Fastest Known Time

“On the Longest Hiking Trails, a Woman Finds Equal Footing” by Jennifer Pharr Davis (source), she explores questions of gender and physical advantages with endurance exercise using well-known endurance athletes Scott Jurek and Ann Trason. She concludes her article with the following:

Regardless, the one thought that remains apparent to me is that athletes who are pushing the boundaries of human endurance have more in common mentally than what separates us physically.

Scott Jurek is a common name among long distance endurance athletes, yet rather than focusing on his well-publicized recent record on the Appalachian Trail, Davis raises some questions about men, women, and exercise by comparing his time to Heather Anderson’s relatively unknown similar accomplishment.

It’s interesting to note that the author, Pharr Davis, is an athlete in her right and Jurek beat her fastest known time (F.K.T). She interviews Jurek in this article and writes:

I was not shocked that Jurek broke my record; I was surprised that he beat it by only three hours. And after rethinking every five-minute pause that I could have eliminated on my hike, I was left with a larger question: How could I — a woman who has never won an ultrarace — compete with Scott Jurek? So I asked him.

Jurek did not appear to be surprised at the 0.3 percent difference in our finish times. “The gender gap diminishes and disappears over distance,” he told me. “When you’re traveling over 2,000 miles, it doesn’t matter if you are male or female. Superhuman powers are superhuman powers; they know no gender, no age.”

Jurek did say, however, that in traditional ultrarunning distances of 50 kilometers, 50 miles or 100 miles, he believed men still had a physical advantage.

Ann Trason is often compared to Jurek since she is one of the most decorated female ultra-runner-athletes. At the midpoint of the article, Pharr Davis transitions from the physical differences between sexes to the mental attributes that could contribute to one’s success as an athlete.

Trason admits to experiencing self-doubt when she raced against men who were supposed to be faster than her, yet she speaks about competition in terms of challenging herself not just competing with others. Pharr Davis again:

When I asked her about these gender issues, Trason said: “Why would I compete against anyone except myself? I think people should be the best they can be. Ultimately, it comes down to the individual.”

Pharr Davis poses a question about pain and suffering in competition:

Jurek and Trason emphasized that when you are pushing your body to the brink of endurance, mental fortitude is likely to be a bigger factor than gender. Which raises the question: Does gender impact mental fortitude?

This reading raises future possible research questions about the intersection between physical pain, mental endurance, and competition.

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