Why…?

I was telling Rusty that I’d found Nash‘s name in an old race. He asked me how Nash had done, and I didn’t remember. Then he asked me why I was collecting old race results if I weren’t interested in them.

I hadn’t thought of it in that light. Clearly I wasn’t interested in how Nash (or anyone else in that race) had done, but just as clearly I was working hard to preserve those very data I didn’t care about.

Well I was raised in a family of librarians and historians. The act of preserving data is a desideratum all by itself to a librarian. Finding old data is what historians do. To me it just seemed natural to track these down and preserve them. Especially now, before the people who might have collected these data die off.

I started collecting when I realized that many people I knew had been running in SB in the 90s and the online results only went back to the start of the website in about 2002 (which was when I started running here; at first that was all I cared about). So I thought it would be a good idea to find results from the 90s so that my friends would have more complete access to their old data.

I also had the vague intention that I could keep track of course records of races and things like that which might be useful to race directors.

Then when John handed me all the Semena Nautica results back to 1955 suddenly I saw more possibilities. In the microcosm of that one race I could watch how the sport of running had changed over the decades. In the 50s the race only had about 10 finishers but it drew runners from all over southern california, all young and fast. In the 60s it gradually grew, attracting masters runners too. In the early 70s women first appeared, and in the late 70s I could see the first running boom happen, while in the 80s the race unboomed and shrank to less than half its peak (though still twice the size it was in 1970). Since then the percentage of women has risen, the percentage of out of town contestants had declined, and the “quality” of the race (as determined by the average age graded percentage) has declined.

Now I want to get my hands on the early days of the SB Marathon, or the AAU One Hour run, or some other race that goes back to the 60s so I can see how those changes might have affected them too.

In 1965 John started the SB Marathon and there were 17 finishers; in 1984 John stopped the SB Marathon because there wasn’t enough interest in it. Yet there were 114 finishers that year. What had changed?

I have become fascinated by these changes though I wasn’t initially looking for them. By accumulating data, trends become apparent which would otherwise be hidden. This is the job of any researcher in any serious field.

Now. Back to work. I’m transcribing the 1980 Jim Ryun runs.

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One Response to “Why…?”

  1. Tone Says:

    “Why” is always a tough question. Why does anyone do anything? There is always a reason, although it might not be known without thinking about it. I like the direction you took this.

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