. I bet within only a couple years, several new faces will join the sport, resulting in the women’s field being as deep as the men’s field is today.
There’s no such thing as a “gimme” podium anymore at major US races for the historical top racers unless your name is Ryan Atkins, Lindsay Webster, or Nicole Mericle, as they’re the only athletes to have more than 2 podiums in the 5 USNS races this year (all were 5/5, actually). No matter which era those three would have competed in, they still would have ended up towards the top. Earning a podium won’t get any easier going forward, though, due to all the “new” racers making a name for themselves this year. It’s not like guys such as Robert Killian, Ryan Woods, or Cody Moat suddenly aren’t great anymore because they still have some of the highest odds of winning any race they enter. The rest of the field has simply gotten that much better, which gives the illusion that the “historical best” aren’t as good as they once were.
The top women probably have a few more years left to earn relatively “easy” podiums at major races, but that window is closing rapidly. Before you know it, the women’s field will be just as chaotic as the men’s field this year. Good luck predicting the top-5 finishers each race once that happens.