The first thing you should know about me is that I’m from Western Massachusetts. Being from Massachusetts indicates a few things about me as a person: chief among them is that I would publicly commit harakiri in defense of a multinational coffee corporation by the name of Dunkin; I can confidently pronounce “Worcestershire”; and, in theory, I’m very, very fast.
The latter point is something I only recently discovered. In August, a report was published by the International Association of Athletics Federations, in conjunction with shoe review website RunRepeat, analyzing 107 million recreational race results across the country between 1986 and 2019. The results found that both men and women from Massachusetts complete marathons faster than any other state, at four hours, four minutes and 20 seconds — more than two hours faster than the slowest state, Hawaii, at six hours, 16 minutes and six seconds.
So does that mean that I’m a fast runner, simply because I was born and bred in the glorious Bay State?
Well, no, absolutely the fuck not.
I attempted to test the hypothesis myself, albeit in sunny California (which is where I currently reside). I put on my running shoes (a beat-up pair of Nikes designed to be fashionable rather than functional) and began to jog along the running path at Venice Beach. Within a minute, I was saying to myself, “You know what? Not for me.”
Running a marathon is a major feat — running for hours straight simply isn’t something most people are able to do. Running one mile in under 15 minutes, however, is considered standard for a relatively healthy non-runner, and a 23-year-old woman who runs with more regularity runs a mile in 11 minutes, 40 seconds on average.
I ran my mile in just over 15 minutes, and it was torturous.
There was one major problem holding me back: I have asthma. Compounding that, I’ve been a poor runner since forever. I always came in close-to-last during the mile runs we were forced to do in middle school. And so, I’d estimate that completing the 26.2 miles of a marathon run would take me at least two weeks, considering my physical abilities and poor work ethic.
Still, I have to believe that there is something about Massachusetts that yields faster runners. According to the report, there doesn’t seem to be one clear reason for our speed — it helps that Massachusetts recreational race runners are the youngest in the country, with an average age of 35.7 years — but more significant may be the culture Massachusetts has around running. “The Boston Marathon is such a prestigious event you have to qualify for, it’s almost like a carrot hanging over the Massachusetts running community,” says Danny McLoughlin, the Content & Research Director at RunRepeat.
It’s no joke: The Boston Marathon has some of the strictest qualifying standards in the country. Male runners between the ages of 18 and 34 must have previously completed a marathon in under three hours to qualify (add 30 minutes if you’re a woman). That time limit increases with age, with the most time allotted to women over 80 at five hours, 20 minutes. Considering that a significant pool of Boston Marathon runners are completing the race in under four hours, the average time for Massachusetts runners is significantly lowered.
It’s likely not, then, some quirk of Masshole DNA that makes people fast — it’s just our inherently competitive nature. “Based on the results, I wouldn’t say Massachusetts runners are naturally faster,” says McLoughlin. “For me, it’s more about culture and attitude. I think Boston Marathon being a qualifying event has quite an impact on that.”
So, no, being from Massachusetts doesn’t make me inherently faster, but it could put the fire in my blood to try to be faster. Or maybe it’s just the Dunkin?