Thursday, July 1, 2010

Western States 100 Pacing

A bit more on the Western States 100, held in California near Sacramento this past weekend...

The race is considered to have been extremely tactical by ultramarathon standards. By Duncan Canyon at mile 23.8, a lead group formed of Anton Krupicka of Colorado, Geoff Roes of Alaska, and Kilian Jornet of Spain.  They mostly stayed together until near 45 Geoff fell off the record-shattering pace being set by the other two. Some thought this was a tactical decision but after the race Geoff admitted he simply couldn't keep up.

Anton and Kilian continued to push each other hard, trading the lead, with Kilian going ahead on descents and Anton catching him on climbs. Kilian perhaps made the mistake of doing the race without carrying water, while Anton carried two bottles, and thus Anton was able to make faster transitions through aid stops. Since Kilian didn't want to let Anton get a gap on him, this caused Kilian to rush at rest stops and fall behind on hydration, a critical error over 100 miles.

Finally, around mile 80,  Kilian hit the bottom of his reservoir, had to stop and rest in the shade, and never fully recovered. Anton thought the race was his to lose at this point: he'd broken his main competition. But in doing so, Anton had also suffered himself, and meanwhile Geoff had been running his own pace, and taking by his own estimation more calories than he's usually able to in races (400 kcal/hr). So while Anton was forced to slow his pace on descents to spare his legs, Geoff was flying. Anton had a 15 minute gap at mile 78, but from there Geoff made enormous progress, closing to 3 minutes at mile 85, and catching Anton by mile 90. From there, Anton said he was able to close a bit on Geoff on the climbs, but there simply weren't enough of these, and the rest of the time Geoff was faster. Geoff finished alone in 15:07, with Anton crossing for second 6 minutes later (also shattering the previous course record). Killian finally finished around 57 minutes after Geoff.

2010 Western States 100 leaders' times to checkpoints

First I plot the time versus distance for each of the three leaders, along with a constant pace line. The course profile is hardly uniform, so a uniform pace obviously isn't expected. But still, you can see a clear trend. Each of the three moves out ahead of the constant pace schedule and then holds that gap for awhile. But one-by-one, they fall off that schedule: first Geoff, who recovers at the constant paceline. Then Kilian, who is unable to recover and continues to lose ground until the final 7.7 miles (where he's actually faster than Geoff and Anton). Then finally Anton, who is almost able to follow the winning schedule, falling just short, as I've already described.

2010 Western States 100 leaders' gaps to winner

Next I look at the time gaps from Geoff, the eventual winner. This plot simply reinforces the previous one. Shown here, Geoff's come-back is dramatic.

2010 Western States 100 leaders' pace

I then show the pace (runners quantify pace by its inverse, the time per distance, rather than the distance per time used in all other aspects of the universe...) On the plot I also show Don Lundell's pace here, except scaled by 60%. Don Lundell, one of the owners of Zombie Runner, did Western States on what I'd consider the bare-minimum of training, yet was able to finish strongly, mid-pack, in 176th place after running through the night. Yet despite the very different circumstances, Don's pace after the 60% adjustment isn't that much different from the top three. Don ran under the full moon from approximately miles 65 to 90, and you can see that slowed him a bit relative to the Anton and Geoff, but then he finished strongly. Other than the natural slowing from lack of light, however, Don never faded, despite carrying around 10% of Anton's training miles into the race.

Overall, a fascinating event.   Who in our modern society can even contemplate running 100 miles?   To do that in a week is an impressive feat, in a day incomprehensible.   Yet there it is: the human body is clearly up to the task, if we allow it.


Steve said...

Interesting to watch the lead men come thru the early aid stations. Tony and Killian were complete contrasts in style.

The women's race was also super competitive. As a pacer, I got to see 2nd thru 7th place change hands multiple times over the last 20 miles. At one point Nikki was as far back as 6th, Caren was only two minutes out of 2nd place, Rory faded then surged. Tracy was fading but hung on. Meghan was by far the most consistent. Amazing to watch the lady's race hard after 80 miles.

Would be interested to see the same data comparisons for them.

djconnel said...

Cool! I'm glad to see someone from the trail running community found my blog, since it's mostly bicycle-related.

Anyway, I agree the women's race was really remarkable, and it's too bad they get lost among the crowd of male runners. I like your idea of posting similar plots for the women: I'll try to do that.

Felix said...

Great analysis of the running data. There is also a very good explanation for Kilian Jornet's sudden pickup of speed the last 7 miles too: my buddy Nick Clark of Fort Collins was about to start breathing down his neck after chasing him down in the last 20 miles.

In fact, Nick caught Kilian with approximately 1.5 miles to go and they had an epic battle to the finish:

Really proud of my buddy for putting in the scare into one of the top mountain runners in the world!