The decline of Chardonnay

I have run Chardonnay four times over the last decade. I ran my slowest time this year — but my place in the race was highest. This made me look at where I would have placed in other years if I ran as slowly as I did this year. Over the years there has been less and less competition. Some of this is explained by the decrease in the number of runners, but even if I correct for that factor there is still a large decrease — by a factor of 2.

Year Time Place Place of
# Runners Adjusted
Place of
2003 1:04:15 33 40 604 25
2008 1:02:09 19 31 444 26
2011 1:03:56 13 17 540 13
2014 1:05:00 12 12 377 12

Chardonnay has been run yearly since 1978, and the course has always been along the waterfront though there have been differences in how far the race goes into Montecito or the Mesa. It has changed its name a couple of times. But basically it has remained the same race.

In 1978 the race was won with a time of 52:01, and there were 15 runners under an hour (that’s out of 134 runners total, so more than 11%). In 2014 the race was won with 57:50 and there were 3 runners under an hour (out of 377, so less than 1%).

I took the Chardonnay winning times over the years and fit a line to them (using a least squares fit). Then men’s winning time has increased by about 6.8 seconds a year (or about 4:10 over the full 37 years), while the women’s winning time has increased by about 1.7 seconds (or about a minute over 37 years).

Chardonnay Winning Times

So the winning times, especially the men’s have gotten significantly worse over the years, but perhaps this is misleading. As we age we slow. And women are slower than men. Maybe there are more women running now (there are) and more older people (also true). Age grading the results (expressing them as a percentage of world record times for a given age and sex) should account for both of those.
Chardonnay Average Age Graded
The above graph shows the average age graded percentage of runners over the years (men in blue, women red, combined black), and even accounting for the above two factors people are just running less well than they used to.

Now if this were a problem of Chardonnay alone I wouldn’t be worried. But it isn’t. It’s a general problem, both here in Santa Barbara, and in the US in general.

I looked at Nite/Night Moves 5K as well. Now Nite Moves started in 1989 and currently has 18 races over the course of the summer. The course has always been the same. The following is a graph of its finishing times


Here I have fit the results with two lines for each sex, the full line shows the trend for all the winning times, while the dashed line shows the trend for the best winning time for each year. Here the men’s winning times increase by 5 seconds a year, while the best winning time increases by only .8 seconds per year. With the women, their winning times increase by 3.5 seconds a year while the best times actually decrease by .8 seconds.

Again, probably the best thing to look at is the age-graded percentage

NM Age GradedAnd here again there is a decline (The blank areas of the graph represent years for which I have no data).

The only conclusion I can draw is that we (as a population) are not trying as hard as we were. I don’t think we train as hard as we used to.

This is not simply a matter of numbers. Chardonnay started with 95 runners in 1977, climbed up to 1080 in 1992 and then decreased to 377 in 2014, yet through-out this period there has been a steady decline in speed.

Some people have objected that it’s not that people aren’t trying, we are just doing other things. To me that is an explanation for why we are not trying, but not a counter-argument. Nor is it that people have now do more races out of town — we’ve always done out of town races. People have always gone off to do Boston, etc. Others have suggested that we aren’t as fit as we were 40 years ago, and this, I fear, may be true…

†Actually the first running of Chardonnay (or Winter Runs as it then was) was in 1977, but it was an 8.5 mile race. Everything since then has been 10 miles so I’m ignoring that first year.

Correction 25 May: When I first wrote the post I assumed that the run in 1977 was the same distance as all subsequent runs; going back to the original documents I see that was not the case. The current post reflects this. The conclusions are unchanged.


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