“Pushing the Curve” in Sept/Oct Level Renner

September 3, 2014

In the new issue of Level Renner magazine, I present some ideas about marathon pacing, and some data that …well… doesn’t contradict my theory.

Read “Pushing the Curve” and decide for yourself if you want to give my strategy a try in your next marathon.

Average Finish Times by Age and Gender for 2014 Boston Marathon

July 17, 2014

(This is the 17th post in a series that started here)

While I was on vacation, a reader asked about the average finish times for each age group at the Boston Marathon, divided by gender. Here’s the data:

Click on any image to enlarge

Click on any image to enlarge

Here’s a chart of the data:

(Quick reminder – this data set does not include wheelchair and handbike racers and is missing a few randomly scattered results due to imperfections in the process of obtaining the data.)

Got any questions? Your answer could be next!

5K splits for Men and Women at the 2013 New York Marathon

July 11, 2014

(This is the 16th post in a series that started here)

After my post comparing 5K splits for women and men at the 2014 Boston Marathon, one reader asked to see comparable data from other years. Unfortunately, the 2013 data set is incomplete, and the BAA doesn’t post 5K splits from years prior to 2013, so 2014 is all we’ve got.

I was able to get 5K split data from the New York and Chicago Marathons for 2013. Gender information wasn’t readily available in the Chicago results, but I was able to create a chart comparing the results from New York for men and women.

As I did for Boston, I divided the results up into half-hour groups, shifting the women’s groups to adjust for the difference in average finish times between men and women (about 25 minutes):

Click on image to enlarge

Click on image to enlarge

The difference between men and women at New York isn’t as distinct as it was in the Boston data, but you can still see that, on average, women seem more likely to be able to pick up the pace at the end of the race than men.

As fun as all this is, you need to keep in mind that these are average results from a wide variety of runners. They have some illustrative value, but they say very little about any individual competitor.

Let’s go back to Boston 2014 for an example to illustrate that point. The average man ran about 3:51, while the average woman ran 4:12-ish. To pick an individual totally at random, I ran a 3:47, which made me slightly faster than the average male. In spite of that, well over 4500 women finished ahead of me.

There’s some optimal pacing strategy, whatever it might be. Most people fail to hit it. On average, men might tend to go out too fast, while the average woman might save a little too much for the end, but individual differences far outweigh any predictive value this might have.

One thing for sure; whether or not you run an optimal race, I know which type of pacing is more fun.

Next post: Boston Marathon finish times by age group and gender.

“Growing Slow Is Mandatory” in Marathon & Beyond:

June 30, 2014

We’re all either struggling with age now, or we will be soon enough. So everyone should read my article, “Growing Slow Is Mandatory” in the July/August Marathon & Beyond!

Marathon 5K Split Distribution by Age

June 25, 2014

(This is the 15th post in a series that started here)

Here’s another look at the 5K splits for Boston 2014, this time divided up by age:

Click any image to enlarge

Click any image to enlarge

And here are the splits for Chicago 2013:

We saw earlier that when we divide up runners by finishing time, the faster runners tend to manage their effort so they have little energy left to accelerate at the end.

When we divide runners by age, it appears that the younger the runner, the more they seem to have left in the tank to expend by speeding up over the last 2K. The older runners don’t pick up the pace as much, if at all.

Even without the data to confirm it, I’m willing to bet that there’s a positive correlation between age and marathon experience. There are always exceptions –  27-year-olds with 15 marathons under their belt, and 60-year-olds running their first marathon – but customarily, the older you are, the more marathons you’ve run.

We generally assume that people learn through experience. Should we assume that experience teaches runners what the fastest runners seem to know, that they do better when they run more aggressively, using up energy earlier instead of saving it for the sprint to the finish?

Or that experience mellows older runners, making them less competitive, less likely to push as hard as possible at the end.

I know a lot of older runners. I’m betting on the former.

We’ll take another look at gender differences in my next post in this series.

Do Women Marathoners Push Themselves As Hard As Men?

June 24, 2014

(This is the 14th post in a series that started here)

Studies, including a recent one of mine, show that on average, women tend to pace themselves more evenly than men when running marathons.

We know that splits tend to get more positive as runners’ finish times go up and that the average female runner is slower than the average male, so the raw numbers may understate this trend. Using split scores to mitigate the differences in finish times between women and men bears this out.

Since conventional wisdom says runners should strive for even splits in order to run their best marathon, it’s been said that this means that women are better at marathon pacing than men.

It’s also been hypothesized that women don’t push themselves as hard as men, which makes it easier for them to run more even splits, but keeps them from achieving finish times as fast as they might otherwise.

Perhaps a closer look at the data will tell us more.

In two recent posts, I studied 5K splits from the latest Boston, New York, and Chicago marathons. I discovered that as runners’ finish times got faster, their pace, relative to their previous splits, slowed over the last 7K and especially over the last 2K.

I decided to take one of those races (Boston 2014) and break the data down by gender.

This chart shows how the average 5K splits for men and women compare to the overall average. It also compares the splits for the runners with the most even half-marathon splits from each group.


Click on any image to enlarge

Click on any image to enlarge

The chart shows that women’s splits at the end of the race are faster, compared to their earlier splits, than men’s. Since the average woman is slower than the average man, we expected that.

By only selecting runners with even splits, the differences between the shape of the lines for women and men were reduced, but the women’s line still trends comparatively faster.

The next chart tries to eliminate the differences due to speed by dividing the average splits for men and women into half-hour groups by finishing time.

In almost every case, even though the runners are grouped by equal finish times, the women’s splits at the end of the race are faster, relative to their earlier splits, than the men’s. That is, the women’s splits take on the shape of slower runners, though the finish times for each group of men and the women are the same.

Since men are faster than women on average, by comparing men and women using equal finish times, the women in each group are faster, relative to all other women, then the men are to other men. That means the direct comparison might tend to understate the difference in split trends.

This chart shows that the distribution of finish times for men and women are roughly the same, except that the men’s times run about 20 minutes faster.

So in this chart, I divided the men up into half-hour groups that are 20 minutes faster that the women’s groups.

As predicted, this chart makes the difference in split trends between men and women more distinct.

What’s it all mean?

In my original 5K split post, I guessed that slower runners weren’t pushing themselves quite as close to their potential as the faster runners, leaving them with more energy left after the Newton hills to speed up and look good for their finish line photos.

Since women’s splits take on the shape of slower runners when compared to men’s, even when the data is manipulated to minimize the effect of differences in speed, does this mean that women aren’t pushing themselves as hard as men?

Maybe, maybe not.

If men are pushing themselves harder, does that mean that they’re getting better results than comparable women?

Maybe, maybe not.

If you disagree, what’s your alternative explanation? Let me know what you think and maybe we can figure out if the data supports it.

We’ll divide up 5K splits by age in my next post.

Another Precinct Heard From: 5K Split Distribution at the 2013 Chicago Marathon

June 23, 2014

(This is the 13th post in a series that started here)

After my last post in this series, I obtained the 5K splits for the 2013 Chicago Marathon. Chicago is a notoriously flat course, as shown in this Boston.com graphic:

Click on any image to enlarge

Click on any image to enlarge

I wanted to see if the trends in runners’ paces over the last 2K on the flatter course were consistent with what we saw at Boston and New York.

Here’s the 5K pace chart for Chicago:

Once again, the faster runners were relatively slow over the last 2K, while slower runners picked up their pace.

The new chart reveals another pattern: as the courses get easier, more groups run faster over the final 2K.  At Boston, the first group to pick up the pace at the end were the 4:00-4:29 runners. At Chicago, the 3:00-3:29 group managed the feat. And at New York, which most people think falls somewhere in between Boston and Chicago in difficulty, the 3:30-3:59 group was the first to speed up at the end.

I look at the difference between 5K splits for men and women in my next post.


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