Saturday, January 15, 2005

Runners are not as fast as they used to be...

My previous post on performance fabrics got me to thinking about how my level of performance in the past would stack-up today. One might expect that with better shoes, diet and training regimens; runners could be faster today than they were in the past. I have only run one marathon and so my time is etched in memory: 3:18:23. Actually, I am not that petty: I ususally just remember 3:18 and some seconds--I looked up the 23 part. I decided to look-up the times and placements of the most recent Seattle marathon to compare my ranking with the ranking that time would produce now. My place was 646 out of 2101 starters (only 1743 finished) which means that I was in about the top 30% of those who entered the race. The most current results from 2004 show that I would have come in 188th out of 2277 finishers or about the top 9% of the field. More people are participating in the marathon now than in 1980 and yet there are far fewer really fast runners. The top runner from our group: Mike Hadway, came in 4th with a time of 2:25:54. He would have won the race in 2004 by over 3 minutes. In case one might think that conditions were more favorable in 1980, they were not! The 1980 race featured gale-force winds, rain and sleet. This may be part of the reason why 358 runners (17% of the starters) never finished the 1980 race. I could not find the weather information or the ratio of starters to finishers for recent Seattle marathons, but did look at top finishing times and they are similar from year-to-year. If any readers have a theory as to why performance level has declined over the years, I would be interested to hear it. dbp

Added: Malcolm Gladwell apparently agrees with me:

LADWELL: It’s a great question. Impossible to answer in the time that I have, but if I can use my favorite subject of running as an example. If you look at times in the marathon today and compare them to times from 30 years ago, we are radically slower today. I’m not talking about the elite level, I’m talking about at the sub-elite level. The number of Americans, for example, who can break three hours in a marathon today is a fraction of what it was in 1980 or 1985. And that goes to this point: In order to extract running talent from the general population, you need to have a really, really broad base and the broad base is gone.

There is still elite running that produces really good, fast runners. But in 1980, there was this many people running the kind of mileage necessary to run a marathon properly, and today there’s this many. And all of our attention and focus is on the 95th percentile. But what we don’t understand is, we’ll never find the next great marathoner until we re-broaden the base. When we had a base this big of mediocre marathoners we had the two greatest marathoners in the world. Now that our base is this big, we got nobody in the top 10.

From an interview here

Seattle Marathon 1980

I had fallen from cramps in my calf just before this picture. Like a fool, I sped up as I got right toward the end of the race. There was more of a crowd there and it was slightly downhill. When my calves cramped I fell down, but when I got up and started to run again they recramped. I limp/ran across the finish line.
Here is a page from the Bloomsday Road Runner's Club newsletter. You can get a larger view by clicking on the image and then zooming in from there. I am the 2nd from the top of the list--which is not organised by placement. Posted by Hello

Friday, January 14, 2005

High Performance Fabrics

Here is the story of how I finally got good exercise clothes... For the last couple of years I have made a habit of going for a run during my lunch break. "Run" is a fairly charitable word for what I do. My slow trudge is an attempt to remain in shape in my old age. There is a shower in the men's bathroom at work and a small bank of lockers. A few months ago I found one of the lockers empty and with a key in the lock. I soon adopted it as my own and this saved me from hauling all of my stuff back and forth from my office to the bathroom. Earlier this week I discovered that the key was not in any of the places I keep it. (There are only two places, so this was not an involved search) I either keep the key in my desk or, if I accidentally bring the key home, I place it on my key chain so I will have it the next day. I had been running in cotton sweat pants and sweatshirt or sometimes a pair of cheap lined nylon running pants. They got wet and heavy in the rain, or I froze my n--- off when it was really cold--plus, they were ill-fitting and uncomfortable. I did not have a desire to wear such poor athletic-wear. It was just that whenever I went to general purpose clothes stores, all that was available was crap. I knew that good stuff could be found at a specialty store, but what I had was okay and I was too busy to waste half of a precious weekend afternoon out buying clothes. Of course, since I could not run without running clothes and mine were behind locked door...I spent my lunch hour visiting the nearby EMS store. I purchased two pairs of athletic pants: one heavy weight and one lighter, and a matching sweatshirt. They are thin, super soft and stretchy and best of all, they fit really well! The next day I looked forward to my run even more than usual. I normally look forward to it more as a break from work than for the pure joy of moving my body outside: When I was on the cross country team in high school, I enjoyed the act of running itself: I had lots of energy and my joints didn't ache, plus I was pretty fast. In this case, I was looking forward to trying out my new stuff. I was just as slow & achy as usual. No problem. I have long become accustomed to fancy gear refusing--against all expectation--to turn me into Superman. On this foggy cold (45F) day, I was gloriously comfortable and warm--but not too warm. My God! It was actually a PLEASURE to run! I should loose my key more often.