Much to the chagrin of distance runners everywhere, the I.A.A.F. recently changed the definition of a world record marathon for women. You might think the definition would just be the fastest time, but according to them it's not so simple. They basically disqualified all times that came in races with both men and women. Their reasoning is that elite females can run faster if they have men pacing them, so it makes the field uneven if some women are being paced by men and others are not.
For Paula Radcliffe, the reigning female champion, her 2:15:25 in London 2003 is now out and her 2:17:42 in London 2005 is in as the official women's world record.
The questionable logic of redefining something as simple as a fastest time aside, I think the I.A.A.F. has another potential problem with their new policy; it doesn't also take a look at the men's records. Their reasoning for changing the female records is that women perform better with men around, but couldn't the opposite also be true?
I'm a man, and when I was racing consistently, I couldn't stand it when women passed me out on the course. When I saw any runner coming up behind me, I would try to step it up and hold them off. But if the challenger was a member of the fairer sex, I definitely dug a little deeper. My brother Parker told a funny anecdote back in high school that illustrates this all too well. When he was working out in the weight room, he noticed that whenever a girls team came in, all of the guys added one more set of weights to their machine. The effect may be subconscious, but it's real.
Call it vanity, call it Darwinian reproductive instinct, but this has to make guys run a little harder when there are women around sizing them up. So in the interest of fairness, maybe the men's records need a second glance as well.