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Monday, April 27, 2009

London 2009 revisited

London 2009, on closer inspection

Yesterday's London Marathon closed off the big marathons for the next few months, and we now get to look forward to the Fall season, with Berlin (times two, with the IAAF World champs there as well), Chicago and New York the highlights to come. But now might be a good time to look back over the last month or so of marathon racing, which has been enthralling and high quality.

First came the "weekend that changed marathon running forever", when Rotterdam saw two men race to 2:04:27 times. That a man can lose a marathon running that time says something about where we are in the sport today. This was followed by the Paris Marathon, where the course record was broken (2:05:47) and another five men broke 2:07. All in all, 13 Kenyan men broke 2:09 on one day, and people spoke of the new dawn for the marathon.

It was perhaps inevitable, when you look at the half-marathon, where sub-60 minute times are now commonplace. Eventually, this kind of speed would impact on the marathon, and we're seeing a different pattern of racing emerging - competitive races are now being run aggressively, with favourites hitting the front earlier and harder than I can recall. There was a time when a record attempt was a record attempt - Gebrselassie in Berlin keeps this tradition alive - and a race was bound to be slow and tactical. But Beijing last year, Wanjiru in London, even Hall in Boston, have shown that competitive racing is now aggressive racing, and that has changed the face of the marathon.

Boston and London were actually quite similar in this regard. In Boston, the fast early pace (albeit on a downhill part of the course) was created by Ryan Hall, and then when it began to slow, Deriba Merga threw in surges over the Newton Hills to break the field open at about 30km. Yesterday in London, the pace was set, ridiculously fast, by the pacemakers, before Sammy Wanjiru blew the race open with a 4:25 mile, at roughly the corresponding distance to where Merga made his move.

The pacing strategy - great for a race, not for a time

One thing I can say with pretty high certainty is that this kind of racing strategy is not conducive to optimal performance. I know that is picking holes, given that Wanjiru broke the course record, but the way the race was run is certainly not how anyone should aspire to run for a fast time.

Yesterday, I compared Wanjiru's winning run in London to Gebrselassie's world record, and it was quite clear how the better pacing of Gebrselassie told in the second half of the race.

To look at this a little more in detail, I have put together the following diagram. It shows the gap between Gebrselassie (in green) and Wanjiru (in red), at 5km intervals during the marathon. Obviously, we're comparing London to Berlin here, so it's not a direct comparison, but it illustrates the point quite clearly.


It's pretty obvious that Wanjiru went out way too fast, and built up a lead of 51 seconds over Gebrselassie at the 15km point. From then on, though, it got progressively smaller and smaller, until eventually Geb "took over the lead" just before 30km. If it were possible to super-impose the races, it would have made for great TV as Geb would have come up onto Wanjiru's shoulder at about 29km and then begun to move steadily away!

But what is interesting is that the biggest gap of all comes between 35km and 40km. That's where Gebrselassie, you'll recall from Berlin last year, put the hammer down and really created the sub-2:04 time (which up to that point had been an outside shot). He ran that interval in 14:29, whereas Wanjiru, despite having Kebede right behind him, ran a 15:14 interval. That was where the real effect of those first 10km told, because all through the race, gaps were opening up big time in this section. In the end, like in Beijing, Wanjiru got the closest to an "even-split": his first half was 61:36, and his second 63:34. That's a positive split of close to 2 minutes. Gebrselassie ran a "negative split" by 7 seconds!

A super-fast start, combined with the surges at 28 to 30km all add up, and that's why if you want a world record, you really have to have the right day, at the right pace, in the right race situation. Whether Wanjiru will ever get that, time will tell!

The pace - some questions

Speaking of super-fast pace, I'm still confused as to what was going on in the men's race yesterday. The first mile was run in 4:38, which already projects a sub-2:02 time. Now, I'm led to believe that the clock on the car right in front of the runners was showing them the time, and was giving a PROJECTED time. This means that within the first 5 minutes of the race, the elite men MUST have known that they were going at 2-hour pace. By 5km, in 14:08, they'd have seen that they were on for a 1:59 marathon.

Now, why someone did not signal for a slowing down is beyond me. We know this didn't happen, because the second 5km interval was run in 14:22, which is still too fast - the target time per 5km interval would have been 14:42. So they have "ignored" the signs at 1 mile, 2 miles, 5km and all the way through to 10km, and so it is amazing to have heard Wanjiru say that he hopes for "better pace-making" next time. I find it absolutely extra-ordinary that not a single person, not a pace-maker, not an elite athlete, not an agent, not the race director, would have at some point in the first 5 minutes sent a signal to ease off.

Therefore, I'm left to make the same conclusion that Amby Burfoot made in his comment to our post yesterday, that this was a deliberate, stated instruction. Perhaps these races are sending the pace-makers out too fast, trying to capitalize on slight downhill sections, and hoping that athletes hang on long enough to keep the advantage.

Unfortunately, this flies in the face of everything we know about optimal pacing. That is, if you want to run the best time, you must aim for even pace. That's been pretty well shown in lab studies and by Gebrselassie in his two world records. So someone is missing a trick if the instruction is to go out too fast. Hopefully, lessons will be learned for the future. It did make for a super-exciting second half of the race though, because a progressively slowing pace sets it up perfectly for aggressive surges.

Sammy Wanjiru - fearless and fearsome

And aggressive surges are the name of the game for Sammy Wanjiru. Last year in Beijing, he set the race up by hitting the first 10km at sub 3min/km pace, despite the heat and smog and humidity. Then he threw in surges in the second half, at that pace in those conditions! It was the greatest marathon performance ever. London yesterday saw Wanjiru race the same way - surging off the front off a fast pace, from a long way out.

I am loathe to describe Wanjiru as "gutsy" because I've always felt that "gutsy" implies that the person lacks some talent, but makes up for it with courage and heart. Wanjiru, by that definition, is not gutsy, because he has extra-ordinary talent. But he's absolutely fearless, so aggressive and courageous with the attacks. It really is a wonderful sight. When Kebede seemed to be reeling him back at 40km, he found another surge and the gap was created for good. It's brilliant racing, and one wonders whether anyone in the world could match it? Lel, perhaps - big disappointment that he couldn't race. Merga is a guy who seems to race the Wanjiru way, that would be a fabulous race! Gebrselassie? Can't say I'd back him against what we saw yesterday.

Zersenay Tadese - back to the drawing board

Finally, a word on Tadese, the debutant who carried much hope into the race. He eventually bailed at 35km, after running the interval from 30km to 35km in 16:47. It was a forgettable first marathon for the half-marathon world champion. I'm not sure whether he might have had a problem, but I was really surprised that he folded as early as he did.

Once could blame the fast early pace, and the distance, but the fact remains - he didn't make 30km with the other 6 guys, most of whom he is at least equal to over 21km. That's not the marathon distance that undid him, it's 28km, which shouldn't happen.

Now, I'd fully expected that he's struggle in the final 3 or 4km, that is where the distance will tell on the novice. But at 30km, he should have been able to hang for a little longer. Consider that his 10km best is more recent and just as fast as anyone else's, his 21km performances are at least as good as everyone with the expection of Wanjiru, and yet he was blown right off at 28km. Perhaps something went wrong in the training?

Hopefully he'll be back. What he needs now is to find a second-tier marathon, and get a 2:06 time under his belt, learn the race a little, and then hopefully return to a major in the future with a little more nous and experience, and maybe he'll turn his 21km performances into marathon greatness. Bad marathons happen, perhaps he just got his worst one out the way early!

Looking ahead

That's a wrap of London. Looking ahead, the track season starts soon, and so do the Grand Tours of cycling, which should provide some debate. We've also got our analysis of the Michael Ashenden interview to do, and I'm sure more will come up!

But bring on the Fall season!

Ross

27 Comments:

Doug said...

I'm certainly no expert on Marathon strategy, but my guess would be that somebody told the pacemakers to go out too fast for a reason. They weren't looking for a world record, they were looking to decimate the field. If Wanjiru & his agent set the pacemaking strategy, isn't it possible that they would say, we don't care about the record, we want a win? It's posssible that more than one of the field was in on this decision. All 3 of the Beijing finalists are apparently suited to this kind of race, and you say that you think Lel would have had a chance to hang on, so there's 4 big favorites who might have a stake in this strategy. Further, it worked to shake the debutant, who everybody may have been worried about, so maybe they got exactly what they wanted.

Of course, I don't know how these decisions are made. Is it up to the organizers? If so, do the organizers have a strong interest in having the record? Is that interest stronger than having a good race? Can athletes hire pacemakers to set the pace they want to see? There's a lot about this sport at the elite level that I don't understand as well as I do the strategy of a sport like cycling. Maybe you should do a post on the "business" side of the marathon & how it affects strategy. Not sports science necessarily, but it fits with your athlete management angle.

Keep up the good work,

Doug

Vanilla said...

To me, this all begs the question of whether anyone would ever be able to employ Gebrselassie's pacing strategy from Berlin against the type of aggressive strategy that we saw in London. Would it work? Will we ever see anyone try it?

BFW said...

I don't understand running strategy (I was a thrower in high school).

In cycling (e.g. Tour de France), they're never really cycling for a best time, it's all about winning (no real WRs). And I can follow some of the strategy there.

You set up a chart showing Gebrselassie and Wanjiru's times. What would happen if we actually had that match-up? Let's say you have Wanjiru racing his strategy (open really fast, slow, and surge at end), versus Gebrselassie (and presumably some pacers) running "his race".

Could such a race happen? Is it just too difficult for the Gebrselassie character to keep his pace and not get sucked into keeping up with the pace of a valid challenger?

Gebrselassie (in green) and Wanjiru

Rod said...

I can only guess what the pacemakers were told or why Wanjiru didn't slow the fast pace down, but if I were to speculate I'd say the build up and excitement leading up to the start of the event together with the egos of the elite runners, not to mention the quality athletes in the field, meant that rational thinking went out the window once the starters gun went off.

After 5k, the thought process in the minds of the runners was probably: "we're on track to run under 2 hours! let's keep this up (or run faster)".

That sums up how Wanjiru runs, maybe it's also how he thinks?

We know this was scientifically unlikely (impossible?), yet the mindset of athletes can defy logic in times of excitement :)

Or maybe it was just a poor pacing strategy.

I am a competitive runner and something I've witnessed is that quite often, talented athletes, although they tend to win a lot of races and are highly regarded, aren't necessarily the most knowledgeable when it comes to optimum pacing tactics.

oliver said...

Would the RD be more interested in a WR for London or would he prefer a very cmpetitive race for TV?

That may answer whether they had "instructed" that pace, or just allowed it to happen.

Secondly, as Doug said, Wanjiru knows that an even pace would bring others (inc Tadese) into the equation until late in the race, whereas he knows that he can handle a fast start, then 'recover' mid race and surge again.
He won't want to put himself into a position (again) where he gets outkicked...he wants to win first, record second.

Isn't it great to be talking 'marathon nuances' with other 'scholars of the sport' ...most of one's friends think watching a marathon is like watching paint dry...but we know different.

Keep up the marathon topics.

cheers

oliver said...

...forgot to add:

Rod, I would give them more credit on pacing.
I doubt Wanjiru would have thought "wow we are going to get sub 2" . He would have rather thought " I know we can't go sub 2, but the longer it keeps going the more will get dropped later and I believe that I can recover and surge again"

cheers

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi everyone

Thanks for the cool discussion. One by one, my thoughts:

First, to Doug:

It may be that they decided to forgo the WR and rather race. It's just that all press conferences and media content before the race was around the record. I know that talk is cheap and this may be part of the plan, but I don't think that the individual (Wanjiru, in this case) would be able to direct what pace is set - it would be a decision by the race organizers. And i honestly believe they wanted the pace to be even at 14:40-per 5km, so that the record would fall.

It's far more prestigious, and thus more valuable, to have a WR set than to see a competitive race (for the non-running community, that is). If you think for a moment about the media coverage provided - if a record is set, the race gets more media coverage in the "non-traditional sources" than if it's a great race, but no record. So I'm quite sure that London would have liked a record.

Having said that, once the gun goes off, i guess the athletes on the road dictate the terms! And then maybe you're right, they decided to race it that way specifically to win the race. funny then that Wanjiru's first comments after the race were to do with the pacemakers and how next time, he hopes they do a better job! Who knows? The nuances are impossible to guess at! It's fun trying though!

To Vanilla:

That's a really interesting one. One interesting observation from London is that the second group on the road never really made an impression on the first, so despite starting slower (and more sensibly), we didn't see a single athlete from that second group close down on the leaders. now, obviously, the calibre of athlete in that second group has a lot to do with this, but there were some really good runners there. i'd have thought that one or two might finish strongly.

If you put Gebrselassie there, though, then it might be different. If he stood on the start line and said "I'm running 14:45 per 5km" and then did it, he'd finish in 2:04:20-odd, which would of course win the race. But that's easier said than done. It would be pretty cool to see it happen though, make for an exciting race. Not many elite athletes do this though.

To BFW:
Much the same as i've written above. It would be quite something to see, but you're right, it's probably too difficult to ignore what's happening around and to run your own race at this kind of level. Remember Ryan Hall in beijing? He tried it, but once off the back, he could never come back. And as I said to Vanilla above, the same happened in London - not one of the guys who went out in 63 minutes was able to hold it together and finish, even in 2:07. That's pretty strange, because there were athletes in that second bunch who should have been able to run even splits. I don't have an answer for this, but I suspect you're right.

To Rod:

You may be right about one thing - the instinctive racing character of these guys could well take over. And perhaps they just get "caught up in the race", I don't know. Their training is like that, I believe, where they just race each other all the time, so it's so natural for them to run as they feel, rather than to a schedule. And then with all the race excitement, plus a fast start, i can easily see how the momentum would continue and they kind of 'snowball' out of control, pace-wise!

Finally, to oliver:

I think for the race, the WR is more valuable, because it attracts more attention from the non-running media. A good race is great for us running enthusiasts, but we're a "narrow group", unfortunately.

So the plan would have been developed around the WR. But, once the gun goes off, then it's on the road, and I suspect the athletes take over, so all those well-laid plans go out the window!

As for Wanjiru, that's a good point. I can't think of many runners who seem capable of handling surges as well as he does. I don't know what the physiology of that is, but the ability to recover at 3min/km, so that you can throw in a surge at 2:50/km is quite amazing. The only other guy who races this way is Deriba Merga. So one can expect any race Wanjiru runs in to be full of these surges.

THanks for the comments and debate!
Ross

Anonymous said...

Hi,

great post

Two remarks:

First, believe it or not, I think that Sammy was intending a sub 2:03:00 pace! As far as I know, he only raced Granollers and Lisbon HMs. Great circuits for a great record, but he did aprox 1:01:30. I know that the night before Granollers he told the organizers he was going to race in 1:01. Lisbon was the same. I think that they were MP races.

Second, that's only an opinion, if you have the better UAn and you are adapted to the distance, I think is a better strategy to run a quicker first half in order to smash your opponents, who have a worse HM time, but a better end speed. The same for the newcomer.

Regarding Tadesse, I think that nowadays it is very difficult to be in cross WCh top form and in marathon top form in a so close time gap.

Ray said...

Hi Guys,

At the risk of exposing my naivety, this seems a good place to bring up a question that's been nagging me: Why do race tactics work? or Why do elite runners need rabbits?

For lack of a better phrase, it seems "weak minded" to get sucked into racing someone elses race. I would think that at the elite level, they have the experience to pace themselves, and know, with some precision, when things are too fast or too slow.

As you said, everyone must have known quite early the pace was too fast to hang on. You don't need a car with a big clock, just a watch.

It would have been interesting to see someone like Goumri hold back while the others beat themselves up, and then put his head down to close the gap after 30km. But, since come from behind marathon victories rarely happen anymore, one has to wonder, because the mind is a complicated thing, if such a tactic is possible, or does it demand too much mental strength?

So Ross and Jonathon, another candidate for in-depth evaluation -- the gray area in our gray matter which determines how races are won and lost.

Rod said...

Ray, that is a great point. For some reason, once a runner loses touch with the lead pack, you rarely see him claw his way back. But why?

oliver: I'm still not ready to give Wanjiru full credit on pacing... just yet. He is a wonderfully talented athlete, but his racing style seems more instinctive than logical to me. Not that it's not brutally effective for winning races, but as we've seen with the comparison to Gebrselassie's pacing strategy, is not the way to go about breaking the world record.

You may well be right about him changing from "pacing" to "racing" mode, especially against the threats of Tadese and others, but I'm not so sure he didn't have the world record at the back of his mind too, even at that suicidal pace.

Whether he is aware of how he needs to run or not, he has yet to prove he can settle into that consistent "time-trial" pace needed for a WR.

But I guess it's a hard to run smart when the pace makers get excited and the rest of the field gets sucked along.

Perhaps also London it is not the best scenario for setting a WR with such a high quality field competing hard against each other.

He probably needs a low-key field with a group of pace makers who can do their job, the right conditions and as few other distractions as possible.

Wow, this has been a long reply. It probably sounds like I'm trying to knock the guy, but I'm not. I think he's an amazing athlete with - as someone mentioned, the ability to withstand brutal surges like few others.

BridgeportJoe said...

Great spring season coverage. Much appreciated.

I'm curious to see how the elites sort themselves into the fall marathons. You've got the WC in August, Berlin (again) in September, Chicago in October and New York in November. My guess is that Geb picks whichever Berlin race Wanjiru doesn't run (I suspect that he doesn't want ANYTHING to do with those tactics), Lel goes for the WC (especially if Wanjiru is doing this one), both good Cheruyiots and Hall run Chicago*, and Merga and Kebede try to double in the WC and NYC.

And don't be bashful about calling Wanjiru "gutsy." He's a short, stocky Luo in a country filled with tall, thin Kalenjin runners. I suspect that he's had to prove himself every time he runs for most of his life -- you can tell he has an enormous chip on his shoulder. What an incredible, fascinating young man.

* These three really want a piece of me. Meaning that after they run their 2:05s, they can have some water, give an interview or two, pick up their prizes, then meet me for their cooldown jogs as I try to waddle to the finish before the big ol' "2" on the clock flips to a "3."

Mircea said...

But this question has to be answered: why can't they control themselves and run smart? If you know the pace is suicidal, you can let yourself drop one minute by the half marathon and then have enough to finish one minute ahead! The speeds are low, and the field is huge, so there is no problem in finding "shelter" so you could get drafted almost all the way to the finish, like in cycling. Hell, affluent runners could hire a rabbit for the job!(What do you think about it, Ross?)

On another note, how do they pace themselves in marathons? From what I have seen, many don't use cardio monitors, I don't blame them, they can be uncomfortable. And also remember that stop-watches are not effective unless you time short intervals like 100m. It is easy to get over enthusiastic and notice it only once every 5k. Not an issue with London, but what about Boston and it's elevation changes?

All in all, Ross, your post as well as many comments here suggest the idea that this race by the gut-feelings is non-optimal and when somebody paces according to a plan, rather than by observing the main contenders, he would outclass the field!

I feel that some prominent marathon runner should try this strategy sometime, but since you can only run as many marathons per year, nobody would risk compromising a single race! And maybe that is why they are all conservative and stick to what they think about "racing".

미르차

Lesser Idiot said...

Mircea,

you don't KNOW the pace is suicidal.

Ryan Hall thought the olympic pace was suicidal, and so did the announcers, but they were wrong.

You have to make a call, do I hang on to this group, which SEEMS to be suicidal, or do I find out if I am a bit more fit than I thought, and maybe win?

cest la marathon

Lesser Idiot said...

Also you have to remember that drafting behind someone at a suicidal pace may not be that much different than pushing the air yourself at a slightly slower pace.

If the pace is suicidal, then drafting behind someone means you should beat them in the end, since you will be slightly less dead than they are =)

Doug said...

Lesser Idiot, that actually brings up another question that, as a cyclist, rather than a runner, I don't have personal knowledge of. What effect does drafting have in distance running? I assume very little, since drafting is illegal in the cycling leg of triathlons, but not the running leg. Also, aero equipment in cycling is generally regarded as not worthwhile until 15-20 mph. This speed is never reached by a marathon runner (though a runner has more frontal area than a cyclist by virtue of his posture).

Also, I want to thank those who provided answers about who pays & sets strategy for the pacemakers. I wonder if we will ever see elite runners hiring their own pacemakers. Figure you could hire 2 people for $10K each, one to take you to 20K at a certain pace, and another to get you the next 10-12K at that pace. Would it be worth it financially?

Finally, thanks for the clarifications on the reason that the WR was being discussed so much. I didn't follow the other pre-race coverage, so I was unaware that they were all talking about trying to set the record.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

hi Briggeport Joe

Great post. You and I might be waddling to the finish line of chicago and New York together! There is a chance I'll be running one, if not both of them (entry, anyone?) I'll almost certainly be there...

Anyway, onto the post. Yes, the fall marathons will be fascinating. I think you're spot on with your predictions.

The Ethiopian federation is notoriously "tough" on athletes, so i also expect Kebede and Merga to be in Berlin for World Champs. But then the temptation for both to improve their world series rankings will prove too great and I think they'll also run NY. At least one of them will.

As for Geb, yes, I imagine he'd do what it took to avoid facing a 14:20 surge in the middle of a marathon! Followed by another! It will be interesting though, because he's Adidas' main man, and Berlin is their main race, so for him to skip that (assuming Wanjiru runs) would require a good reason...hey, how's the pollution in Berlin these days?!

Lel, that will be interesting. He has now missed two marathons, New York and London, due to injury, and I wonder whether the years are catching up? If he runs, I hope it's Berlin against Wanjiru (and maybe Geb), or Chicago. Not another New York, where the record is not possible. I'd like to see him go for the record. We forget quickly how dominant he was only a year ago. One year ago to the day, after he smashed everyone in London with his 60-second final 400m, I was saying this is the guy to break the WR. So I hope he goes for it, and not the WC.

That's a really interesting point you raise about Wanjiru. The young Kenyan who left for Japan, presumably against the wishes and suggestions of all those around him. He is a fascinating character. but I was running today (training to smack Ryan Hall in Chicago later this year, of course) and thinking about those surges he throws and just how courageous and fearless he is, quite incredible.

Let's see what the Fall season throws up!

THanks!
Ross

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

HI Mircea

Interesting questions. A couple of thoughts to respond:

One thing I think I haven't emphasized enough is just how precise the pacing needs to be in order to be good. We've kind of criticized the pace as suicidal, but when you stop to think about it, the margin for error is tiny.

To illustrate, consider that to break the record, they needed to run 5km splits of 14:44. That's 2:57/km. As it turned out, they erred by 5 seconds per kilometer in the beginning...

That's it, 5 seconds over a kilometer. NOw, it's all relative, I know, but when I run, I find it very difficult to gauge pace to within 5 seconds. and i don't have the added pressure of 8 other guys racing me plus screaming fans and the massive hype around the race. So being the rabbit is perhaps not as simple as we might think.

We must remember that even at 2:06 pace, these guys are right at the limit of the physiology. When Geb broke the WR, one might have asked why not run 10 seconds faster? That is only 1/4 of a second per kilometer. Yet it's too much, that's how close to the limit we are here.

So I agree that the pacing wasn't smart, and given that these guys get so much feedback and information, they should have been able to adjust it after 1 km, or 5km, but it's not that simple to judge pace.

With regards to the Heart rate, that's a very bad way to control pace. We did a study proving that - heart rate during races is pretty useless. It's only marginally effective in training, but in races, you leave the heart rate monitor off, because it only causes problems with pace judgment, because the race situation affects the heart rate quite independently from exercise.

Your last point is a good one - a lot of it has to do with the 'pack mentality'. It represents a massive risk to let a field go, even when you believe the pace to be suicidal. given that they race so infrequently, I can see why the main guys would get sucked in, or choose to see how it goes at that pace. It's unwise on paper, but in practice, a different story.

Gebrselassie has figured out the pacing issue - remember, he has tried and failed as well. I recall that in Dubai in 2008, he went through 10km in 29 min, also much too fast, and blew at the end to finish in 2:05 something. Then in Berlin he got in 99% right and it was enough for the record, on two occasions. So pacing can go wrong anytime.

I think though, that what we saw in London, was some poor pacing in the beginning, but then the racing instincts took over, and the WR thought went out the window and it was man on man, for the win, not the time. It's not optimal for the best time, but it's the way to race to win, if you're Wanjiru, and that's the choice that was made, i think.

Thanks for the comments!
Ross

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hello Doug

Good question. I think there is an effect of drafting, but it's very small. The speed is the main reason, but even the way the runner moves kind of negates the effect, because running is not a constant, flowing movement where air resistance is even constant. I imagine the calculation of resistance and drafting benefits must be a very complex one.

Where the big advantage lies is in having someone else carry the "mental burden" of setting the pace. Tucking into a group and rolling along at a given pace is much easier than driving that pace, and this is entirely psychological. That effect is impossible to quantify, but certainly significant, and I think the big advantage lies there.

Just quickly on the elites hiring their own pacemakers, they indirectly do that already. Indirectly, because most of the elite athletes will sign with these big races through agents, who then negotiate with race directors for a pace, and the discussion usually sees a small group of people brought in as pacemakers. The running community (at that level) is quite small, so you'll find that the same guys keep popping up as pacemakers, per request of the athletes, via the agents.

Also, to be a pacemaker, you have to be able to run a half marathon in less than 61 minutes (if you can't do this, you'd probably be dropped by the other guys in the marathon!). That's a small group, and so you'll find that many of the pacemakers probably train with the elites who they pace.

I know that Gebrselassie chose his pace-makers for Berlin last year, and I would imagine that most elites will at least approve of the chosen pacemakers.

As for the elite hiring their own guys, like I say, that's probably already happening. If a race like London wants Wanjiru or Lel or Geb in the future, they'll probably have to pay for the pacemaker, even if Wanjiru gets to decide who it is! These races will put up big money to see the WR fall on their course! I think they'd bend for the athlete!

Cheers
Ross

BridgeportJoe said...

but I was running today (training to smack Ryan Hall in Chicago later this year, of course)That's funny. I was about 4 miles into my 8 mile tempo run this morning, and I decided to try to "surge" from 6:30/mile pace to 6:15 pace (in fairness it is at 5300 ft, so I'm not QUITE as slow as I look) in tribute to Wanjiru. The effort required to drop 15 seconds for one mile after roughly 25 minutes of running was hard. I cannot imagine what it would take to drop 20-30 seconds per mile off of a pace that is already 30% faster than that after 90 minutes of hard running. Wanjiru's willingness to subject himself to what can only be sheer agony to win is remarkable.

VavahF said...

I asked this on another post and you didn't answer so i'll ask here:

How does one properly pronounce these names: Zersenay Tadese and Tsegay Kebede?

Rod said...

With regards to judging pace, modern sports watches can determine your current running pace quite accurately with GPS or accelerometer foot pod technology.

If this technology is permitted in major events, the pace makers should (in theory at least) be able to stick to the right pace quite easily.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

hi VavahF

Sorry about that, we got so many questions from the last few posts that I didn't manage to answer all of them, so sorry yours was one that got missed. My use of phonetics is not so flash, but I would think it's;

Zersenay Tadese

"Zer" is in her
"Sen" as in hen
"ay" as in play

That how I think the first name is pronounced. i stand corrected though. What I'm not sure about is where the emphasis is - it might be on 'sen', it might be on 'zer', I've not heard it pronounced by an Eritrean!

for the Surname:
ta-dare-say

except that middle sound is not as long as 'dare' - more like 'deh'! LIke I said, my phonetics are not great.

The commentator kept saying "tadusu" or "Taduse"

Tsegaye Kebede
tsuh - GIGH - yuh keb-ED -uh

I think mostly correct, if I understand the phonetics. That last syllable, the "uh" is probably is probably not as rounded as this though, I think it's more likely "ke-be-deh'

Any Ethiopian readers care to help? One thing for sure is that commentator got it wrong at least half the time, because he was saying it differently 50% of the time...and then of course there was Yamamuchi, Yamanuchi, or Yamauchi. a couple of others as well!

ROss

Mike said...

Very interesting reading and great strategy! Thanks for the post

Anonymous said...

1. When I heard about the London men's race, first thing I thought was, "someone didn't tip their pacers enough..." :D

2. Recent research indicated that willpower is a physical activity which uses up glycogen. That would help explain why most people find it easier to run after (or from! if scared enough!) someone than set the pace themselves.

3. Lesser Idiot was right - the marathon is a tough race to call. Some time in the future there are going to be 2:02:xx marathons and the guys running them aren't going to be that different from the elite today. Geb's a bit of a codger and he sliced 1/2 min off the WR. Wanjiru is 22 and clearly they all thought "you never know, today might just be 'his day'". Who thought Radcliffe would knock nearly 2 mins off her own WR? Who thought Dita would win in Beijing? Clearly (watching the race on tv), even *she* didn't believe it. Who thought Korir would chase Tergat right down to the line? I know this, they *all* know this, that all you need is that One. Good. Day, and you can never be sure that today isn't it....
... so that's why they hang on.

Middle Aged Mid Packer

Anonymous said...

Slightly off topic but I seem to recall reading in Lore of Running that marathon runners peak between their 4th and 9th races. If this theory is still valid, does this mean that Wanjiru will be burnt out by the time he is 25 or does his age mean he can perhaps run 15 or 20 world class marathons? Are we going to be denied a sub 2.02 from Wanjiru in 10 years time because he ran too many marathons too early in his career?

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi to the last anonymous poster

Good question, something a few people have wondered.

There is certainly some truth in the fact that the peak typically happens somewhere between 4 and 9 - a colleague of mine did a PhD on that and found that regardless of age, the peak was usually in year 4 or 5.

So by that measurement, you're right in saying that Wanjiru would hit his fastest times within the next two years (assuming two marathons per year).

Where it gets tricky is to say that this denies him the sub-2:02. It's not necessarily true that he'd have run faster at 30 if he hadn't run 16 marathons by then. That is, we used to think that the peak for marathoners was about 30 years old, but that might not be true and perhaps the peak exists at any age, but rather the "marathon age" is important.

So, if Wanjiru had only begun racing marathons at 28, would he have run a 2:02 then? I doubt it, although that's a complete guess.

I think if he's got it in him, it would happen at the younger age, and maybe he heralds a generation of younger marathon runners.

One final point is that you do get people who hit the peak or sustain it for much longer than 5 or 6 races. Even Gebrselassie - I think he has run at least 9 marathons, and his last 4 have been the fastest, so he's getting faster at number 8 and 9. So it's possible Wanjiru will have twelve in him. I guess it depends on how he races IN BETWEEN and also how he trains.

Ross

Rod said...

I can only guess what the pacemakers were told or why Wanjiru didn't slow the fast pace down, but if I were to speculate I'd say the build up and excitement leading up to the start of the event together with the egos of the elite runners, not to mention the quality athletes in the field, meant that rational thinking went out the window once the starters gun went off.

After 5k, the thought process in the minds of the runners was probably: "we're on track to run under 2 hours! let's keep this up (or run faster)".

That sums up how Wanjiru runs, maybe it's also how he thinks?

We know this was scientifically unlikely (impossible?), yet the mindset of athletes can defy logic in times of excitement :)

Or maybe it was just a poor pacing strategy.

I am a competitive runner and something I've witnessed is that quite often, talented athletes, although they tend to win a lot of races and are highly regarded, aren't necessarily the most knowledgeable when it comes to optimum pacing tactics.