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Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Comrades Ultra Marathon - Greatest Performance Challenge

Last week, we received an email from Alan, and he asked us to look at the following three performances from this year’s Comrades Marathon:

o Leonid Shvetsov of Russia broke the course record by running 5 hours 21 minutes!

o A 70-year old man, Calie Beneke, ran 8 hours 4 minutes for the 89 km!

o A british double-amputee, Richard Whitehead, ran sub-10 hours on prosthetic limbs!

I said last week, however, that we would probably end up sitting on the fence, and stop short of ranking them, because they’re so different and can’t really be compared directly. One approach I thought of taking was to look at how the specific performance compared to a group of “matched/similar” runners. So for example, we could look at the 70-year old Calie Beneke and take his time compared to all the other 70 year olds in the race and see just how much faster he was. But the problem with this is that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to define the “normal/matched” group. So who do we compare Leonid Shvetsov to? The other 9000 runners? Because the guy who finishes Comrades is not exactly normal! So in fact, we would need to compare each performance to those of EVERYONE, including non-runners, and of course that’s impossible. So back to the drawing board!

So what I figured I would do is look at each performance in turn, one at a time. So we’ll look at the physiology and describe just why it is such a remarkable performance (this also keeps the posts shorter, better all round!). Then when it’s all done, I’ll nail my colours to the mast and rank them, and invite you to do the same, and maybe get some good debate on the topic! So here goes, and we begin with the record-breaking performance of Leonid Shvetsov.

Click here for Candidate # 1: Leonid Shvetsov