Sunday, 31 January 2016

Small-town Hockey Phenomenons

There is a book on my shelf, Passionate Minds, full of interviews of top scientists in their fields. Chapter 5 contains an extended passage from biotechnologist Leroy Hood that caught me.
...important were the opportunities that I had in the form of three outstanding High School teachers in a very small town in northern Montana...what was unusual about these teachers is they all cared about students as individuals...Maybe this is a consequence of just small towns, but if you're good in a small town, everybody knows it and you have enormous self-confidence about, gee, this is wonderful, I can really do all these things.
His second observation moves from my later talking points, but it's worth noting nonetheless:
I get [the best students] from small towns...Or I get them from places like New York City where, if they're number one, they know they're the best. I never got anybody that was any good from suburbia...There isn't a push to excel; there isn't the positive reinforcement.
My intrigue lies mainly in that first quote. But ironically enough, scientific talent is rather hard to quantify. I had the idea had to search where all the best scientists come from. But that fell flat, as the concept 'best scientist' is too subjective (and often too historical; Newton, Einstein, etc). Contemporary lists of sorted scientific talent are rare, and I hate using h-indexes (as secretly everyone does).

Sports is another matter. Rankings are all modern, and critics do not shy away from choosing favourites. I live in Canada, and, moreover, hockey is a sport at which Canadians excel. Consider the number of Canadians on the all-time points list (only 3 of the top 20 are from other countries). Roughly half of the league is Canadian; it was notable when at the 2015 season debut, it was revealed slightly less than half of the NHL was Canadian the first time, ever. Hence we dominate both in quality and quantity.

Since I am more familiar with Canadian geography than other places, I chose NHL to use as an example finding out, where exactly does the talent come from.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Update, etc

It appears I haven't been writing much lately. But appearances, they do deceive sometimes. Long story short: I got offered a chance to be part of the Canadian Running Magazine online posts.

I've already written print pieces for them, but soon I'll have my name added to their blog roll too.
UPDATE: here is is. It's not a full-time gig, but it does give me incentive to stay on schedule. I tend to thrive on deadlines, and wither without.

If all goes to plan, the piece I wrote a few days ago will appear on their homepage (about correlations between indoor race times and XC). I'll then upload my version of the same piece later on. There will be a lag between the two, but eventually there will be no difference save for the latest post.

My life is relatively simple by most standards. Although my take on running is perhaps more complex. Unlike most bloggers encamped in the field of training or pure analytics, I'm somehow part of each. By example, I'm racing an indoor 3000m tomorrow, but today I'm playing with data.  So it goes. They feed well off each other, and somehow running analytics comes easily to me.

What will I write about for CR? Perhaps regional and temporal trends in Marathon Canada's data. Looking forward to the running USA 2015 annual report (coming in March). I'm interested in learning more about drugs and doping, though finding good data there is a challenge. And I want to try more joggling this year.

What I will do is continue browse the world of athletics data, seeking interesting tidbits. A distraction of late is my interest in markets and stocks. There's so many numbers and I've never explored them much until now. With markets down across the board and the Canadian dollar undervalued (compared to its PPP), seems like an interesting time to invest. Mostly it's a new curiosity, and partly practical planning the future. Nevertheless, it won't stop me from writing here. Cheers.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Chicago marathoners: where do they come from?

In an apparent mini-series of marathon maps, today I plotted the travel origin for runners of the 2014 Chicago marathon. I colour-coded separately for states, Canadian provinces, and international countries. Hover over each region to find out how many travelled from that location in order to race.

Why did I choose the Chicago marathon in particular? Two reasons:

1) It's a large, international-friendly race, which makes such a global map worth plotting

2) There's a comprehensive Google spreadsheet for all the data, which is not always easy to find.

I'm not sure if you can learn anything too deep from this data. I was maybe a little surprised just how many racers are local; 42% of all Chicago marathon runners come from the state of Illinois. On an international scale, an unexpectedly large contingent of Brazilians came to race (361), more than from any single European country. No jet lag, which is a plus, but I thought those from Brazil had tougher visa conditions than Europeans to travel stateside, but perhaps that doesn't matter for a race like this. Also there are many marathon races to choose from in Europe, with comparatively fewer in South American cities. Anyhow, it reminds me I'd like to go visit Argentina again sometime soon.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

A global map of major marathons

Using a newly-uncovered online tool called CartoDB (thanks Alex!), I assembled a map of all the marathons available at based on location and number of participants (in 2014). Some have a participation number of '0' because the actual number wasn't available to me.

My criteria was a minimum 50 500 runners, and/or a winning time (male) of 2:40-ish. I've included marathons that don't fit this criteria if they happen to be in an interesting place (such as Easter Island). Certainly there's also a few I've missed. Among those listed, it's surprising how many marathons can be found deep inside Siberia. Conversely, only a handful of registered marathons exist in the Rift Valley a.k.a. the heart of running. Might one even claim an inverse relation to marathon density and local talent?

Since it did not take much additional effort, I also included PM2.5 concentrations (μg/m3) at each marathon location. The WHO determined breathing values higher than 25 μg/mare 'less than ideal'. Perhaps factor that into your next 'destination' marathon (and if you'd like to see more discussion and a ranked list of clean-air marathons, check out the piece I wrote for Canadian Running).

Without further ado, here's the map. Click on individual races to get more info.

In case the above map does not survive, here's a static image:

Monday, 30 November 2015

Cross country nationals and other unrelated things

My last race of the year, the Canadian XC championships, is complete. Hosted atop Kingston's Fort Henry on a cold but windless day, it felt a suitable end to the season. A very minimalist race, as XC tends to be, but well organized. My only suggestion for next year: buy some Drones to get a fresh race perspective. AC: I guarantee this will boost your numbers.

I placed 45th overall (out of 120 finishers) with a time of 31:40. The course was muddy (7 races had gone before ours), and included some sharp U-turns and rolling hills. Certainly a competitive race, perhaps the most competitive I've ever encountered. There were 20 runners who ran 31:00 or faster, and 50 who ran under 32. On paper, more than half the field had distance PBs better than mine.

Despite the *apparently* low placing, I was pleased with the result given how rarely I dip under 32 minutes for 10k, even on flat roads. Guys running within 10 seconds of me have dipped below 14:30 for 5000m. Good company, if a little crowded!

Factoring in the tricky conditions, the afternoon start, my low 1:09 half PB in October, I really ought to run both a 30:xx 10k and sub-15 road 5k sometime very soon. Or am I getting too old? (I turn 34 in a few weeks). No, not yet given Colin Fewer beat me by 9 seconds and he's 5 years my senior. There is time to be had.

As for personal stuff, that's all to say.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Doping, athletics, and the Olympics

A spectre is haunting Athletics. Ok, so there has *obviously* been a lot of media attention on the Russian doping scandal. It boils down to an East German-era doping program alive and well in modern Russia. They even were brazen enough to dump all the evidence in the form of stored samples.

Taking a step back, the precipitator to this story was Hajo Seppelt investigative report, released in German, then quickly dubbed into English. Most importantly it implicated Kenya, Nike Coach Alberto Salazar, and the Russians.

Dick Pound, and WADA collectively, are considered the official whistleblower in this story, which is neat because a) they're an organization actually doing what they're mandated to do, and b) headquartered in Montreal, doubly impressive given how that city has its share of bribery scandals. In a nice play of feedback, Hajo then commented that WADA should be given more power.

IAAF responded with a timid press release on the situation. They are in the awkward situation of either knowing very little about any doping coverups, which is bad, or a lot, which is worse.

Browsing online there is ample opinion floating about. Steve Magness is severe on IAAF and it's leaders:
People are going to try to use Russia as a scapegoat. It's much easier. Don't be surprised if the IAAF or any organization under attack singles out Russia and claims that they were a rogue nation...The problem is widespread. It's in the U.S., UK, Europe, Africa, every where. Don't delude yourself. Don't think this is a one-off issue. It's not.
Cathal Kelly from Globe and Mail is more casual about the situation
Dick Pound has called for Russian athletes to be banned en masse from the Rio Games next summer. It makes a good headline and no sense. Thanks to that state-sponsored conspiracy Pound helped publicize, there is no hard evidence left on which to base such an unprecedented penalty. That was sort of the point....Russia will be in Rio. No amount of western garment-rending will change that.
So the big shots should be kicked out and we should do as Nick Willis suggests
Or clearly if something is valuable enough, some will inevitably cheat to have it. Hence some percentage of cheating is unavoidable, right?

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Half marathon, XC, and other races

After the race, Heather and I enjoying the valley view
On Thanksgiving Sunday I awoke at 5:15 am, ready, more or less, to finish the last of three races in the first annual RNS Performance series*. Race number 1, the Lung Run 5k was won in May with a time of 15:08 just ahead of Cal DeWolfe. Race number 2 was the Natal Day 6 miler, which I lost to Matt McNeil.

Neither Cal nor Matt were registered for the Performance series, so I knew going into the last race it was pretty likely I would win outright. Still, I had no plans to run slack. But neither was I sure it'd be a solid race. Strange thing about running is that the language used to describe your body, legs, mind, etc are in their infancy. Doesn't help either that the feelings you have before doing well seem eerily similar to ones before a lousy run. It can sometimes come down to voodoo and the like.

My goal for the race series had always been to run it under two hours. In other words 5k + 10k + 21.1k = 36.1 km of running, so to complete that in two hours means averaging 18 km/h. My cumulative time until Sunday morning was 47:22, well within reach, balanced by knowing too that a sub 73 minute half is never 'trivial'.