Here is the big picture:
A couple of things I find interesting, first the long held belief that the performance gap narrows between the genders at longer distances appears to be absolutely true. It would be nice to have some data points between the marathon and the 100 km to see the progressive narrowing but it is already evident at the marathon distance and even more so at the 100 km distance. As an aside, I thought it was strange that wiki did not post records beyond 100 km - I guess the longer ultras are not IAAF events? Incidentally, at the oddball distances of 15 km, 20 km, 25 km 30 km I could chose from the track or the road record and I thought it was really interesting that the road record was always faster, by a lot! Often more than a minute faster... this is probably due to how rarely these distances are raced on the track versus the road. The 20 km world record road performances were, for both genders, the split on the way to the half marathon world record.
There is also a popularity effect evident in this plot. The marathon data point is out of line with its less glamorous cousins (30 km, 25 km, 20 km, 15 km) to the left. Clearly being a premiere event that is often raced by the fastest of the fast has an important effect on the world record. This effect is also evident in the shorter distances, if we zoom in on the women's data we see that the velocity for the 3 km world record (6.17 m/s) is actually higher than the velocity for the 2 km world record (6.14 m/s) which, even given the huge differences in how frequently these two events are run, is pretty amazing. After all, the 3 km is 1.5 X longer than the 2 km and also at these distances we are on the steep part of the velocity curve:
We also see that the effect of distance is equal between the two genders. Let's get rid of the 100 km data point and look at the two genders together again:
In both cases the big drop off in velocity occurs after the mile, I guess this bend in the curve represents the transition from one metabolic system to another... anaerobic to aerobic? It has been forever since I read about the physiology of running... Also the effect of race distance is very predictive of velocity for both genders. For the men, 95% of the variance is accounted for by the equation 7.991x power -0.103 whereas for women 93% of the variance is accounted for the by the equation 7.1545x power -0.105. Or, for those not familiar with modelling, in plainer terms, say you wanted to know at what velocity the world record would likely be run for some random distance like 18 km for women, you could plug 18 into the above equation which yields 5.28 m/s (NB it would take 56:48 to run 18 km at 5.28 m/s). 93-95% of the variance explained is pretty darn good (at least compared to the data I am normally work with), I guess this means the effect of distance on velocity is governed by very rigid physiological principles. Or something like that.
Finally, for my own entertainment: