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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Chris Solinsky - the fastest "big guy" ever

Chris Solinsky - "A fatty world record"

The interesting stories are coming thick and fast just lately.  Too fast to post on, which is why we didn't cover the story of Chris Solinsky, who, last weekend, because the first American runner below the 27-minute barrier over 10,000m.  In a race that was set up as an attempt on the record by Galen Rupp, Solinsky stole the show, and won in 26:59.60.  Rupp did succeed at breaking the record, but he finished ten seconds back, in fourth.

Solinsky, however, is a name that not many would have picked to get anywhere close to the record.  But just as Dathan Ritzenheim shocked everyone when he (comfortably) broke 13 minutes for 5,000m in Zurich last year, Solinsky produced the big surprise of the year so far.

His performance is further confirmation of a golden period for US-distance running.  Yes, they have a long, long way to go to challenge the very best Kenyans and Ethiopians for depth and sustained quality of performance, but in the current generation of US-runners, you have an Olympic marathon medalist, a sub-60 half marathoner, a sub-13 5,000m runner, a New York Marathon champ, and now a sub-27 min 10,000m man.  On the women's side, top performers over 800m, 1500m (probably the best nation over this distance in 2009), and medals on the track over 10,000m and the marathon, and suddenly US-running is mighty competitive, which is brilliant for the sport.

Solinsky - the "fatty" world record holder

The Solinsky story will be interesting to follow later this year, when he runs more 5,000m races.  For now, what is most interesting, in a quirky way, is the analysis that Letsrun.com produced yesterday, showing that Solinsky is the heaviest runner ever to break 27 minutes, and by some margin too.

Check out the table at the bottom of this post, and compare Solinsky, a relative giant at 73 kg (161 lbs) to the runners above him.  Bekele at 54 kg (119 lbs), Gebrselassie (56 kg/123 lbs), Tergat (63kg/132 lbs) and Sammy Wanjiru (52kg/115 lbs) are some of the names on that list.

There are only 30 men in history who have done it, but Solinsky is 9 kg heavier than the next heaviest guys (Mohammed Mourhit and Mark Bett at 64 kg/141 lbs).  In other words, until Solinsky, nobody heavier than 65kg had run sub-27 minutes, which is quite remarkable!

He is also the tallest (Paul Tergat held that record, but Solinksy is 3 cm taller than him, and the second slowest in history over 5,000m to break 27 minutes, but that should change when he gets to the track later this year.

Solinsky himself earned Letsrun's quote of the day when he joked that his friends used to tell him that he'd broken the "fatty world record".  All things are relative, as distance running teaches us all the time, but well done to a guy who on paper, would stand little chance of achieving what he has.  The tide continues to rise in the USA, and hopefully the European season sees them racing the Kenyans and Ethiopians to even faster times.



Wayne said...


As usual, very interesting but he doesn't seem to have the highest BMI on that list.

Mohammed Mourhit seems to have the highest at 22.15 while Solinsky's is 21.33.


Runner Height Weight BMI
Kenenisa Bekele 160 54 21.09
Haile Gebrselassie 165 56 20.57
Paul Tergat 182 62 18.72
Nicholas Kemboi 163 50 18.82
Abebe Dinkesa 169 55 19.26
Micah Kogo 170 60 20.76
Paul Koech 170 60 20.76
Zersenay Tadese 160 56 21.88
Salah Hissou 176 62 20.02
Abdullah Ahmad Hassan 170 54 18.69
Sileshi Sihine 171 55 18.81
Boniface Kiprop Toroitich 167 53 19.00
Samuel Wanjiru 163 52 19.57
Eliud Kipchoge 170 56 19.38
Moses Ndiema Masai 168 54 19.13
Sammy Kipketer 166 52 18.87
Moses Mosop 165 54 19.83
Assefa Mezgebu 175 55 17.96
Richard Limo 167 53 19.00
Charles Kamathi 165 51 18.73
William Sigei 178 57 17.99
Mohammed Mourhit 170 64 22.15
Gebre-egziabher Gebremariam 178 56 17.67
John Cheruiyot Korir 172 57 19.27
Mark Bett 180 64 19.75
Leonard Komon 175 52 16.98
Josphat Muchiri 170 53 18.34
Yobes Ondieki 168 55 19.49
Chris Solinsky 185 73 21.33
Bernard Kipyego 160 50 19.53

Kelvin said...

Good point Wayne. Ross, surely BMI is a better predictor of running performance than weight?

Anonymous said...

Just a note that the U.S. has three runners who are under 13:00. Even if you discount lagat as an American since he ran for Kenya all those years, Matt Tegenkamp also ran under 13 last year.

Wayne said...

But how about this...

Based on reading from previous posts (please correct me if I'm wrong here):
Heat gain increases with weight
Heat loss increases with surface area
But: For a larger person, weight increases faster than surface area suggesting poorer running times.

I found an approximate formula for surface area based on height and weight. If I divide the athletes' weights by this measure of surface area (i.e. to suggest some measure of who is likely to be most heat efficient based solely on height and weight) then Solinsky is indeed the least efficient with a figure of 3.77 g / cm^2.

The full results are below but I can't spot any correlation between this measure and 10km performance.

10km rank Runner Heat gain proxy
1 Kenenisa Bekele 3.49
2 Haile Gebrselassie 3.50
3 Paul Tergat 3.50
4 Nicholas Kemboi 3.32
5 Abebe Dinkesa 3.42
6 Micah Kogo 3.56
7 Paul Koech 3.56
8 Zersenay Tadese 3.55
9 Salah Hissou 3.56
10 Abdullah Ahmad Hassan 3.38
11 Sileshi Sihine 3.40
12 Boniface Kiprop Toroitich 3.38
13 Samuel Wanjiru 3.39
14 Eliud Kipchoge 3.44
15 Moses Ndiema Masai 3.40
16 Sammy Kipketer 3.36
17 Moses Mosop 3.43
18 Assefa Mezgebu 3.36
19 Richard Limo 3.38
20 Charles Kamathi 3.34
21 William Sigei 3.40
22 Mohammed Mourhit 3.68
23 Gebre-egziabher Gebremariam 3.37
24 John Cheruiyot Korir 3.45
25 Mark Bett 3.58
26 Leonard Komon 3.27
27 Josphat Muchiri 3.35
28 Yobes Ondieki 3.43
29 Chris Solinsky 3.77
30 Bernard Kipyego 3.35

Danilo Balu said...

Brilliant post! You were further than anybody else who tried to write news about his achievement!!

djconnel said...

Excellent data on the height versus mass.

click here for plot

Scaling is between constant ratio and constant BMI. Assuming mass tends to vary as height squared, and surface area is proportional to height * (depth + width) (neglecting depth * width term), and depth is proportional to width, then mass per surface area should be proportional to the square root of mass. That's a bit of a weak dependence for these data: it clearly favors the lighter end of the mass, height spectrum.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi all

Thanks for the discussion. It was a short, somewhat hasty post, and I didn't do justice to the discussion around how body size might affect performance, but you have, so thanks!

First, to Wayne: Fair point, but I'd say that BMI is probably about as relevant as mass is, and you've figured out the other variable - surface area in your follow up post.

A few years ago, Frank Marino did a study on African runners in the heat and one of the big reasons he felt they were so good in hot conditions was their light mass, which gave them better heat loss capacity. Steven Dennis and Tim Noakes had earlier done a paper on this, showing how small body size predicted endurance capacity - that reference is "Advantages of a smaller body-mass in humans when distance-running in warm, humid conditions", Dennis & Noakes, Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1999 Feb;79(3):280-4.

But the key is that in a 10km, unless it's being run in hot conditions, the ability to lose heat is not a major limiter to performance. That's why you'll find that there's not really a correlation among this group of 30 guys, although this is undoubtedly a factor - it's not the swing factor, so to speak. For a marathon, and for hot races, it would be a might tighter fit (assuming all other things are equal, which of course they rarely are).

But to me, the issue here is the mass, whether you express it as BMI or just mass. Yes, some guys have higher BMIs, which reflects their build, and maybe muscle mass - these elite runners are unlikely to differ too much with respect to fat percentages!

Then to Anonymous:

Yes, I know the US-has 3 guys under 13, but none were as impressive or surprising as Ritzenheim, and that was the context of the argument - these guys who are breaking through to that level that was previously perhaps believed to be "impossible" for all but the Africans.

I'm sure that by the end of 2010, there'll be 4 or 5 of them under 13. Solinsky seems a good bet, maybe Rupp.

Finally, to DJ:

That's a great graph, thanks for posting the link! Really interesting.

Anonymous said...

What a great performance. It's like watching a draft horse beat a thoroughbred!

I've come across the claim that Europeans record the largest lung capacities per height. Unfortunately, as far as running performance goes, the ice age has left its mark on Europeans (and Asians). Shorter, stockier limbs, etc. There may have also been some mitochondrial compromises for heat production, but that's pretty speculative.

It looks like Solinsky just overcompensated with a big engine. Put a big enough engine in an SUV and it'll go fast.

I'd like to see what this guy could do on a bike, where overall VO2 is more important and having a svelte build is far less important (think Armstrong, Hinault, Merkx).

Ashish said...

Ummm ... since this is a "Science" blog, let me point out that mass is neither "light" nor "heavy."

Anonymous said...


Get over yourself bud. Everyone knows what was meant, you're being nit-picky.


Ron Wolf said...

Fascinating that you didn't key on the most obvious factor that jumps out of data - Solinsky is the only non-African on the list. I'm certainly not the first to note this, I just find it interesting that you didn't as you have commented on this sort of thing in the past.

And calling Solinsky a fatty? I know that you are joking - an inside joke among us relatively thinnies and fitties. But, given your recent series on weight management and the underlying psychological drivers, not sure that its really funny. From his look, Solinsky's body fat % is low. Would be very interesting to know his max O2.

And a nit, you list "Tergat (63kg/132 lbs)", not sure which of the #s is wrong but 63kg ~= 139lb. Could we dare assume that most readers here are comfortable with metric measures and drop the English #s?

BTW, I went out to the Stanford track a few days later and soaked up a bit of the ambiance of Solinsky's (and Ruppp's) terrific breakthrough with a few laps. Stanford is quite remarkable in keeping this world class track open to the local running community. In contrast, how many relatively crappy high school tracks are closed to preserve their precious surface...

Thank you Stanford hosting this terrific annual event and for access to your historic track!

djconnel said...

I did a run hosted by Zombie Runner in Palo Alto with Erik Skaggs and Anton Krupicka, two accomplished ultra-trail runners in town to promote upcoming New Balance shoes (including some extreme minimal trail shoes: think Vibram One-Fingers). I think it was Eric who was impressed by the sight of the Stanford track. It seemed like a perfectly normal track to me. I didn't realize....

Anyway, a factor which can't be neglected is that other sports tend to snatch up big fast guys. So were the population of fast 10k's coincident with the population of those recruited by these other sports, there would be a confounding factor in an observed height-mass relationship.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Ron

Just to point out, we didn't call Solinsky "fatty", he did. It was his own quote, as I mentioned in the post above. He gave a press conference where he jokingly said that his friends used to say that he had just set the fatty world record.

Regarding the African/European thing, you're right. But the post was clearly squeezed in, as I said upfront, and its purpose was mostly to link to what LetsRun had analyzed regarding the size.

It certainly hasn't escaped my attention that he is the first non-African to break the barrier. 19 Kenyans, 6 Ethiopians, 2 Moroccans, an Eritrean and a Ugandan. And now an American, so that is a great performance.

But I was pressed for time, and that's something to discuss another time.

As for the conversion, I certainly wouldn't assume everyone is comfortable enough with Metric. In the past, I've written posts talking about kilometers and kilograms and had emails requesting miles and pounds! So can't win...

But thanks for pointing out the mistake on Tergat's number - I made a typo there, sorry!


Mark Boen said...

As for solely using the metric system here, you might as well use stones, because they're both Greek to me. Here in America, the vast majority never touch the metric system.

By the way, Ron sounds like he has a chip on his shoulder e.g. fatty, metric.