A dry history of Semana Nautica 15K

The other day I asked John Brennand if he would loan me results from Semana-Nautica 15K for the 90s (I wanted to add them to the online SBAA database). Instead he gave me all the results he had, stretching back to 1955.

First thought: I wasn’t even born then!

In 1955 there were 13 finishers and the winning time was 52:46 and all of the top ten finished in under an hour (77%). In 2011 there were 286 finishers and the winning time was 48:33 and the top 20 finished in under an hour (7%). In that first decade the best time was 45:59, a time that has not been attained (or even approached) in the last decade — the recent best is 47:10 in 2005. There weren’t many people running then, but the ones who did run were fast.

Race entries seem to have been more formal in the ’50s. Practically everyone is identified by middle initial. In 1955 one gentleman was named “Philip S. Clarke Jr.”, but a decade later in 1965 he had morphed into “Phil Clarke”.

They don’t bother to add people’s ages on the result forms for the first decade. I guess that means everybody is young. The first ages seem to appear in 1968 and then only for masters runners (called veterans in those days). In 1969 there was a separate race for masters runners. In 1970 ages start to appear for non-masters runners and some are marked as “HS” (High School). Real age divisions first appear in 1979.

The race was originally a “team” race. Almost all runners were associated with a team and teams racked up points the way teams still do in cross country races. In the 70s teams are broken down by ages (So SBAA might field an Open team and a masters team). The last mention of teams was in 1979, and in 1980 only division results appeared. John Brennand has been trying recently to reintroduce teams.

Oh. And there are no women at first. None. It took a while for me to notice the absence. It’s not just that there is no m/f on the results forms… there are just no women’s names until maybe 1970.

In 1970 Lynn Buehler ran in 52:33. Lynn is ambiguous as to sex, though to me it usually means a woman. 52:33 is pretty fast for a woman, not completely impossible, but it is a faster time than any (other) woman has run in this race… Probably not.

In 1971 there are definitely three women in the race (out of 113 finishers). They are marked as “W” in the results. One is Vicki Foltz (1:00:58), Sue Delapa (1:11:46) and Cindy Pyle (1:13:09). And after that the number increases (almost) steadily.

Title IX passed in 1972, I wonder if there’s a connection?

It must have taken some courage to be one of those first few women…

Number of runners.
The bar graphs represent the total, the blue line is the number of male runners and the red line the number of female.
(I have no data for the two years 1964 and 1966)

The percentage of women runners has risen fairly steadily until it now hovers around 50%

As might be expected the course has changed over the years. For the first dozen years (through 1967) the race ran through the UCSB campus and made a double loop around the airport. In 1965 the course was lengthened by 30 yards (for two reasons, 1) this took into account tangents, 2) courses are supposed to be .1% longer than the actual distance to guard against measurement errors). Between 1968 and 1980 the course started and finished at San Marcos High School. In 1981 the start was moved to San Simeon Dr. and has been essentially the same ever since, though there have been some slight wiggles since then.

The men’s record stands at 45:14 and was set by Gary Tuttle in 1982 (his 6th win). The women’s record is 55:00 and is shared by Debra Sharp in 1986 (her first of three wins) and Linda Somers-Smith in 2003.

Winning times. Again blue for men and red for women.

We (men) don’t run as well as we used to

Steve Bertrand asked me about masters times:

This made me wonder about the percentage of masters runners:

The results from the earlier years didn’t record people’s ages (I presume that means they were almost all young), so this graph starts at 1975 when ages were fairly well recorded. The black line represents the percentage runners of both sexes who are 40 or over, the blue male masters, and the red female masters. As you can see more than half of the runners are now masters, and about 2/3s of the men are. Interestingly that the percentage of masters women is less than that of masters men.

Similar graph for 50 and over:

The winners have slowed a bit, but the percentage for people who can ran fast has fallen by a lot more. We’ve gone from having three quarters of the runners under an hour to having fewer than a tenth. Of course now-a-days the race has a wide range of ages (and both sexes) running, while that was not true back in the 50s. But age- and sex-grading should take that into account. So in the following graph the black line is the percentage of runners who broke an hour, while the grey line represents the age/sex-graded percentage who broke an hour (that is comparing a runner’s actual time against the world record for his/her age, and then extrapolating from that to how s/he would have run had s/he been a 25 year old male).

As you can see, even with age/sex-grading there has been a steady decline in speed.

John Voorhis points out that fast runners still exist — they just don’t bother to come up to Santa Barbara to race. To some extent this is true. Races have proliferated over the last half century. In the 50s this race was mostly filled with runners from LA, now it is mostly full of runners from SB. However it is also true that there were some very fast runners in SB itself in the 60s, 70s and 80s but now no one seems to be racing at that level.


One Response to “A dry history of Semana Nautica 15K”

  1. Tracy Sulkin Says:

    Someone by the name of Lynn Buehler ran the Mt. Baldy Run-to-the-Top in 1:21:30, which was better than most. The men’s overall winner came in at 1:08:24. I suspect that Lynn Buehler is male.

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