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.

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