Saturday, 15 November 2014

Entering the sub 2-hour marathon debate

Background

The two-hour marathon: Can it happen? The debate heated up with Dennis Kimetto's time of 2:02:57 in the fall of 2014. As I recall, he was less than a kilometer from the finish when he crossed the two-hour mark. But even before Kimetto's run, Alex Hutchinson had already assembled a discussion on what it would take to run a sub 2-hour marathon.

I have been watching these debates mainly from the sidelines as I hadn't found the data convincing enough either way. The only truly convincing (though most difficult) demonstration would be to run a 1:59:59 marathon. The easiest -and most problematic- line of reasoning is to plot marathon record time vs date achieved and extrapolate to one's peril:
Image from SweatScience's post
2032: Year of the Sub-2:00 Marathon?
This approach is much less unappealing, introducing no additional understanding of physiology or innate performance ability. Such extrapolations would never have predicted advances in the high jump, swimming, or speed skating. The curve itself is also a questionable line-of-best-fit.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Qualifying times

A 2009 New york times article asked whether slow runners were spoiling the prestige of the marathon.
Many of those slower runners, claiming that late is better than never, receive a finisher’s medal just like every other participant. Having traversed the same route as the fleeter-footed runners — perhaps in twice the amount of time — they get to call themselves marathoners.
And it’s driving some hard-core runners crazy.
If you are one of those going crazy, what to do? In order to surround yourself with fast(er) people, there is at least one option: the Boston Marathon. With its aged-based minimum entry standards, there is a certain density of speed not found in many races. Because Boston marathons have to already have run a marathon, a huge number of feeder races contribute to would-be pilgrims looking to qualify. It's a reasonably symbiotic relationship since many races can advertise their BQ potential. Yet it still leaves Boston's entry policy as popular yet unique. What other races do likewise? I googled "What marathons do you have to qualify for?". Here's what I found:

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Oil!

I found these quotes from CBC articles on oil prices, from 2012 and 2014, looked rather peculiar when placed side by side.

CBC April 2012 article [Brent oil @ 120$/barrel]:
""The increase in the price of our oil imports raises production costs for Canadian firms and also puts upward pressure on gasoline prices, since about half of the gasoline purchased in Canada is produced using refined petroleum priced off Brent...That puts downward pressure on Canada's real gross domestic income, dropping the country's spending power to buy foreign goods and services"
CBC October 2014 article [Brent oil @ $85/barrel, and dropping]: 
"On the whole, it's likely to be bad news for Canada's economy", experts said Monday..."The slump in global oil prices couldn't have come at a worse time for Canada...For a country that now produces 4.5 million barrels of crude oil per day, the recent decline in prices …represents a loss of $2.5 billion in annual revenue for producers"
Expensive oil is bad since we aren't the ones refining it (and it seems we're in no position to build our own refineries). Cheap oil is bad since we can't sell Alberta's stuff at profit. As long as oil trades at exactly 100$ we're ok, just like Russia. I don't pretend to understand economies like ours, but sometimes there are moments that seem to defy all logic. Either way it seems we got ourselves some Dutch disease. Here we come!

Monday, 20 October 2014

Marathons and aging

What's the best age to run a marathon? There are a surprising number of pet theories floating around, anything from young runners are taking over the marathon to older runners are becoming more dominant. To quote from Runner's World:
Kenya's Samuel Wanjiru, 21, broke more than an Olympic record with his 2:06:32 win; he crushed long–held conventional wisdom that marathon performance peaks among runners in their late 20s and early 30s. That conventional wisdom also took a beating when a 38–year–old mother with 10 marathons under her belt, Romania's Constantina Tomescu–Dita, won the women's event.
If conventional wisdom is being upended, i.e. that the age bracket of late 20s-to-early 30s are no longer when runners do their best work, it seemed prudent to find out what the numbers themselves say. Hence I compiled the men's and women's ~2400 fastest marathon times (including repeat performances by individuals) to asses whether there is any temporal trends for fast runners. I chose an arbitrary cutoff point to compare: the 20th and 21st centuries.

Quote from here. Top Race times from here.
Mean age for 1967-2000 group is 28.4. Mean age for 2001-2014 group is 28.3

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Joggling and other things

In no time at all I've seen September come and go. Mind you this was the month I had prepared for months in advance. Four things had to happen in two weeks, none of which were related. But thanks to a series of connecting, non-delayed flights, the segments of my trip fit together like square pegs jammed repeatedly, stubbornly through round holes.

Taking back a step, in the winter of 2014 I had originally planned that one of two things would happen come september: A. Race the 10k Toronto Zoo run (paid in part by winning the Nova Scotia running series) or B, attend the IGAC conference in Natal, Brazil. Seemed at the time I wouldn't do both. But things happen you don't expect.

Email #1, April. Yay!
Email #2, August. Yay!

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Mental Paella

What happens when you wait too long between entries? A backlog of all kinds of dumb, frivolous, unfiltered ideas that need expunging. Get out of my head, thoughts.

As personal penance, I'm retroactively listing 31 observations for the month of August. 

1. Experimenting with my phone's "memo" function for writing notes while I have an idea. Not technically an app, per so. I don't have roaming-based functions for a simple reason: what percentage of my time do I honestly spend outside of free wifi zones? Home: wifi, work: wifi. Running: don't need internet. Walking: rater be thinking. Downtown Dhaka: probably don't have coverage anyhow. [I wonder what percentage of apps are made for single people? ]

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Canadians are slow

I was browsing this year's half marathon standings over at Marathon Canada.

The top ten include familiar names like Eric, Reid, Dylan, Kip, and Rob, much of the same crew that appeared in the top ranks in 2013.

While browsing the current results, the record-setting half marathon time of Florence Kiplagat came to mind; her run of 1:05:12 is faster than all but six Canadian men runners in 2014 (so far) and 2013.

At first glance this seems rather disappointing with respect to the canadian men with so few athletes running anywhere near their potential.

But is it fair to compare the men's time with a world record female run? Consider the CIS standard for the 1000m, which for men is just under 2:25. For those unfamiliar, running below this time automatically qualifies any athlete for the finals. Usually a half dozen or so athlete manage the feat in any given year. But the women's world record time for the same event is just under 2:29 (set by Svetlana Masterova, a non-Kenyan much to my surprise). In other words a National University-level performance for men is 2.8% faster than the world's best female time.

Were the half marathon to be judged by the same criteria (of being ~2.8% faster than the female WR), we might expect a certain number of male Canadian runners to achieve times better than 63:30.

As it happens the fastest 2014 Canadian male time for the half is 63:30. Over the past six years between 1 and 4 athletes have run faster than this time.

If it seems as though I'm picking on the half marathon, consider the same criteria applied to the marathon make matters worse: With Paula Radcliffe's time of 2:15:25 and using the same 2.8% yields 2:11:43. Between zero and two Canadian men achieve this standard each year.

Now keep in mind that men, compared to women, generally get faster as distances get longer (ignore what you may have read in Born to Run). The fact there fewer male runners capable of a "quality" road time that's routinely achieved on the track is troubling.

There are many hypotheses to explain this away. My observation is that Canada is too insulated in the world of road racing. Too many road races and not enough athletes means everyone can win a race without having to truly 'compete'.

By contrast the CIS university circuit is artificially constrained and condensed, which perhaps encourages faster times with the top performers comparing each to the other. The road racing talent is there, but more dilute, and it seems possible Canada -being a large country- is below some competitive critical mass.

I had an idea the other week about a series of road races that had time bonuses, and ONLY time bonuses, as prize money. You still get to stand on the podium if you win, but the money is entirely from how fast you run. I know, every road course is different so sometime it wouldn't work. But the idea is to stimulate the same results as seen in the CIS. There must be ways of improving the top performances among our best, for they can do better.