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 arrs.net 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'.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Racewalking: The hidden flight path

Anyone who has watched racewalking intuitively knows it's different from running, hence it has as much credibility as classic technique in XC skiing, or the butterfly stroke event in swimming. And anyone who's tried race-walking knows it's very hard to do well, painful (especially the shins) and frustrating (especially if you get DQd moments before finishing). For most of its contemporary existence it has been a maligned sport.

What are the technical differences between walking and running? According the official rules,
  • Racewalking is a progression of steps so taken that the walker makes contact with the ground so that no visible (to the human eye) loss of contact occurs.  
  • The advancing leg must be straightened (i.e., not bent at the knee) from the moment of first contact with the ground until in the vertical position.
We know there is a flight phase with each running step. Walking, by contrast, both your feet should never both leave the ground. Rule #2 is less intuitive but in fact a better way to differentiate running versus walking. Interestingly this rule only came into effect in 1995.

There are another technical differences. For instance in a runner's mid-stance phase, i.e. when the foot swivels under the hip, the body's centre of mass (COM) is at its lowest. For walkers, because of the straight knee, their mid-stance COM is at its highest point. I only mention this because because I find that both running and walking, when you really think about them, are weird, complex movements.

Returning to rule #2, it is easy enough to visualize (and enforce) to make it a fair visual criteria in a judged sport. However there is a fundamental problem with Rule #1 that I will now explain. There is already plenty of research that observes a flight phase in race walking. For instance in a recent (2014) literature overview, Pavel et al note
From an overall view, race walking athletes seem to adhere to the ‘straightened knee’ rule, but at race speed they do not observe the ‘no-flight time’ rule. 
Admittedly flights times spoken of are small; Pavel estimates between they range 0.01 and 0.05 seconds. But those small flight times add up. Moving at 4 m/s, a single 1/100th second of "flight time" can earn a bonus distance of 4 cm (after all, distance = speed x time). So in a 50 km walk race, given a stride frequency of 3 steps/s (180 steps/min), one takes over 37,000 steps. That tiny flight time and 4 cm per stride adds up to a total distance gain of 1.5 km! Importantly the human eye cannot visually process a flight time of 10 milliseconds yet a race walker is less likely to win without this clear flight-time advantage. Indeed, in one study flight times were found positively correlated with speed.

Video of a race-waller leaving the ground (at 0:13):


Unlike some judged sports where small "cheat" advantage stay small (such as making a single illegal V-shape move with your skis in classic racing), because of the cumulative effects of undetectable millisecond flight times, we now know a completely honest race walker is at a permanent disadvantage over one who can eke out a bit of air time for each stride.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Rum runner's relay and the personal trophy

On the weekend I was part of the winning team for the Rum Runner's Relay (A Few Good Men). The team award has gone to HRC (Halifax Running Club) for ten years straight so yes, we are breaking history.

Ultimate prize: A rum barrel! (sadly it contains no rum) 
Since my time in Halifax is growing limited (assuming I find work in Montreal next spring), it was a good time as any to experience part of the coastline on foot from the HRM to Lunenburg. Beautiful weather and a fun 12-hour day overall. I'd like to be back, if possible. We'll see.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Science of running: a hierarchy

Listening to Steve Magness' podcast on the topic of Systems vs Process methods to coaching got me thinking about my own take on the subject.

By and large I agree with Steve's message, which boils down to acknowledging coaches can't expect long-term development from their athletes if they follow a pre-ordained workout recipe. This makes perfect sense, as so many factors go into choosing a proper working, to declare your original plan unassailable is tantamount to fortune telling.

But I was irked (as always) when Nassim Taleb's cursed Swan quoted. It is true that "One cannot understand a macroscopic system by appealing to its components in isolation" when making final decisions. But it is also true that isolating certain components can be helpful. That's why we have the Large Hadron Collider. That's why our minds do not benefit from unnecessary multi-tasking. That's why workouts often focus on one type of running (easy, tempo, distance, speed).

Isolation is, in essence, good. Then as athletes grow in complexity, so do the workouts. Each workout component is equivalent to a keyed note. The totality of multiple workouts with many such keys is music.

To illustrate this complexity, I made a diagram with the various internal levels within each of us. To avoid over-generalizing I focus on running.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

A season summary: Tely 10, Calgary, and more

I'm not as much a fan of posting too many details about my own races. My favourite thing is to take a step back and see a larger picture. But as this season has been a busy and productive one, it seems disingenuous to ignore all people and places that have been part of 'my' running this season. My season started in April (not counting two indoor 3k races), and is taking a pause in August. In fact right now I'm on a work trip, writing this in Indiana of all places. First to boil down the facts, here's my races from the season.

 My 2015 Spring-Summer Road Races
Date Location Distance Place & Time  Rating*
April 25 Grande-Digue 15 km 2nd in 48:45 ★★★★
May 2 Lung Run 5 km 1st in 15:08 (PB!) ★★★
May 23 Cabot Trail Relay (Leg 17) 18.7 km 2nd in 1:02:05 (PB?) ★★★½
May 31 Calgary Half Marathon 21.1 km 8th in 1:09:14 (PB!) ★★★★
June 21 Halifast Track Event  5000 m 1st in 15:15 ★★
July 10 Antigonish Highland Games 5 Miler 8 km 2nd in 25:32 ★★★
July 26 Tely 10 16 km 2nd in 51:04 (PB!) ★★★★
Aug 3 Natal Day 6 Miler 9.6 km 2nd in 31:15  ★★★
*Rating (out of 4 stars) is a subjective combination of my feelings about my performance and the race itself. At the end of the day, it's hard to disentangle the two.

Some of the best season news is that I had no terrible races and no serious injuries. I never came close to dropping out or running hurt (running sore, well yes). Must be all those training heuristics I use (FYI: I don't keep a mileage log). Also one thing is for certain, I got real comfortable finishing behind the winner. On top of that, both of my victories were only 10 seconds ahead of second, so there was a real possibility of landing 7, let alone 5, runner-up positions. Fun fact: I finished behind a Matt (McNeil + Loiselle) a total of 4 times. Matts are fast!

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Estimating Calories from random foods

Every piece of food you buy in Canada is equipped with a Nutrition Facts label.


This label presents an data total Calories, Fibre, Fat, Sodium, Carbs, Protein and micronutrients per serving. Of those, only protein, fat, and carbs contribute meaningfully to total calories. There are some odd trends in the labelling practises. For instance "Fat" and "Carbohydrates" have a "% Daily Value" (%DV) associated with them, but not protein. This is odd, since recommended protein intake is much easier to estimate a priori than either carbs or fat (more on that later). It's also odd that %DV of total calories is not given, since fat and carbs (whose recommended percentages are given) make up the bulk of food calories. Yet so much data is given, seems we could figure this out. Is it possible to reverse engineer the nutrition data given, make some simple assumptions, and sneakily obtain total recommended daily calories?

My Goal: using only the packaging of random food items (and one assumption about protein intake), I will determine the tacit daily caloric intake made by Health Canada.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

(Questionable) ideas for promoting road races

In the USA, for the year 2014, total marathon and half marathon participation numbers are at an all-time high. There are almost 100 races across the US with more than a thousand participants. All good news so far.


We've come a long way from the niche sport that was marathon racing 40 years ago; total numbers have since increased 20-fold. There is no reason to suspect a collapse of the system, as races require little capital investment compared with, say, a soccer stadium or an NHL-worthy ice rink. But there are hints that 2015 will see an absolute peak in race numbers. This could lead to a small, but noticeable, chain of events.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Drugs in sport: a manifesto of sorts

Here are some propositions for putting drugs in context with the broader definitions in sport.  There are no hyperlinks to news articles. There are no equations. There are no scientific articles and few drugs are actually mentioned in context. We assume the drugs work as prescribed. Anyone reading this far already has opinions on the matter of drugs in sport, therefore I am avoiding superfluous quotes from other op-eds.

I am searching for beginnings, rather than ends to the conversation on drugs in competition. We already know 'getting caught' is 'bad'. But why? What starting point brought us to this conclusion? These are seven propositions that seem, collectively, like as good a starting place as any. Basically I have assembled collection of (what appear to be) generally-true statements about drugs. Some statements are trivial, others contentious, some others vague. I'm curious what others see in them.

So here are the seven propositions for what we consider when bettering oneself at a sport:

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Bluenose weekend by the numbers


This year I didn't participate the Bluenose race weekend. Instead I happily watched from the sidelines to see others finish instead. In terms of local races I'm going to run Cabot Trail, with its strong tradition of international attendance and community support based around Baddeck, NS.

My goal this weekend was to watch runners I knew personally, and to see this year's contingent of Kenyans including World Champion Abel Kirui (it's an interesting story why he's in Halifax, for there is no prize money or appearance fees in these races). Little surprise Kirui won the half marathon by over 15 minutes (and while not, I suspect, running his hardest). 

But besides playing spectator, I was also interested to see how Blue Nose attendance would fare. To get right to the point, below are the 5/10/half/full finisher totals from 2004 to 2015. I do not include the kid's 2/4k runs. Although they do generate money for the race, it is unfair to call under-12 runners "competitors". It is more straightforward to count only those who've registered themselves.
Annual participation in the Bluenose race weekend.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Running gender bias

I was browsing the Running USA statistics page and came across this interesting tidbit. See if you notice a strange aberration:



Thursday, 30 April 2015

Calgary Half marathon

I'm running the Calgary Half marathon, May 31st.

Looking forward to it. Raced decently in Grande-Digue 15k last week. Flat(ish) course, cool weather and no wind helped too. Also having the Dal team there was nice boost. In total 8 guys under 50 min, which is something for a tiny race in northern NB. I other news our rag-tag team will be getting a little more serious as we're set to join Halifast.

Back to Calgary. Nice part about the Calgary 21.1k is their efforts to get people from all over Canada to take part. It's the national championships after all, but still impressive what they're doing. Strangest part about national-level road races in the past is the organizers inviting people, offering prize money/appearance fees etc but not posting anything interesting about them online. Often not even a headshot. I always wondered why go through the trouble of organizing people but not profiling them. No more!

Soon-to-be profile shot. Everyone gunning for a sub 74ish time gets one, and a 'fun fact', which is nifty. My fun fact is that I'm an atmospheric chemist. (guess they didn't go with my joggling angle!)

Friday, 10 April 2015

Envy


Today I was talking to someone who admitted his step sister is a naturopath. If I look up the definitional of naturopath in wiki, I find nothing unexpected:
Naturopathy or naturopathic medicine is a form of alternative medicine employing a wide array of "natural" treatments, including homeopathy, herbalism, and acupuncture, as well as diet and lifestyle counselling.
I rather enjoy that the word 'natural' is in quotation marks. It is clear enough to anyone that naturopaths do nothing meaningful. Or do they? While it is obvious homeopathic remedies are, by definition, empty promises, it is not hard to find people with differing opinions. For instance the placebo effect is, in fact, a real thing. Therefore simplest notion, that wellbeing is promoted through believing in alternative medicines is in itself healthy independent of the medicine's effects.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Snowfall in Halifax

Halifax has been getting an unusual amount of snow this year. It will certainly be interesting to see the 2015/16 HRM budget plan, which is still be tabulated. Hundreds of centimetres of snow, estimates are that the city will be minimum $10 million over budget. But how does that compare with previous years?

A hint of something deeper going on: a report from the Metro Halifax newspaper noticed that snow removal has been over budget for the past six years. Weirder yet, another story headlines "Halifax councillors not seeking an increase to snow removal budget despite clearing woes". What gives? What's the long-term budget pattern here?

Since budget reports are available from 2000 forward, I can go back more than six years of costs.

But let us also consider total snowfall, as it matters if over-budget years were due to large dumps of snow, bad planning, or both. Oddly enough the Halifax peninsula has no good data on snowfall. The Shearwater Environment Canada (EC) station has been moved several times and does not always collect total snowfall data. I had to use the Halifax Airport data instead, which is unfortunate considering their climate is substantially different than downtown (25 km inland, away from city. Worst. Airport. Ever)

Without further ado, here are the HRM budget/EC snowfall annual data overlaid:

Environment Canada Airport data from hereHRM budget information from here
I adjusted for inflation using the Bank of Canada converter.
You can almost see a correlation between actual snow costs and total snow, but it's weaker than first appears (R-squared of 0.15, to be exact). Then again that's in part because snow costs are a mix of on-call and prepaid crews, and probably due to using airport data, which as I hinted before, sucks for this sort of comparison. I am especially suspicious of the low total accumulation for 2015 (245 cm), logic demands a larger number (at least over 300 cm). Then again, the maximum snow on ground sits at 93 cm, more than any year since 1999, as intuited. Maybe the snowfall numbers are reasonable first-order approximations after all.

More importantly, between 2000 and 2015 the city has been over-budget with snow removal 13 times! On average they get it wrong by 4.9 million dollars. I know that budgets can be complicated beasts, but I looked at other budget/cost parings for the city and they were all very closely predicted. Except for snow removal. Perhaps there is a special animosity between snow crews and city councillors. I noticed for most years this accounts for nearly all discrepancies of budget and actual HRM Public Works Operations costs, as shown below:

Snow vs total public works deficit (2009-2015). There is a pretty darn close correlation here,
and accounts for almost all the city's public works discrepancy.  

My conclusion: Halifax, as with the maritimes in general, lives in a perpetual state of winter denial. Most other cities plan their budgets and outdoor activities as if winter might actually come. No so with Halifax, who each year crosses its fingers hoping this will be the last one.



Meanwhile for runners the frustration is mounting, as most spring marathons are at most 8 weeks away. Another good reason not to register for races mid-winter.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Stealing from the University

A young person looking go to university generally has the idea of getting an education and perhaps get involved in a few activities along the way. Goodness knows, most of your memories will be from outside the classroom.

As a university, you want a balance between two kinds of students: those which perform well academically, and those who are as outgoing as possible. In the most extreme cases, you are looking for everything from a studious bookworm to Rushmore's Max Fischer.

 The idea behind having this mis is that bookworms succeed later in life. To be quiet and hard working means the student's downpayment is immediate (tuition and/or long study hours), while the payoff in the form of a good job, counts delayed gratification. Certainly they will feature prominently in alumni magazines and salary stats, but you also need someone promote your institution brand RIGHT. NOW.

Let us focus on american universities, who offer some of the most lucrative scholarships for those willing to promote their brand name. Further, because clubs, fringe societies, school newspapers are usually self-organized hence weakly controlled by the institution, let us focus on the most reliable tool american schools have: sports.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Food, training and psychology

I am not a food expert, nor a psychologist. Nor a psychiatrist for that matter. Nevertheless, here I am crossing into their territories.

There's a well-known psychological phenomenon called the "Hawthorne Effect" (full disclosure: I had to look up the name. I remembered the effect, not its title!). In a nutshell, a Chicago-based electric company, Hawthorne Works, which employed 45,000 people, wanted to increase productivity. With so many employees, even a minute improvement would vastly improve profits. They hired an outside group to monitor what changes in worker's environments would lead to increases in manufacturing output. To quote the wiki article:
The workers' productivity seemed to improve when changes were made, and slumped when the study ended. It was suggested that the productivity gain occurred as a result of the motivational effect on the workers of the interest being shown in them.
The changes could be arbitrary. Re-arranging workers, dimming lights (or increasing wattage), cleaning work stations. Whatever didn't directly interfere with the actual work done seems to improve overall productivity by up to 30%. But the effects were short-lived, of course, lasting a few weeks at most.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

10 kilometer cycles: track and road

There are two kinds of 10 kilometer races: those on the road, and those on the track. From the early 2000s until now, is there a pattern? One intuitive reality is that track surfaces are faster than roads.
We would expect the fastest runners on the rubberized track surface to outdo the fastest on pavement. But perhaps there's more.

I plotted the top 20 person-times for the years 2004 to 2014 (this is a opposed to the top 20 times overall, which can include duplicate performances. Hopefully this better represents overall trends rather than a single person having a very good racing year). The data was pulled from IAAF's database here.There are no top 20 lists before 2004, though possibly one can obtain these from other sources. Nevertheless, we have ten years of good data.

The first thing you might notice, unsurprisingly, is the top mean running times are always better for track than for road. The mean difference from 2004 to 2014 is 32 seconds.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Useless knowledge, or trivia for people who hate trivia

Not that I'm against knowing facts and names, but I hesitate to celebrate the idea too much. When a stray piece of information sticks with me, the better for us both, I suppose. Yet perhaps least celebrated abilities of the human mind is its capacity to sometimes forget. How else can one decide between what is important, and what is trivial.

Spurred on by a recent streak of attending trivia nights at the local pubs, here is a truly random sampling of human knowledge. Created through random wiki articles, it is a representation of what the English-speaking knows, unbiased in actual important (though clearly biased in article density per topic). Maybe not surprisingly a lot of tiny cities pop up in these searches. The only rule besides clicking "Random Article" was to phrase the questions based entirely on information gleaned from the wiki page. I don't expect anyone to know more than one of these. It'd be one more than me!


  1. What language is spoken in the in the provinces of Lamas in the Peruvian region of San Martin and in some villages on the river Huallaga in the region of Ucayali?
  2. In 2012, he became the leader of the oppositional Democratic Front formed by the Movement for Changes (PZP) and the New Serb Democracy (NOVA).
  3. Zeytinli is a village in which country?
  4. Name at least one player in the Eintracht Frankfurt football team, 2006–07 season
  5. Who was the Superior Court judge for the district of Trois-Rivières, Quebec from 1905-21?
  6. Agnam Lidoubé is a village in which country?
  7. This Californian terrace separates Humboldt Bay to the north from the Eel River to the south and is also home to the Wiyot tribe reservation.
  8. This historic property is located at 7 Albert Street in Worcester, Massachusetts.
  9. Cobwebs to Catch flies is a 1783 children's book by this author.
  10. The Keshavarz District is located in which country?
  11. Karel Píč and Josef Kořenský were born in this Czech city
  12. Who directed the 1985 Australian film Wrong World?
  13. What country does the city Qomrud reside?
  14. Born  1936, he is currently in the French Senate representing the department of Corse-du-Sud.
  15. Together with Wojciech Słomczyński, he developed a voting system for the Council of the European Union called the Jagiellonian Compromise.
  16. He authored the thesis titled "The development of U.S. protection of libraries and archives in Europe during World War II".
  17. This process is named for when a quark of one hadron and an antiquark of another hadron annihilate, creating a virtual photon or Z boson, which then decays into a pair of oppositely-charged leptons.
  18. Who won the 1st Czech Republic Hockey League championship game of the 2010-11 season?
  19. Hermann Göring was arrested by US troops in this village.
  20. This city was fourth runner-up in for the bid to host the 2012 Olympic summer games.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Age-category dominance by continent

It is well-known the most competitive runners are between the ages of 18 and 39, and equally understood African runners dominate within this age bracket. But runners outside this age bracket also compete (either as masters, youth, or other specific age category records). I wondered where might one find the best runners at any given age? Depending on how old you are, where can you train with the fastest peers?

Since age data is so plentiful, naturally people have already compiled world records sorted for every age 9 to 99. This can also come in handy when when creating an Age-Graded Calculator, or available as raw excel data here. However the best, original source of many such records can be found at the ARRS website, where world-best times are also tagged by the runner's country of origin. Although sorting runners by about 50 individual countries could lead to over-separating the data, it seemed natural enough to group countries by continent, of which there are only five: North and South America (grouped as one), Asia, Oceania, Europe, and Africa).

Without further ado, here are the best 5 km, 10 km, 16 km (10 mile), half marathon, and Marathon road race performances by single age record, color-coated by the continent said runner originated.

And here are the relevant countries that represent each continent (country codes here):

North and South America: CAN, MEX, USA, BRA, and COL
Europe: AND, AUT, BEL, BIH, BLR, CRO, CZE, DEN, ENG, ESP, FIN, FRA, GBR, GER, IRL, ITA, LAT, MAR, NED, NOR, POR, ROM, SCO, SUI, SVK, SWE, UKR, and WAL
Africa: ALG, ERI, ETH, KEN, NAM, RSA, and TAN
Oceania: AUS and NZL
Asia: CHN, ISR, JPN, KAZ, KOR, and RUS

NB: I have shown only the even numbered-aged runners to keep the plot length manageable.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Train like a Kenyan in North America?

Last week I read More Fire: How to Run the Kenyan Way. Reading it feels like having a long one-sided stream-of-consciousness conversation. The book is very anecdotal. Certainly not a book for everyone, but full of quality tidbits about high-level training. Given how rare it is to find training grounded in observations of genuine elites players, this makes it worth a look (too many, myself included, claim knowledge based on nothing more than amateur, college-level running).

Reading it, I was noting some of the similarities and differences between Kenyans and Americans in their daily habits. The most obvious similarity is mileage: both groups tend to run between 100 km and 250 km a week. A big difference, however, is in the treatment of those kilometres. Americans prefer to keep rigorous track of their distances, whereas Kenyans tend to guesstimate based on rough periods of time. Americans also prefer to 'chunk' their mileage into larger pieces. This explains why Kenyans cope so well with two or three runs a day: none of these runs are particularly long.

Typical Kenyan day:

6AM - Easy 40 min jog

10 AM - Slightly faster 60 min, or a hard workout

4 PM (optional) - 40 min easy jog, and/or plyometrics

 While most would think of running three times a day as more tiring than two, another perspective is that three runs make for three rest periods. Analogously, would moving from three meals a day to two make a difference? Very possibly it could.

The 'typical' american runner is more likely to group runs into two sessions, perhaps running long warmups before workouts, grouping plyometrics with the morning sessions, or extending the evening run. Americans also love measuring their total miles, despite that values necessarily fluctuate for an unlimited number of legitimate reasons.

Typical American day:

9 AM - 60-75 min easy run (probably too fast), 6 - 10 miles

5 PM - 30 min warmup, stretches, 30-45 min workout, 20 min cool-down, 8-12 miles

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Things we can't explain: Kenyans and Hungarians

Kenyans are very good runners. In fact, they are the best. Kenyans certainly don't win every race, but relative to their country's population there is no contest. Many interesting theories exist as why Kenyans are better at long distance running. An abbreviated list: Cattle ranging, running to school, work ethic, monetary incentive, aerobic capacity, thin calves, altitude, barefoot adolescence, mental optimism, their diet, and total participation numbers, just to name a few.

More incredible is how the Kalenjin tribe, with just 5 million individuals, dominates most of the Kenyan wins. To quote Wikipedia "from 1980 on, about 40% of the top honours available to men in international athletics at these distances have been earned by Kalenjin".

In the world of sport, no other country seems quite as dominant, except for maybe the Canadians participation in NHL hockey (at about 50%), but this sport is not universally played. And to a lesser extent there are Jamaicans in sprinting, eastern Europeans in weightlifting, Romanian gymnasts, and Russian females high jumpers.

Nevertheless I had to pause and wonder about whether this sheer uniqueness of Kenyan running was in itself unique. Therefore I began to consider which other countries, at given epochs, had also dominated a single activity. Hence I want to focus on math, a discipline, like running, that in theory should be practicable anywhere.

Early 20th century Hungarian mathematicians: Hungarian mathematicians were not merely good, they were world-changing. The outcome of WWII and world history beyond was directly influenced by their migration to the United States. Consider the wiki list here, which includes Paul Erdős (who practically co-authored every math paper in his field), Pólya, Bolyai, Stanislaw Ulam (co-designer of the H-bomb), Szilard (conceived the notion of nuclear reactors and the A-bomb), Arpad Elo (inventor of the eponymous chess rating system), Edward Teller (theoretical physicist, co-designer of the H-bomb and various quantum solid-state principles), and von Neumann (involved in just about everything, including the world's first re-programmable computer, game theory and DNA). You may have noticed nuclear weapons were mentioned several times among these names. The US government wanted nothing more than to win the nuclear arms race and with no deliberate aim to favour any particular group, Hungarians were often at the forefront throughout its history.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Numbers, numbers, everywhere $#%# numbers

Passing from the Christmas sales straight to New Year's resolution territory come more gadgets for sports than ever. My sister-in-law got one of those 'fit bits' for xmas, I got a new watch, and loads of people out there are testing GPS devices some variety and figuring out what to do with them.

My god, what do we need some of these measurement things for? Let us first enumerate the variables that need (or more specifically can) be measured by a hand/foot held device, in order of utility:

1) Time
2) Distance
3) Speed
4) Heart Rate
5) Other stuff (not less useful)

Preceding my feelings on the matter, Alex Hutchinson has posted about new measuring devices on his Sweat Science blog titled Data Overload. The sentence that perhaps sums Alex's feelings best is: "There's no doubt you gain something with more data, but I think you also lose something".