Archive for marathon

marathon de Toulouse

Posted in Running with tags , , , , , , on October 27, 2013 by xi'an

Congratulations to Jean-Michel Marin, running his very first marathon in Toulouse this morning! I presume this is in part due to my bad influence, just like George Casella started me running road races (with the World famous Happy Hollow 5K in West Lafayette!)…

16 667 ladies in pink [and me: 10k, 38:18, 58th & 2nd V2]

Posted in pictures, Running, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 13, 2012 by xi'an

Last weekend, I ran my second race of the week, in Caen. (This also explains for the uncontrolled posting of the weekend!) This 10k race is part of a large collection of races, called Les Courants de la Liberté, always near June 06 in commemoration of the D-Day landing on the nearby beaches in 1944. The marathon starts from Courseulles-sur-Mer (Juno Beach) and follows the coastline to Ouistreham (Sword Beach), before proceeding along the Ornes canal to Pegasus bridge, then Cambes-en-Plaine and its British War Cemetery, and ending up at the Memorial for Peace in Caen… The half-marathon starts from Pegasus bridge and the 10k even closer to Caen, as they all end up in the same place.

However, those road races (on the Sunday) are proceeded with a female race called La Rochambelle, the name of a health unit that was created and equipped by the Americans during the Second World War, as nurses and ambulance women in the 2nd Armoured Division of General Leclerc. The race is undoubtedly the most impressive of all by its size, 16 667 participants this year!, and the commitment to the fight against breast cancer through the local associations Mathilde and Etincelle. And the fact that all participants wear the same fuschia tee-shirt for the race. (The number of participants was limited to 16 667 this year to reach a support of 100,000 euros, for 6 euros by runner.) To stand in the stadium (next to my high school!) and watch this pink wave slowly but steadily occupy the whole stadium was a tremendous sight.

The 10k did not start very auspiciously as rain was pouring on us while we were waiting on a country road for the departure signal. When it came, rain had stopped and there was hardly any wind at all, which is a usual difficulty with this race. I managed to get close to the departure line (although it took me 5 seconds to reach it if I judge from the difference between my watch time and my official time). The first 5km went by in a blur: 3:33 – 3:52 – 3:46 – 3:50 – 3:48. By then I was faster than on Thursday. (Being in a larger group and passing people helped.) I started fighting by the 6th km as I was unable to reach the group of the first woman, a few meters in front of me, and ran the remaining kilometers by myself: 3:56 – 3:53 – 3:58 – 3:55 – 3:44, with two runners passing me on the last kilometer. I was quite pleased with the overall time, 38:18, but since there were many runners (57) in front of me, I did not bother checking about my position and went home for a warmer shower. It is only when checking the results after lunch that I saw I was second in the V2 category, which truly amazed me as this was not such an outstanding time. (There was no cup, though!) I presume the top runners were too busy running the half- and full marathons to take part in the 10k…

gender-neutral Olympics?!

Posted in Mountains, Running, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 16, 2012 by xi'an

As usual, reading the latest issue of Significance is quite pleasant and rewarding (although as usual I have to compete with my wife to get hold of the magazine!). This current issue is dedicated to the (London) Olympics. With articles on predictions of future records, on whether or not the 1988 records can be beaten (the Seoul Olympics were the last games before more severe anti-drug tests were introduced), on advices to Usain Bolt for running faster (!) and on the objective dangers of dying from running a marathon (answer: it is much more “dangerous” to train!).

However, a most puzzling (and least statistical) article is Stephanie Kovalchik’s proposal for a gender-neutral Olympics.  The author’s theme is that, in most sports (the exceptions being shooting, yachting, and horse riding, where competitions are mixed), raw performances of women are below those of men for physical and physiological reasons. Stephanie Kovalchik thus “question[s] whether a sex-stratified Olympics is the product of groundless stereotypes about male athletic superiority or could be justified by gender differences at the elite level of sport” (p.20). Unsurprisingly, she concludes that no amount of training seems capable to bring both sexes at the same level: indeed, for instance, Paula Radcliffe, the fastest female marathon runner (2:15:24), is still 11 minutes beyond Patrick Makau, the fastest male marathon runner (2:03:38). They are both super-terrific athletes, the top ones in their categories. Now, Paula runs half-marathon and marathon faster than the best male runners in my team (Insee Paris Club). Where’s the problem?! And why should we try to rank Paula against Patrick?!

A parenthesis: the author mentions a most bizarre (but eventually inappropriate) exception: in the Badwater Ultramarathon, a crazy race covering 135 miles and going from Badwater, Death Valley, at 280’ (85m) below sea level, to the Mt. Whitney Portals at nearly 8,300’ (2530m), with a total of 13,000’ (3962m) of cumulative vertical ascent, four women won over the 25 occurrences of the race. I found this phenomenon quite curious and went to check first the records of the comparable ultra-trail du Mont Blanc, another even crazier race (168km, 9,600 metres of positive height gain, at mostly higher altitudes, between 1000m and 2500m), and saw that last year the first woman in the race was 13th in total, with a difference of four and a half hours with the winner (20:36 hours, believe it or not..!). Going back to the Badwater Ultramarathon, checking the results showed that the race actually attracts a very limited number of runners, from 17 finishers the first year to 83 last year (where the first woman was 7th, about 5 hours from the winner), with a huge variation between runners and between years. So I would not draw so much of a conclusion from this example, certainly not that “in an event where sheer dogged endurance, guts and determination must count for almost everything, we may be there already”. It is rather a law of small numbers: such extreme events attract a very small number of participants with incredibly variable finishing times, e.g. two of the four winning women won out of…5 (1988) and 2 (1989) finishers, while the two other victories were achieved by Pamela Reed over 45 (2003) and 57 (2002) competitors, a much more remarkable feat. Meaning that one or two runners missing or giving up brings a huge change in the final time. The ultra-trail du Mont Blanc now involves a thousand runners and there, numbers count. End of the parenthesis (with total respect to all those runners, I wish I could do it!).

Going back to the paper proposal, Stephanie Kovalchik considers that “credit merit apart from hereditary luck will favour individuals who possess the best genes for sport. Thus, prejudice – in the true sense of pre-judging – at the Olympics runs deeper than gender lines. Geneticism more than sexism is to blame for making the possession of a Y chromosome an advantage at the Games” (p.21). She suggests to instead rank athletes by a “statistical adjustment [that would]  remove the confounding factor of genetic inheritance, to provide a standard of achievement that all could aim at, no matter what their hereditary luck” (p.22). In essence, the winner would be the one that had gained the most compared with a “demographically matched sample of untrained individuals” (p.24). If I may, this sounds perfectly ridiculous! First, the whole point of the Games and of any sporting competition is to determine the “best” athlete. This is not an egalitarian goal and can and does lead to poor outcomes such as cheating, drug enhanced performances, nationalistic recuperations, commercialisation, bribery, and so on. It is thus perfectly coherent to be against those competitions. (I am not a big fan of the Olympics myself for this reason. However, without competition, even at my very humble level, and with little hope of winning anything, I would certainly train much less than I currently do.) But to try to reward efforts to counteract physical differences sounds like political correctness pushed to the extreme!  Second, and this is why I find the paper so a-statistical!, the adjustment must be with respect to a reference population. If we carry the argument to its limit, the only relevant population is made of the athlete him/herself. Indeed, genetic, sociological, cultural, geographical, financial, you-name-it, elements should all be taken into account! Which obviously makes the computation just impossible because then everyone is competing against him/herself.

another road-race in Central Park

Posted in Running, Travel with tags , , , , , , on September 30, 2011 by xi'an

It seems that every Sunday I run in Central Park, I am doomed to hit a race! This time it was not the NYC half-marathon (and I did not see Paula Radcliffe as she was in Berlin) but an 18 miles race in preparation for the NYC marathon. I had completed my fartlek training of 6x4mn and was recovering from a anaerobic last round when I saw some runners coming, so went with them as a recuperation jog for a mile or so. They had done the first 4 miles in 27’28″, which corresponds to a 4’16″ pace per kilometer, so I must have missed the top runners. Actually, I think the first runners were at least 4 minutes faster, as they were coming when I left for the last 4mn. (But it was good for recovery!) Checking on the webpage of the race, the winner finished in 1:37’45″, which gives a marathon time of 2:21’40″ unless I am confused.

marathon world record broken

Posted in Running, Travel with tags , , , on September 25, 2011 by xi'an

Once again, the Berlin marathon provides us with a World record. Patrick Makau just finished in 2:03:38, breaking Haile Gebrsellassie’s previous record. And leaving Gebrsellassie quite behind (he eventually dropped away). Maybe the beautiful finish at the Brandenburg Gate helps in setting those records! Paula Radcliffe finished third in 2:23:46, far from her World record. And four minutes behind Florence Kiplagat. However, I think the major thing is that she finished and got qualified for the 2012 Olympics. Now, it is time for splits in Central Park!

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