|The 4 hour cliff|
If you are a member of Athlinks you may have received an email that shows a graph of 2012 marathon times (above). The graph shows 2012 finish time distribution frequency, and it clearly illustrates that marathon times peak right before the four hour mark (I inserted a blue arrow to highlight that point). Not shown here was another graph that compared times by gender. That graph showed that 58% of men (vs. 42% of women) finished faster that 4:00. One might conclude that men approach these races more competitively than women. The sharp spike between 3:50 and 3:59 times indicates some very tactical planning.
I can't speak to how women view racing, except through anecdotal conversations with female friends who race. I wouldn't say that women are any less competitive, but they may carry a different perspective on their performance goals. Many men (including myself ) simply pick a targeted time and focus on beating it. Women (more often it seems) will view their finish times as secondary to the experience of running their best. They are no less competitive than men, but they don't seem to be as discouraged if they miss a specific time target.
It would be wrong to say that women don't care about hitting performance targets. That spike on the graph at 4:00 represents a lot of female finishers. But I would say, generally, that woman view and value performance differently than men. One approach is more quantitative and the other is more qualitative. In the end, I wonder who's more satisfied with their results?