Shorter is better

[TNWSS!  Haha.  Aaaaaah, yeah.]

Anyway.  Staring at my Christmas Tree has caused me to navel-gaze a bit about my 2010 running performances.  I’ve been reading old race reports (cringe), looking up NYRR stats, and stalking my own Athlinks page.

One thing has become clear: I have no business racing marathons.  It’s not a good use of my time.

I have suspected this for a while, and now I have some data to confirm it.  I am meaningfully better at shorter races than longer ones.  Calculating my age-graded performance percentage data with this calculator for my best performance at each distance from the last year shows a pretty clear trend:

1500M – 5:30 (adj to 5:54 mile) – 71.5%
5K – 20:48 – 71.2%
4M – 28:17 – 68.3%
5M – 35:30 – 67.9%
10K – 47:55 – 63.3%
Half Marathon – 1:43: 12 – 63.8%
Marathon – 3:49:23 – 59.1%

(What are AG percentages?  NYRR has a good explanation here, but basically it is dividing your time by the world-class time for your age and gender.)

For all of you visual learners out there, my AG stats look like this:

First reaction: Ugh.  I poured four months in to training for that damn marathon, only to run my “worst” performance of the year.

Second reaction: Whoa.  I can slap down a “regional class” performance (70% or better) at a silly weeknight track meet without any specific training for that distance.  Baller.

Third reaction: I’m sure there’s more to the story here.  Data can be misleading.  This smacks of the McMillan Effect, in which it seems that almost everyone’s “expected marathon finish” is understated when calculated on the basis of a shorter race performance.  (The common explanation being that it’s an expected time for “comparably trained” runners, and most people under-train for their marathons, which is certainly true in my case, but still.)  Or maybe everyone’s stats would look like this if they went through the same exercise.  I don’t know.

But although data can be misleading, it doesn’t lie outright.  So I think there’s something here.  And it’s something I’ve suspected for a while.  All summer I was easily hanging with my speedy teammates at track workouts – and crushing things like 400s! – only to have them finish minutes ahead of me at road races.  I think I’ve got a little more natural speed (and a little less endurance) than I’ve given myself credit for.

So…what does that mean for future plans?  I’m not sure.  I’ve got my two half marathons in the spring, and then I’m thinking I might turn my attention to a summer track series or two.  Miles and 800s – sounds like fun! Frankly, I am pretty bummed that I’m missing the Armory indoor season in NYC.  I had really looked forward to that, until the whole move-to-Raleigh thing happened.

And…maybe no (serious) marathoning in 2011.  Maybe.  We’ll see. 🙂

Today’s EAT: It’s been a while since we had a big-ass salad around here, eh?

Inspired by those pasta salads that people bring to picnics.  And also, ingredients in my fridge.  Baby spinach and mixed greens with:

  • grated cheddar
  • whole wheat pasta shells
  • chicken
  • diced fresh bell pepper
  • homemade Italian dressing

Nom nomz.

Today’s DRINK: Who’s gonna resist a big bottle of beer with a drunk Santa plastered across the front?

I love red beer – in spite of a ridiculous afternoon in 2005 which centered around $1 pints of Killians on tap at the local bar.  Reds are always enjoyable to me: generally pleasantly bitter, but not as puckery as an IPA, and delightfully earthy.

This Rogue Santa’s Private Reserve Ale was lighter than I thought it would be, but still delicious!  Very drinkable, with the expected light hoppy flavor and of course a subtle seasonal pine-like flavor.  So many Christmas-themed beers are either kind of a cop-out (beer with nutmeg sprinkled in it?) or really dark/heavy (which I like, but I know many people don’t).  I think this Rogue brew would be a good seasonal choice for someone who normally prefers light beer.

Today’s RUN:  Mehhhhh.  I had planned to do a long-ish run today, but I only made it through five miserable, sluggish miles.  Not sure what the problem was.  Oh, maybe it was because I was snacking on pizza and chocolate truffles all afternoon and had a bloated tummy full of greasy, sugary, salty food when I headed out the door.

Lesson learned.

Friday is the new long run day this week.

Today’s QUESTION: What is your favorite distance to run – and which distance are you best at?  Tell me about your favorite or best race in 2010!


42 responses to “Shorter is better

  1. Looks like we have the opposite problem! I am better at the longer stuff. My 5k pace and half marathon pace are practically the same.
    I bet you could easily get that 5k under 20 if you focused on the track for a few months.

    • LOL. I would throw a party if I could run a half (or even a 10K) at my 5K pace!

      Just goes to show that everyone really does have their own thing going, huh?

  2. I think I am just coming to terms with the fact that I’ll never be a particularly fast or good runner. It’s hard not to want to compare myself all the time, but my body is just biomechanically not built for running. But…I still like it, so I’m going to do it!

    I think my most successful race was either my first half marathon or setting a new 5K PR 5 days after my first marathon. Also, 10Ks can go suck it–too long to run hard, not long enough to slow down.

    • Your 5K PR post-marathon was damn impressive – don’t sell yourself short! I bet you could very easily knock a couple more minutes off of that if you trained to it.

      Also, 10Ks, agreed.

  3. I haven’t done the age graded stats, but according to McMillan, I’m best at 5K and substantially worse at 10K. My 1/2 time this spring and 10K time match within seconds via McMillan, which is rather amazing because I know I didn’t rum enough miles for 1/2 training. This may also be because I ran 1 10K this
    summer on a 99% humid day in July.

    Favorite distance is probably the 1/2, especially if I could exclude the last few miles :-). The pace isn’t so crazy as 5K, and I’m actually not a ton slower over 13.1 than over 10K.

    5Ks, I mostly just like for the opening mile and then once they’re over!

    • I always say that for a 5K, the first and last mile take care of themselves. It’s that sucker in between that you have to worry about. I love that they’re over in a flash, too!

  4. My best race of 2010 was my 5k PR! I ran a small, local race in 25:55. I could probably do around that every time but when I get into a large race, my time goes down just because I’m trying to move around so many people.

    Note to self: find small races 🙂

  5. This was my first year with any substantial racing (2009 was a 5k…for which we carb loaded and tapered, cute huh? and a 5 miler). I think I like the half distance the best…because I don’t race for speed, I need something to impress people with. Most non-runners are impressed by the distance of the half, whereas anything less sounds like a workout and most people I know are non-runners. And no marathons here (yet) since I don’t have the time to train sufficiently. I think halfs can be run (not raced, but run) with less than super training.

    I’m loving the Blue Moon Winter Abbey Ale tonight.

    • Oh yeah, that is a whole ‘nother topic. 🙂 I groan inwardly at the thought of taking time off of long races to focus on track and 5Ks because people who are not runners definitely will not get it. Not that it really matters, but still…kind of a pain!

      I haven’t had the Blue Moon Winter yet this year. Yum!!

  6. My marathon performance is 10 percentage points lower than the range of the others, which are all within 2.5% of one another. Oops?

    Maybe I’m making silly assumptions here, but — compared to the elites who set the world-class standard by which we are graded — we common runner folk just don’t get as many opportunities (or monetary motivation) to “nail” the marathon as we do the other shorter distances. That might be a confounding factor as to why a lot of us see a significantly less impressive AG% for the marathon compared to our other distances…

    • I thought of that too, although I think (if we are thinking of this the same way) it shouldn’t matter all THAT much? It’s not like I raced a billion 5Ks this year. I did 3….and even if you used my time from the very first one (pre-crazy-team-speedwork) the % would be a good 10 higher than the marathon. And I did exactly one track meet = exactly one marathon.

      I do feel like there has to be something more going on with the data, though. Hmmm….

  7. I have built a Race Time Predictor in Excel, using formulas that I found in a running book. The formulas are based on the race times over various distances of thousands of “normal” runners like us.
    So you can enter e.g. your 10km personal best and it will tell you what your 21.1 and 42.2 time predictions are. (Unfortunately nothing shorter than 10km.) It seems your half-marathon and marathon times are more or less in the right ballpark based on your 10km time?
    You can download it here:

    • Cool idea! I will definitely play around with it…

      10K is probably my most hated distance and I consistently blow up. I know I can run faster than 47:XX (and I have, in workouts) so if my marathon is on par with my crappy 10K race time, then that just seals the deal in my mind. I suck at marathons. 🙂

      For me the divide comes more between the 5K and the 10K. In my mind, the track stuff (1500, 3000, 5K) are sort of lumped together in opposition to the “long” stuff (10K, half, full). I realize not everyone sees it that way though!

  8. so interesting – and mine are EXACTLY the opposite, which i could have figured out just from comparing mine to yours! 3:48 full marathon, 22:56 5K . . . . uhhh yeah. too bad i can’t just do marathons all the time!

  9. Truth: I’ve played around with that calculator more than I care to admit. And, fun fact, compuscore is based in NJ! Whee!

    So I try to think about two other, perhaps too-obvious factors here: what you LIKE to do, and what your body can handle. Physically, I know that I’m better at longer things. Hell, just look at me. But I kind of know that my knees don’t want to handle the rigors of marathon training. Also not up to marathon training? The old noggin. Don’t wanna do it. So I don’t. And that is why being a recreational runner is dope: you’re not constrained to run within your talents. As long as I can admit to myself that I’m not going to be as good of a 1500 meter runner as I’d be a 15K runner, and move on, I’m golden.

    • I think that’s a tough one because (1) it’s all relative, and (2) you never really know until you try. You can still be a GOOD 1500 runner, even if you might be relatively better at 15Ks. Just like I can run sub-4 marathons until the cows come home, which most people would consider just dandy, but it chaps my arse that people whose times I crush at shorter distances are doing the same thing.

      And, yep, none of it really matters in the grand scheme of community road races and all-comers track meets. 🙂

      Also, I kind of regret that I found that calculator because I fear I might become an addict. 🙂

  10. hmmmm that’s really interesting. i’d want to see a graph of my performance like you made. but i’m such an erratic racer (my HMP pr pace = MP pr pace)

    and santa on a beer bottle? i don’t even like beer but i’d drink it.

  11. Half marathons are my favorite – but i guess I’ll see after Thunder Road tomorrow (yikes!) if marathons are my favorite 🙂

    I’m a steady & consistent runner, and have gradually shaved 8 minutes off my half time. I enjoy the distance, it pushes me, and is enjoyable!

  12. I’m about as slow as molasses so endurance is more my thing. I loved training for my half and can’t wait to actually run the full distance in a month or so (I got my sickathon on two days before the half and spent the day snotting and weeping in my bed instead of running). And yeah, non-runners are really impressed that I can run for that long, which always helps me feel like a badass.

    I still have a sweet spot for 5ks. Even if I’m never going to win one (and had the dubious distinction of coming in second to last at a tiny race last year!) I love the vibe and I love knowing that I can push myself hard for that long, because they’re over before you know it.

  13. Even without calculating anything, I know for sure I have better natural speed than endurance. I did a marathon this past year and while the training and mental commitment/challenge it takes appeals to me, I don’t know if it’s worth it. Speed work is my favorite! My best race was a 5 miler with my sister on St. Pat’s because she had just started running a few months earlier and it was her first race. We’re actually about the same exact pace at that distance so it was fun to run together. 2011 goals would be to 5k PR!

    • Ugh, do I ever hear ya on that, re: the “is it worth it” feeling about marathons. When it’s all said and done, between the ramp-up, the actual training, and the recovery, those things can suck up 5-6 months. It’s a huge investment!

      Good luck on your PR quest!!

  14. Interestingly, I’m at 74% for 5k, 72% for 10k/8k, 71% for 15k and half marathon…then I drop down to 67% for the full. Despite thinking that I’m better at longer distances I’d need to drop down to 3:13 (!!!) just to hit 70% for the marathon…which frankly, I find confusing.

    I mean, it’s a ratio so I suppose it makes sense…but how the hell does a 3:13 equal the same relative performance as a 1:33 half? It just assumes that people don’t slow down over the distance, which I don’t get. And of course, McMillian seems to think I can run a 3:13…which makes me laugh. So yeah, I’m with you on the third reaction.

    There are also IAAF points tables you can use to compare performances. I don’t think they are THAT much more helpful, though at least it seems a bit more concrete. At least to me.

    • Interesting. I would have thought your marathon PR would land you higher on the scale.

      I’m really wondering if it just all comes down to training. Essentially these numbers are comparing with with the pros/elites. If you look at the workouts that an elite 1500M runner does, versus your average Joe who runs with his club group and shows up at all-comers meets, I’ll bet they’re not all that different. (The pace is obviously different, but the structure of the workouts are probably pretty similar? This is a guess.) If you look at elite marathoners, though, they’re logging a lot more miles than most of us. Their training schedule wouldn’t look anything like yours or mine, even adjusted for pace.

      Yay, nerdy runner talk on a Friday! 🙂

  15. Wow, you’re a fastie Shelbs! Reading through you blog it’s easy to see you prefer that distance, so go with it.

    I’m going to be thirty in a couple months and I’m still running the same 5k times I did when I was 15. Too bad I was barely mediocre back then too! I’m the queen of the 21 minute 5k; all my finishes hover around that time no matter what I do. I like longer races because I’m better at outlasting than outrunning my competition. .

    Use your powers of speed to work some magic 🙂

    • Funny! I feel like I’m queen of the 3:50 marathon. Can’t seem to crack it, no matter how hard I train. 🙂

      And yeah…marathons are totally getting played out. Makes ya wonder where the trend will go next. Longer (to ultras) or bring some of the glory back to shorter stuff?

  16. Besides the marathon is getting played-out anyway. Everyone and their sister are doing them now. The “awe” factor is no longer there.

  17. I’m the total opposite…I think the half is my best distance, and I’m scared shitless of short track races.

    I’m not sure you can really judge your marathon potential on Chicago…a LOT of people were off that day (thank you global warming!) That said, from reading your blog this year, you have seemed a lot more excited about racing short races than the marathon, so that would probably be a good focus for you next year!

    • That is probably true – I do enjoy them more. Short track races are fun. Half-marathons scare me shitless. (I guess we’ll see how this spring goes with two of them on tap.)

  18. I don’t feel I have enough race experience to say what I’m best at – this year I PR’d at 5k/10k but I think I have room to go still. Raced my first 10mile and really liked that so I figure I’ll enjoy my first half in April (see you in C-ville). My first marathon was a “just finish” time but I was unable to get past 17 miles this summer due to injury and am wondering if I will be able to get another marathon in. I’d like to…I’d be happy to better my time under 5 hours and retire that distance. It’s hard on this old back.

  19. See, I knew I liked you.

    I felt like I HAD to run a marathon to like, legitimize myself at a runner even though it was obvious (even without running all sorts of dorky numbers and charts about it =P) that I don’t excel at that distance.

    And just in the past few weeks as I’ve settled into doing 4-5 mile runs – not having to do 14, 16, 18 mile days, not stressing about how I’m going to fit in a three hour run in the dead of winter – I’m realizing how freaking EASY it’s going to be training for this next half marathon, and that maybe I should just go with it.

    • And you’re kicking ass on those shorter runs! 🙂

      I’ve never trained for a half-marathon specifically but I have a feeling it’s going to be about six times less stressful than training for a full. We shall see, you and me both!

  20. Oh yeah, I’ve definitely talked about this, but I just looked up my current year/PR numbers for S’s and G’s. I haven’t raced anything under 3K in many years, but I know my speed for below that distance isn’t anything special.

    3000 m – 11:24 = 72.8%
    5K – 18:53.5 = 76.2%
    10K – 39:09 = 76.4%
    HM – 1:32:41 = 71.0% *note, I definitely think I’m in shape to hit 73-74% soon, but I didn’t race any halfs this year*
    Marathon – 3:15:05 = 71.2%

    well, 10Ks are my favorite (unless it’s on the track, in which case the 5K is more fun- 25 laps is too many). who knows whether it’s innate or trained, but it kind of fits with my personality… I wish I could race every distance all at once, so it’s good to be strongest in the middle!

  21. I like the half marathon. It is long enough to feel like a distance event, but it doesn’t feel as painful as a marathon. LOL.

  22. I love Rogue! Dead guy is one of my faves. I vaguely (heh) remember going to Rogue Public House in college in San Fran and it was love at first taste.

    Oh you asked about running! Right. Since I ran one race this year it was my best. Planning on one 1/2 for sure next year…possible another a month later. Hoping to do a few more races in general next year.

  23. Wow, I love this. I was a 400 meter runner in HS and college and have run two marathons at 10 minute pace. I crush my speed workouts but can barely hold on in marathons… My 2011 is going to consist of a few halfs but even more 10K-5Ks. I think the full is not exactly for me…

  24. Pingback: Run: December 26 – January 1 « Duke's House

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