Archive for April, 2011


April 28, 2011

Of course, shortly after I decided I could not run — why, I felt fine. Tuesday afternoon the pain seemed to vanish. And Wednesday too. So I began to hope that I could run the race after all.

I want to, you see.

Thursday dawned, and with it my last run before the race. I felt pretty good. When I started moving the pain returned, and I limped. “Ah,” I told myself, “it will go away when I warm up.” And it did. It went away, mostly. And for the first mile I was thinking that I could do the race.

But after a bit I started noticing that my leg, well, the shin didn’t exactly hurt, but the leg felt weak. On the downhills it hurt a bit. But it eased off on the uphills.

It got a bit worse each mile. Not a lot, but a bit. I did my five with no real issues, but, … well, the race is 50 miles…

I had better not.




April 26, 2011

I guess it is hopeless.

I set out today for my penultimate run before my race and as I walked out the door I realized it was just too painful. My shin splints will not let me race Leona Divide on Saturday. I walked back inside.

I shall wear white flannel trousers, and aqua-jog in the pool.

Where are the good young runners?

April 23, 2011

Sometimes, well — often — it bugs me. Where are the good young runners?

I finished Chardonnay in 13th place, 4th in my age group of 16 (so in the top quarter) and with one woman ahead of me. I’m 51. I ran at 79.5%. Any man/boy between 13 and 50 who runs at 79.5% should be ahead of me. Also any woman 17 to 37 running at that level should be ahead of me.

There were 161 men/boys 13-49. So if other age-groups were as speedy as mine, and a quarter of those in the 50-54 category were my pace or faster then you’d expect at least 40 younger male runners ahead of me. There were 202 women 17-37. So you’d expect 50 women ahead of me.

Now that was just if other age-groups were as fast as mine. But younger runners should be faster, not just my speed.

So given where I placed in my age-group you’d expect there to be more than 100 people in front of me, but there were 12 (three of whom were my age). Why is my age group so much faster than the younger ones?

There was one woman ahead of me when there should have been a bit more than 50. That’s a pretty extreme ratio. There were 8 men ahead when there should have been a lot more than 40. That’s not quite so bad, but still…

So I looked through the SBAA database again to see what how well various age-groups have run over the last 10 years.

It does look as though there is a general trend (in SB at least) that people in late middle age are better runners (that is, closer to world-record times for their age) than younger ones. There is also a huge difference in how well women approach their world-record times compared to how well men do.

(the sample size gets very small for the older age-groups — the above 65s — the statistics more doubtful, and individual fluctuations more likely to be prevalent).

The above graph is based on downloaded data from 4 races outside SB and has a sample size of ~90,000 runners

I guess it makes some sense that people in their 30s are too busy with family and establishing careers to put in the time to train well (so that explains the dip in abilities for runners in their 30s), and as we age both children and careers become more independent we have more time for fun.

It’s interesting that more people in their 30s actually run, they just don’t run well. Perhaps we self-select as we age and only fast people race?

The graph above is a superposition of two graphs, each showing the percentage of runners (in the SBAA database) who run at a certain age-graded percentage. The green graph is for runners aged 45-59, the blue is runners 20-34.

Looking at the “All” category in the first graph… The percentage of men who run at 80% or more is about the same as the percentage of women who run at 75% or more, and the percentage or men who run at 85% is similar to the percentage or women at 80%. I find that amazing.

The above graph shows the superposition of the graphs all age graded entries for men and women in the SBAA database. Men in blue, women in red. The graph for women is more condensed than that for men, and women seem to peak about 5% behind men.

Remember, age grading already corrects for the difference between male and female world records. This says that women don’t approach their world records as closely as men do.

Why? Why aren’t more women motivated to go faster? Perhaps women are more interested in their families than men and are less willing to run? Except there are more women runners than men runners… so they must want to run. Perhaps it’s a different motivation, running for friendship more than to race?

Or perhaps women runners are disproportionately young and so less likely to do well? But no, the difference holds true for all age groups.

In an effort to test if this was something odd about Santa Barbara I have made similar graphs for some large out of town races. There seems a general agreement that women are less likely to approach their world record times, and women tend to have a more concentrated (hence taller) distribution. I still don’t know what to make of it.

Statistics and other damn lies

April 23, 2011

I have (or rather SBAA has) accumulated about a decade of local race data. Almost 80,000 entries giving a runner’s time in a race. About 38,000 entries were run by men and about 40,000 by women.

I think it is interesting that in the under 19s there are more boys than girls, but the age-group 19-29 has more than half again as many women than men (12,800 women and 8,100 men). There continue to be more women than men until about 40, and after that the men start predominating. In the 65-69 there are three times as many men as women, and in 75-79 there are six time as many men.

Number of runners at various ages. Horizontal axis in years, vertical is a count of runners. Men in blue, women in red. There are more women runners who are 27 than any other age. There are more men runners who are 42. Combining both sexes the number of runners peak at age 26.

Is this the effect of Title IX that came out in ’72? Presumably it took a while for attitudes to change, but it might explain this discrepancy… Or do young women really like to run while older women hate it? Or does Santa Barbara have a very odd sex ratio with lots of young women and few older ones?

I also wondered what distances people preferred. From the graph below it’s clear that more people run 5Ks than anything else. Of course there are more 5K races than any other kind so it’s not clear which is cause and which effect. And we’ve only had a marathon for two years (as opposed to ~10 for the other races) so it shows to an unfair disadvantage, if you multiply it by 5 it would be a little below the number of half marathoners.

Interesting that more men than women seem to like miles, but more women like half marathons.

I’ve noticed that I tend to run 10Ks at a slightly higher age-graded percentage than I do any other race distance. I wondered if this were chance, unique to me, or a general trend… So I graphed that too:

I did not include races that are excessively downhill, those that are mostly uphill, nor those that I know to have been mismeasured. I also did not include the Night Moves course because I think it is more difficult than it should be. I wanted “fair” races.

Unfortunately the State St. Mile is the only mile race I’ve got data for, and it gets ruled out. Pity. I would like to see how well people run miles.

But it does look as though people are much more likely to do well on 10K races than at other distances. I’m actually rather surprised by that (even though I knew I did), I would have guessed that the shorter the race, the easier it would be to approach the world record…

Splintered shins

April 22, 2011

My shin splints are back.

They rejoined me after Chardonnay. Now that I think about it, I believe they prepared themselves to visit the previous week, but in a mild form that I ignored. There was no ignoring them the day after Chardonnay.

I’m trying to figure out why. Was it old shoes? But I ran 12 miles at a 6:34 pace two weeks before. Was it running on the concrete sidewalk? But I spent more time on the sidewalk going faster at the Resolution 10K. Was it two week-ends in a row on the sidewalk? You’d think I’d have time to heal in a week.

Or perhaps a combination: Older shoes on concrete, two weekends in a row.

Whatever it was, the splints are back. And aren’t going away.

I have a race in eight days.

I’m a little worried.

Mike Swan suggests that I add “tired legs after hard training” to the mix. Also true on Resolution Day, but maybe as part of the mix…

The Fallen

April 22, 2011
Over the lake, light falling snow,
Gliding down, gilding at gloaming,
Alights on trees, on limbs below,
Concealing dead earth within winter.

Soft snow slips down, covering life;
Slush slides on the lake, slow icing,
Blocking sunlight, blanketing strife;
Under ice life slows, dead to light.

Trees stand like ghosts, great gods of wood,
Moss-bearded, snow tangled, trembling, taught;
Wind blown world, white under snow hood,
White death on branches, dragging down.

Trees crowned in white, silence surrounded,
Snow scorches cold, calm in the waste.
Colourless death, light and life hounded
Out from the earth in falling snowflakes.

Last libations of deadly life,
Snow falls forever; suffocates,
Covering lands, death only rife
In shadowless world, snow suffused.

Silent serpents softly sleeping,
Unemployed gardeners of death,
Their tasks completed, man reaping,
Peace resting under barren trees.

I wrote this in 12th grade when I was worried about nuclear war and fallout. My parents dug it up from somewhere and sent a copy, and I decided I’ll like to preserve it.

It’s somewhat apropos after Fukushima, though I think if I were to write it now it would be about environmental degradation. “Some say the world will end in fire…”

Fritillary hunt

April 17, 2011

A week and a half ago, when running down by the Grotto, I noticed fritilaries in bloom. I’d never seen them before (but then I don’t take that trail frequently), and there were only three plants blooming. I feared they might be rare, but found them beautiful. So yesterday I resolved to hike down to see if I could find them again.

I was a bit tired from Chardonnay, so I did not hurry. It’s a longish walk, but a pleasant one.

The scrub oaks were in “bloom”, or at least, they had their pollen streamers out on display. Some Indian Paintbrushes had come out since I’d been down the trail last — or perhaps it’s easier for me to notice them on a leisurely walk than at a run.

Tomcat clover has just started to bloom this year. It’s a strange little bloom, and it took me a while last year to figure out that it was a clover.

There were some new poppies here too. I checked, and they aren’t the standard “California Poppy”, but a congener, the “collarless California Poppy” (they lack a little ring underneath the flower). I’ve never seen a true California Poppy on our trails, and I wonder why not?

Just above Forbush is a patch of purple larkspurs. This patch always blooms before any others, and I always check it as I go down. It seemed in full bloom this afternoon with more blooms in evidence than last week. There were also some new larkspur shoots unfurling, these looked much sturdier than those around them, perhaps a different species. And then: one white bloom. In the middle of all the purple flowers here was a stem that only had one flower and that white.

Now there are white larkspurs in SB (though I’ve never seen them before). They are rare and grow in special soil. This one looked just like all the others around it (except for being white). It’s basal leaves were like all the others. I suspect it was an albino purple flower, but I can’t help wonder…

I only know of one Madrone in SB, and it’s at Forbush (well, a little up the creek from the campsite). The Madrone is a substantial tree in the same family as the Manzanitas. It looks like a huge Manzanita with the same red bark and the same shape of flower. I’ve been checking in on it over the last month to see how long it will bloom. I think this time might be the last I’ll see of blooms this year. It looks almost over.

As I climb out of Forbush I hear a strange banging above me. When I round a bend there are some people on the trail ahead hitting rocks with other rocks. It seems a strange occupation. When I come up to them they ask if I have a rock hammer and show the large fossil shell that is in a large rock. They have been hitting this rock in the hope of making it smaller so they can carry the shell home. I have no hammer, but I mention that I did see one back at the campsite.

And on down the other side. I come to the patch of locoweed. And suddenly I hear the rattlesnake. I look wildly, and find that I’ve already passed it. It’s quite large and is hiding under the locoweeds. So I keep going. I hope, when I come back it will have moved…

Finally I see a Fritilary plant. But it has no blooms. A little further though and I find some blooms. And as I look round I see more and more blooming plants. There must be 15 or so right here. I won’t have to go as far as I expected.

I spend some time with the plants and my cameras.

And then it is time to go back.

The rattlesnake has gone.

The rock-bashers are gone as well, but have left debris behind, so they probably extracted their fossil.

The white delphinium is still there. As enigmatic as ever.

I have been coming down the trail to Forbush for years now. There’s a little spiny plant on the side of the trail that I’ve always assumed to be a moss (it looks like a moss that lived in dry places back where I grew up), but today, when I glance at it I see there are tiny blooms amid the spines. I get down on my knees to peer at it (the blooms are very small). They really are small greenish-white flowers. With four petals. Not a moss then. Hmm. The stems are four sided.

It must be a bedstraw.

Now until this year I didn’t know what a bedstraw was. Or not exactly. It was a weed that popped up in English Lit from time to time, and that was all I had needed to know. But a month ago I was pondering a strange plant with a square stem surrounded by whorls of 8 leaves. It turned out to be common bedstraw. Then about a week ago I was hiking up San Ysidro and there was another bedstraw. Now here’s a third.

I go up a little further and notice a strange vine tangled in the leaves of a shrub, with flowers. As I bend to examine it I not the tell-tail square stem and greenish-white blooms. Yet another bedstraw.

I’m slowly learning to see those things which have been around me all along.

A race without a train

April 16, 2011

… can this blogpost hold
The viney fields of France? …

Ever hopeful I looked up what 80% would mean on a 10 mile race. That turned out to be a 6:21 pace. It didn’t seem impossible. Of course 6:21 seems a lot easier at mile four than it does at mile eight…

But then Mike told me to run the first 6 miles “controlled”, and then race. I’m not entirely sure what “controlled” means, but I’m pretty sure it does not mean 6:21 pace any longer. I thought 6:30s might be about right. After all, the real race is in two weeks, this is my last long hard run. I really should not be racing today.

I even meant it when I said it.

My legs have felt like lead weights all week. I started to wonder if I’d be able to hold 6:30s even… They didn’t seem to get any less tired as the week wore on.

We lined up at the start. Wally told people to let the fast guys be in front, but I couldn’t get anyone to move in front of me (I like to start on the second row, behind someone I know is faster than I. I’m not sure I belong in front any more).

Wally said GO, and we went.

Jessica seemed to be trying to hold the lead. She’ll just burn herself out doing that. I was so busy wondering about her that I failed to pay attention to myself. After a quarter mile or so I glanced down at my watch, which said I was running at a 5:30 pace. Gleep. I’ll just burn myself out doing that.

At the half mile mark it said 2:50. Sigh. It is surprisingly difficult to slow down. I ran the first mile in 6:10.

by Kevin Steele

A bunch of people passed me after I slowed, including two women. One of them had gone out too fast and I soon passed her back.

When I next looked at my watch it said I was going at a 6:40 pace since the 1 mile mark. Now that’s too slow. I think. Though it would be “controlled”. Anyway I speed up a bit and people stop passing me.

Two mile mark is just before Milpas, 6:24.

I do not seem to be in control today.

I don’t even notice the little hill near the bathhouse.

I pass a number of people now. I slowly catch up to Jessica. When I do, I suggest that she run with me. Instead she picks up her pace and tries to stay ahead. Silly. That just means I pass her in another half mile and she can’t even try to keep up then.

Even though it’s a warm day, I’ve just zipped through water stations without stopping.

At the three mile mark, 6:31. I finally got it right.

And then up the hill. Someone is catching up to me. I’m surprised by this. Usually this is where I pull ahead of people, but no, today someone is definitely running faster up the hill than I am. As he pulls abreast, I glance over. A guy in a white shirt. Not very informative, probably half the people are wearing white shirts, but that’s all I notice. We run together up the hill.

At the top we pass someone who sounds like he’s just finished racing a mile. Gasping breaths. I breath loudly when I run, maybe he does too, but he sounds as though he’s on his last legs. On the downhill I manage to get ahead of white shirt. On the flat by butterfly beach the gasper passes me, but on the next little bump of a hill I pass him back. And white shirt passes me. Grump.

Four miles is at the top of the hill: 6:26. Mmm. I guess I’m not doing what I was told.

And down to the Biltmore. There’s a water stop in front. I grab a cup, but so much spills when I pick it up that I only get a sip of water. Perhaps that’s for the best though, it means I don’t choke as I sometimes have.

And up to the train tracks. Freight trains have no schedule, and they can come through at any time, so this is a somewhat worrisome point. They will not stop for us. But today there is no train, and I zip across and then wind into the side streets of Montecito.

About 1/3 mile from the turn around I start to see returning runners. Kyle perhaps? Then Tim. Eric. pause… Mike. pause… Fred, strangers… Kent. Eric (different Eric). lead woman.

There’s a clump of four runners about 10 feet in front of me.

The turn-around is a cone. I don’t like these abrupt U turns, I run a bit to the side so I won’t cut it so sharply. And in all the excitement I forget to click my watch. Jessica’s father cheers me on.

Oh. I’m now running uphill. I have less breath to cheer the people behind me. Jessica. Then Laura. Jerry, Megan. There are cars wandering around here. One seems to be trying to block Stuart, Kim and Maggie.

I turn a corner and a car is suddenly in front of me too. I squeeze over.

Back to the train tracks. No train. Yay!

I approach the water stop, but now the on-coming race is in full flow and the stop is far too crowded for me to attempt to get water. One volunteer carrying a couple of cups rushes across the on-coming stream so as to be able  to hand water from the other side. Unfortunately he doesn’t think to look for returning racers and stops right in my way.

And now up the little hill, and here’s the 4/6 mile mark: 12:49 (two miles since I forgot to click at 5). I’m supposed to run faster now. I don’t know if I can. Down, and up again. On this uphill the four runner clump separates into two two runner clumps and I pass the slower of the two. I’m slowly catching up to white shirt (who was in the other clump).

At the 3/7 mark: 6:23. Well, I guess it’s a little faster, but then it was mostly a downhill mile. I’m not sure if that counts, but it makes me feel better.

White shirt is now a few feet in front of me, and we seem to be maintaining that as we go along. Beyond him is a guy with no shirt.

Up the little hill to the bath house. I’m starting to wish the race were over. I’m tired and it’s hard to hold onto the pace. My legs are feeling sorry for themselves.

I get another sip of water.

Where is the 8 mile mark? We leave the road and turn onto bike path. Oh. There it is. 6:27. Sigh. Sorry Mike, I guess I’m not picking up the pace.

It’s hot out here today. Or it’s hot if you are racing in the sun. It’s almost 9am, but the sun is strong.

My legs continue to feel sorry for themselves.

White shirt is pulling ahead of the guy with no shirt, and I realize it is Eric. Eric should be faster than I. After a bit, I come up to him. I intend to say “Come on Eric, you know you’re faster than me.” But what comes out is more like “Cmmmnnric, yanow yr fsr nme”. Still it seems to be enough. Eric picks up his pace and leaves me behind again.

Not far behind, but behind.

Here’s the wharf, and not far beyond, mile 9. 6:23. That’s nice. I guess trying to catch Eric helped me.

Only a mile left. A little early for me to try and move faster. I hear two sets of footfalls behind me. So I do move a little faster. We are weaving in and out among walkers and cyclists. With about half a mile to go the two footfalls suddenly speed up. First one, and then the other passes me, and then passes Eric.

Eric passes a guy in a blue shirt. I think it might be Bill, but decide probably not. I pass blue shirt. I’m too tired now to check his face to see who it might be. And after my “success” with Eric, I don’t want to encourage anyone else to pick up his pace by showing him who is passing.

Past the Coast Guard.

Through the parking lot.

Around the bathroom. Around the cafe.

Now I can see the finish line. 1:03:31 reads the clock. It looks a long way off still, but I push a little more, hoping that I’ll break 64 minutes. I come closer, and the time inexorably counts up, but I think I cross the line with 4 seconds to spare.

Kent hands me a cup of water.

It was Bill.

1:03:56. 79.5%

Two Graphs

April 11, 2011

I’ve been meaning to produce little graphs show age related decline in running (based on the 2006 WAVA tables), and I finally got around to doing it.

Age is shown on the horizontal axis (in years), while the vertical axis shows a percentage of the runner’s best time. The blue line is for men, the red for women (the light red line shows women compared to a man’s best time, instead of to her own).

1 Mile


Now if you look at the first graph, for the mile, both sexes have a long peak in their twenties and then begin a long, slow decline. The decline appears basically linear and it is very similar for the two sexes.

The marathon graph looks weird though.

People have been racing the mile distance forever. The Greek Olympics had races ranging from 200m to a 5K (roughly). Presumably we know how to do it.

But a 42K footrace is a relatively new idea. It started with the first of the modern Olympics. Oh, of course it commemorated the runner who announced the winner of the battle of Marathon — but that wasn’t a race. There’s a big difference between running 40K and racing it. And women have only been allowed to race marathons since 1980 or so.

My first thought was that older women just don’t have the training to run marathons well. They weren’t allowed to when they were young, so how could they?

But it’s not the women’s graph that looks odd, it’s the men’s. The marathon is the distance at which women come closest to men (The women’s world record for the marathon is 92% of the men’s record, while the women’s mile record is 89%).

Perhaps men haven’t figured out how to run the marathon yet, and only the 75 year old runners among us know how to do it right?

World Masters’ Track Meet

April 3, 2011

I was thinking that this summer I should try to see what I could do in the 10K again. I lost some of this motivation when I ran Orchard to Ocean at more than 80% (Since I’ve never run at 81%, I sort of see 80% as my limit). Not all of my motivation, but some.

Rusty, of course, says I can do better.

Anyway the world masters’ track meet has been in the back of my mind ever since John B brought it to my attention. The good thing about the meet is that it is in Sacramento, and so close. The bad thing about the meet is that it is in Sacramento in July and so hot.

That pretty much sums things up.

I’m not a big fan of running on the track. Hated it in High School, never done it since. But they have a 10K. A 10K on the track. Never done one. That’s 25 laps. It’ll probably be dull. Wouldn’t I lose count? How embarrassing to stop after 24 laps…

A 10K on the track. Never done one. I could probably go faster than I could on the road. It might be interesting… you know… just to see what I could do…

There’s also a marathon. Now a marathon in Sacramento in July just seems silly.

Then of course there are my competitors. Each registrant puts down a time. I’ve not been able to find a definition of this time. Is it a time you have run in a recent race? Your best time ever? What you expect to run in Sacramento? The time your brother in law ran? When I first looked there were three people registered in my age group. One had posted a time of 31:57. Way out of my league. But the other two were much more comforting: 38:15 and 39:00. My 38:28 at Orchard to Ocean looked reasonable. Since then more people have registered. A 33, a 34, a 35 and another 39. I’m not going to win, but I probably won’t be last. I won’t be a ludicrous entrant.

I checked with Fred Mellon. He’s doing the 5K, not the 10K.

I’ll be 52. In the middle of my age group. This puts me at a disadvantage against 50 year-olds. I’ve gained about 20~30 seconds in the last 2 years. Of course, I’m at an unfair advantage against the 54 year olds…

Still it would be fun to be able to say that I competed at the world level. (And didn’t lose).

There’s still the worry about the heat.

They haven’t posted a schedule, and they won’t until after registration closes (I guess they won’t know how many heats they need until they find how many have registered, and so can’t schedule in advance). It’s annoying. If I knew the race would be at 4am I wouldn’t worry about the heat. If I knew it were at 2pm I wouldn’t bother registering. They do promise that the long distance events will be “in the morning.” What’s that mean? 6am? or 11am? If my race is divided into heats, I assume I shall be in the slowest. I assume the fastest runners will get to run when it’s coolest, and us slowpokes will run in the heat (we won’t be setting world records, so we don’t need the cool, at least that’s how I’d feel if I were race director).

Yesterday was foggy and cool. I was running with Mike Shalhoob and he was being encouraging (Mike is in his low 30s so not eligible as a master, Mike is also fast, so it’s kind of him to encourage). It was foggy and cool. July heat did not seem like such a bad idea.

I went home and signed up.

I can always change my mind later…