Lots of good stuff

So things are a little nuts.

I just started a sizeable corporate writing job, although I capped it at 20 hours a week. It runs through New Year’s Eve. Whee! If I gave you the description of the project, you’d probably wonder why I haven’t shot myself in the face by now. But in fact, it’s just the sort of project that appeals to me. I will be making real improvements to a big mess and the work taps into some of my obsessive-compulsive content strategist skills. I’m even getting to do a little on-the-fly usability work.

I’m putting the finishing touches on my second article for Running Times, the subject of which is “what do race participants want from their race directors?” Sound familiar? Yes, there was a reason behind that survey. To round things out I did some great interviews with directors of races both large and small, along with runner Kim Duclos, of Emerald Nuts Midnight Run gatecrashing fame. Unfortunately, because of tight space considerations, I could only use about 1% of their material. But maybe I’ll use it for something else eventually. That article comes out in December (Jan/Feb issue).

In the meantime, my first paid byline, a portrait of masters Marathon Trials qualifier Tamara Karrh, appears in the November issue, which should be hitting newstands and doorsteps in about two weeks. There is a companion profile for Karrh on Houston Hopefuls. That’s scheduled to autopublish tomorrow (I think — I put it on autopilot for a reason). Now I’m just trying to find the hours to transcribe and publish the latest excellent interview with Chicagoan Julie Wankowski. I may find those hours over the weekend as I…

…jet off to Arizona for a family get together from Saturday through Monday. I’ll have much time in airports and on airplanes. I am also hoping to do some work on the Fifth Avenue Mile elite interviews I did last week. They will take the same structure as my previous “A few minutes with…” pieces. Those seemed to work well and my questions are not tied to the event the runners were here for, so I can take weeks to publish them (much as I hate to). I’ll take this opportunity to say this again: professional runners are delightful people, by and large. They seem to like their jobs and most of them are, I suspect, brighter than the average person. When I find myself sitting there talking to one of them, I still feel like I need to pinch myself.

As far as what you have to look forward to, I had great chats with Shannon Rowbury (who won the women’s race), Leo Manzano, Molly Huddle, Alan Webb and Morgan Uceny. I’ll get those posted eventually. My one mistake with this race was not taking NYRR up on an invitation to sit on the “press truck.” This is a flatbed truck that drives along at the front of the race, outfitted with bleachers, from which gawking members of the press sit rearward, enjoying a panoramic view of the race as it unfolds. Well, that looked like a total gas, if incredibly dangerous. Yeah — like I said: total gas! My hope is that next year I can run in the race myself, go shower at someone’s apartment nearby, then come back and jump on the crazy truck for the elite races.

And there’s more. I’ll be at the finish line (and perhaps also along the course) of the NYC Marathon on November 7th, serving as aide de camp to photographer Stacey Cramp, who’s shooting the event for Running Times. I get a groovy press pass, a nice Asics jacket and entre to a big party on the Friday that kicks off race weekend.

And there may be still more. Later in November, Coach Sandra, who has several parallel careers, is agenting 10 elites from all over the place (people I’ve mostly heard of and, in the case of Adriana Pirtea, met) to a 10K race in her country of origin, the Dominican Republic. I may be able to get comped on travel costs in exchange for doing a writeup. That’s a big “we’ll see” at the moment, but it should be a lot of fun if it happens.

All these developments are almost enough to make me forget that these days I am a runner in theory only. But not quite. It’s been seven weeks since I’ve gone running. Since my insurance sucks, meaning my stratospheric deductibles require that I  pay out of pocket for things like MRIs and bone scans, I am going on the assumption that a stress fracture is what ails me and will take another 4-5 weeks off (or, rather, spend another month doing insane cross-training only and not running at all). Then I’ll try a run. It will have been three months by then. If I’m still in pain, I’ll bite the bullet and shell out the thousands required to look inside myself.

This was a long-winded way of saying that things might quiet down on this blog. But only because my offline life has gotten considerably more noisy.

Except for the running injury, everything else that’s happened is exactly the sort of thing I wanted to happen when I jumped ship from my corporate gig over the summer. Let’s hear it for leaps of faith.

Runner survey: results and analysis

The results of my casual (meaning non-scientific) survey of race participants are in. 403 people responded, which I think is a good sampling. They hail from across the spectrum of runner types, from absolute beginners (“Newbies”) to professional elites (well, three of them; I wish I knew who they were).

Download the survey: “What do race participants want?”

Although I “advertised” the survey in many venues (NYRR, USATF and Running Times Facebook pages and the LetsRun.com message boards, as well as via Twitter), I suspect that close to half of the responses originated from the Runner’s World online forums. I shamelessly spammed those forums when responses started dwindling at around 180, and they picked up to a wildly healthy clip in the hours and days after hitting RW.com.

Note that I am not a professional survey maker, nor do I know a thing about statistics. I am a regular person such as yourself. Meaning an amateur.

Groovy pie charts, tables and highlights make for easy comprehension.

Since I have heavily notated the PDF of the results, I won’t post analysis here. If you’re that interested, then click the link below. I will note that there are some excellent ideas for race directors contained herein, and I was very surprised by some of the results, others not so much.

Survey respondents had some great observations and ideas. Like these!

Anyway, once again, in case you missed that first link — read it for yourself by downloading it here: Survey: “What do race participants want?”

Once again, I offer my thanks and gratitude to the 403 runners who took the time to complete the survey.

Survey SAYS!…

Well, that’s up to you, really.

Here’s an online survey I threw together to gather input from runners about what they want from race directors.

Take the survey now. You know you want to.

I’m not deaf. I’m ignoring you.

A couple of decades ago a friend bought me a pin (pins were very big in the eighties) that said, “I’m not deaf. I’m ignoring you.” She thought it was perfect for me. I took it as a twisted compliment at the time, even though I know she was trying to tell me that I can come across as aloof. I’m really not. Okay. Maybe some of the time.

I should wear it (if only I could find it) because once again I’m ignoring you. Or, rather, I’m ignoring the results of my latest poll. Believe me, you don’t want the Mini 10K interviews verbatim. Do you want to see all of the footage from a four-day shoot of “This Old House”? I didn’t think so. Nor do you want rambling answers about GPS watch models or maiden vs. married names either. Really. Trust me on this.

Poll: What should I do with the Mini 10K interviews?

I spent about two hours in June interviewing quite a few of the elites who ran in the Mini 10K. We’re talking close to six weeks ago. I am assuming no one cares about the Mini 10K at this point. However, a lot of the questions I asked (most, in fact) did not have to do with that particular race. What should I do with this material?

You have one day in which to answer. Tick tock tick tock.

A weighty issue

Elite runner Cristin Wurth-Thomas has been on a roll over the past few months. Earlier this month she broke 4:00 in the 1500m in Rome. During the broadcast of that race, one of the commentators noted that her coach had told her that she needed to drop 10 lbs., which she did. While her performance gains over the past few months can’t necessarily all be attributed to her having lost weight, shedding some poundage obviously hasn’t hurt in this case.

Here’s a photo of her looking particularly porky last year (sarcasm!).

When this was mentioned on air, referring to a woman who is sporting a body fat percentage in, maybe, the 18% range (I’m just guessing), it gave me pause. Is it really a good idea to draw attention to the “need to drop 10 lbs.” in a sport already rife with athletes suffering from eating disorders? I had mixed feelings about it. True, it’s helpful to have this kind of insight into why an athlete’s performance may have been boosted. On the other hand, since it’s impossible to know with certainty if weight loss was a factor, it seems…I don’t know…more prudent to just not bother mentioning it.

What do you think? Does the informational value of learning that an athlete (either male or female) has dropped some weight trump the potential harm that such information might cause?

An elite is an elite is an elite

(With apologies to Gertrude Stein.)

This week’s running kerfuffle involved the Nike Women’s Marathon, in which Arien O’Connell, who describes herself as a “pretty good runner,” ran a 2:55 race and blew away the “elite” field by about 10 minutes. But since O’Connell didn’t register as an elite (and go with those who did 20 minutes before everyone else), her winning chip time was initially not acknowledged.

News articles began appearing, which led to reader outrage, which then led to complaints to Nike. Within a day or two, Nike reversed its decision, declaring O’Connell “a” winner (but not “the” winner). They also decided to do away with their elite start going forward.

Given how screwy their race was set up to be, I think they made the right decision under the circumstances. It seems unlikely that had O’Connell been running with the pack of 3:06+ “elites” one or more of them could have risen to the occasion and matched her time. But because she started 20 minutes behind them, we’ll never know.

The fatal flaw in Nike’s race design was their failure to properly define who qualifies as an “elite.” Registrants were left to their own devices to self-identify. Most knowledgable female marathon runners know that “elite” runners are fast. They are very fast. Not just the top 3% of runners, but more like the top 0.3% of runners. A 3:06 time might be considered “local elite,” but, again, Nike gave no guidance, so I can’t blame the slower runners who entered as elites any more than I can blame the faster ones who didn’t.

Also worth noting is the trend toward using chip/”net” time (rather than gun time) to determine order of finish. NYRR just started doing this. I think this is a good thing, because it measures and acknowledges performance in absolute rather than subjective terms. Although NYRR takes a hybrid approach in that the first place male and female winners are those who cross the finish line first. All other place finishers are determined by chip time:

In all NYRR scored races, each participant’s official time, the net time, is recorded from when a participant crosses the start mats to when he or she crosses the finish mats. This official time is used to establish the order of finish and to determine award winners. However, the first male and female runner to cross the finish line will always be the winner of the race.

Here’s something that illustrates what happens when there is no set standard. The table below shows the average finishing time for the non-elites vs. elites, based on the race result leaderboards. The first average time shown includes the top 19 runners in each category. The second average time in the non-elite column removes O’Connell’s time (since it could potentially skew the results considerably).

Non-Elites Elites
2:55:11 3:06:18
3:06:18 3:08:59
3:08:59 3:12:35
3:12:00 3:13:07
3:12:25 3:13:44
3:13:07 3:13:48
3:13:44 3:14:34
3:13:48 3:22:00
3:14:33 3:22:24
3:14:34 3:23:29
3:15:23 3:23:52
3:16:50 3:25:22
3:17:30 3:25:38
3:18:13 3:26:06
3:18:14 3:27:27
3:18:35 3:30:49
3:19:10 3:33:52
3:19:57 3:57:56
3:20:38 4:23:09
3:14:10 Average for all runners 3:25:32 Average for all runners
3:15:13 O’Connell removed

Even with O’Connell removed, the average time for the elites is still over 10 minutes slower than for the non-elites. So, in actuality, the non-elite racers were much more competitive than the elite racers were. The numbers do not lie.

Having a separate start for elites makes sense in many cases. Its purpose is to allow faster women runners the chance to compete against each other fairly, meaning they run only against other women without the opportunity to draft off of (or otherwise receive a pacing advantage as a result of running with) male runners. It also gives them the chance to shine in their own right rather than getting lost in a mass of slower male racers. But given that this is an all women’s race*, those are non-issues. In the all women’s races I’ve run thus far, there’s been no separate elite category for prizes, and the elites know who they are (and the non-elites know who they aren’t!) and line up accordingly.

But what do you think? Did Nike make the right decision?

*To further complicate things, the women’s marathon allowed about 350 men to race it this year. So the fastest runner in the race was, not surprisingly, a man. What on Earth is Nike trying to do with this race?