Air Pollution Means Slower Marathon Times for Women but not Men

marathon runners shoes photo

Image credit: jordanfischer/Flickr

It makes sense that runners—especially those racing over the course of a marathon—inhale a lot more air than your average sedentary person. If that air is full of particulate and pollution it seems obvious that it would impact a runner's performance.

A new survey that looked at marathons in the United States over the last 28 years found that, indeed, higher levels of air pollution were associated with slower finish times—at least for women.Linsey Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech, explained:

Although pollution levels in these marathons rarely exceeded national standards for air quality, performance was still affected.

The reason for this is the amount of air a marathoner breathes. Marr added:

Previous research has shown that during a race, marathon runners inhale and exhale about the same volume of air as a sedentary person would over the course of two full days.

This means that while air pollution levels may be acceptable for the typical citizen, runners—especially long distance runners—are more susceptible.

Marr's research also found that women were more affected by air pollution—specifically airborne particulates—than men. While women's overall times were slower in races where air pollution levels were higher, the amount of particulate in the air did not have an observable impact on men's performance.

This suggests, Marr explained, that the comparatively smaller size of the trachea makes women more sensitive to particulates in the air.

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