Instagrammer Grace Kim James — she of the #seegracerun hashtag — has run seven marathons and counting. About once a week, the 34-year-old music marketing exec makes a point of partnering up with her friend Nick. "When you're doing these 10 mile runs, it can get pretty boring," she says. "Even if we're not talking, there's something comforting in having someone there supporting and encouraging you."
Running with Nick has also given Grace some insight into how men and women really are different when it comes to training. "One's not better or worse," she says. "It's just about how we're made."
The Speed Factor
Grace admits that she tends to push herself harder and run faster when she's training with Nick versus her female friends. (Nick does run a sub-5-minute mile after all, she tells us.) But while guys may have a natural advantage when it comes to speed (thanks, in part, to having more lean muscle mass), women may have an edge when it comes to endurance.
Research indicates that the difference has a lot to do with muscle fibers. Men have more fast-twitch muscle fibers, which may help with power and speed, but fatigue quickly. Women, on the other hand, have more slow-twitch muscle fibers, which are fatigue-resistant and recover faster. If you are looking to increase your pace, Grace recommends running hills — it'll help build leg muscles, which are essential for speed.
Stretch and Strengthen
For Grace, stretching before and after a run is a must. (For her guy friends, not so much, she's noticed.) "My hips are always tight," she says. Of course, plenty of male runners have to contend with tight hips as well, but women's bodies make them particularly susceptible. It's not a wider pelvis that's the issue — a 2015 study refuted the notion that so-called childbearing hips are less efficient for running. Instead, tight hips may be the result of weaker glute and core muscles, which help support and stabilize the hip.
A couple of Grace's favorite hip-stretching moves to relieve any soreness? Child's and pigeon poses, which she does nightly. She also recommends that female runners vary their routine and incorporate strength training. "Strength is what's going to push you to go faster or longer, and make you feel better during a run," she says.
Don't Sweat It
When it comes to dressing for a run, Nick almost always wears shorts. "I find that Nick — and most men — wear shorts until it gets really cold outside," says Grace, who regularly opts for leggings as temperatures begin to dip. "I love compression leggings that support my legs in the right places," she says. (Added bonus: Studies suggest that compression gear can reduce soreness and speed up recovery.) And leggings with mesh ventilation offer plenty of air-flow to keep you cool on hot days.
As for running during the brisk fall and winter seasons, Grace says, "I layer so I don't get too hot or too cold." There's a scientific reason layering is key for female runners: Women's hands and feet tend to be about three degrees colder than men's (which makes them feel the chill more), but once they're working out, research shows they actually sweat less than their male counterparts, which makes cooling down harder.
To strike the right balance, Grace looks for pieces made with moisture-wicking fabrics in sleek (but comfy!), bulk-free styles. "If my clothes aren't functional, I find it too distracting," says Grace. She'd rather worry about her workout than worry about being too hot or the fabric rubbing her the wrong way.