In a recent study posted in The Wall Street Journal, male and female marathon runners were shown to run quite differently. That is, women finishers were distributed fairly evenly across the spectrum of time.
"Male finishers, however, tended to bunch around whole-number times such as four hours. This suggests that their primary focus is finishing under a particular time, rather than running their all-out best."
This is fascinating. In many studies men have proven to be more goal-oriented in general. I know I usually shoot for a particular time
in my races, and if it becomes clear I'm not going to make it, I usually lose a LOT of my incentive, and drop off the pace. If I'm on pace, it gives me the inspiration to push harder.
While the last sentence of the article states that women might run too conservatively and not strive to reach goals at all, I'm not sure that estimation is fair. Perhaps women in general just consistently push to do their best regardless of time? In that way, it might be a "purer" running intention than men's aims. Of course, the more we make a dialectic out of these things (black/white; this/that; men/women), the more danger there is in oversimplification. But there IS something to be said for the data.
Ultimately, the important thing to recognize here is there is a difference, and that maybe we could all learn from each other.