Sunday, 18 January 2015

Numbers, numbers, everywhere $#%# numbers

Passing from the Christmas sales straight to New Year's resolution territory come more gadgets for sports than ever. My sister-in-law got one of those 'fit bits' for xmas, I got a new watch, and loads of people out there are testing GPS devices some variety and figuring out what to do with them.

My god, what do we need some of these measurement things for? Let us first enumerate the variables that need (or more specifically can) be measured by a hand/foot held device, in order of utility:

1) Time
2) Distance
3) Speed
4) Heart Rate
5) Other stuff (not less useful)

Preceding my feelings on the matter, Alex Hutchinson has posted about new measuring devices on his Sweat Science blog titled Data Overload. The sentence that perhaps sums Alex's feelings best is: "There's no doubt you gain something with more data, but I think you also lose something".

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Google ngrams for running economy, lactate threshold, and VO2max

I wanted to explore the relative importance people place on difference aspects of running, regardless of how important the really are. So here is a book-indexed trend for each of the terms "VO2max", "running economy", "neuromuscular training" and "lactate threshold".

NB: On an earlier version of this post I had entered "Vo2max" and found a different, erroneous, trend. All sorted out now.

The term "VO2max" has been steadily rising from the 1980s to the early 2000s, where we may or may not be witnessing an ultimate peak around 2005. Though much smaller in book frequency, both "lactate threshold" and "running economy" reached their maximum values in 2002 and have been edging downward. Meanwhile "neuromuscular training" has been growing slowly but steadily. Since as Ngrams only reaches to 2008, I searched Google trends for more recent (search-based) differences.

The trend for these four variables has been quite stable between 2005 to present, with VO2max beating out the others by a fair margin. Therefore I included barefoot running as a more dynamic variable (NB: the phrase 'barefoot running' is quite flat during the pre-2009 ngram timespan). It is interesting to observe the sudden jump in barefoot searches in 2009, followed by a steep decline in 2014 to levels below those of VO2max.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Entering the sub 2-hour marathon debate


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


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!