Data-Mining the 2015 Marathon Season
Strava shares insights on the courses we know and love
Last weekend’s Berlin Marathon was the start of the fall marathon season, with some 40,000 participants taking to the streets of Germany’s capital for the fast 26.2-mile-race. Eliud Kipchoge easily won the men’s division in a personal best of 2:04:00, despite having to traverse the second half of the course with dislodged insoles projecting out of his Nike Streak 6s.
The fact that Kipchoge was able to run the eleventh fastest marathon in history, defective footwear notwithstanding, is a testament both to his stupendous talent and Berlin’s lightning quick course. As Outside has written before, the home of currywurst and Angela Merkel is where the last six men’s marathon world records have been set.
If we are to see an equally fast time in one of the two upcoming stateside World Marathon Majors, it’ll be at the Chicago Marathon, which takes place on October 11 and also offers competitors a flat, fast race. Kipchoge won here last year in 2:04:11 and obviously won’t be running again, but second and third place finishers Sammy Kitwara and Dickson Chumba, who ran 2:04:28 and 2:04:32, respectively, are back.
A 2:04-something time is virtually out of the question on the undulating terrain of the New York City Marathon (November 1), where Geoffrey Mutai’s 2011 course record of 2:05:06 stands as a freakish outlier; Mutai’s time was two minutes and 31 seconds quicker than the previous NYC course record and nearly six minutes faster than last year’s winning time.
But what about those us who aren’t going to be breaking any world or course records any time soon?
Strava, an authority on activity tracking, recently shared some of their data with us, reflecting the performances of the 3,713 Strava users who took part in the fall season Marathon Majors last year.
Here’s what they found.
Predictably, Berlin also proved to be the fastest race for the non-elite contingent. The 912 runners who uploaded their data averaged a pace of 8:26 per mile in Berlin, compared to 8:54 in Chicago (1,008 runners) and 9:20 in New York (1,793).
Perhaps more surprising was that runners slowed down almost twice as much in the second half of the U.S. races. While this shouldn’t shock anyone familiar with New York’s course, where, not long after the halfway mark, runners must take on a steep ascent of the Queensboro Bridge as they cross into Manhattan, Chicago has only negligible elevation change throughout.
The chart below indicates the first and second half splits among Strava runners in 2014:
In marathons, weather is of course always a major factor and shouldn’t be ignored when looking at this small sampling of runner stats. Last year, the conditions were ideal in Berlin, as evidenced by Dennis Kimetto’s world record, while New York marathoners had to run in extreme wind with gusts approaching 50 miles an hour. Chicago runners also had near-perfect conditions in 2014: cool and only light wind.
If the weather cooperates again this year, Chicago may yield atypically quick times among the fastest amateurs looking to achieve the coveted “B standard” for next February’s Olympic marathon trials in Los Angeles. The timing of the race, along with its favorable topography, mean that for many top U.S. sub-elites, Chicago is the last good chance* to run the qualifying standard (2:18 for men and 2:43 for women) and secure a spot at the trials. A recent Wall Street Journal article cited a study by the endurance race statisticians at runtri.com, which found that in 2011, prior to the 2012 Olympic trials, “the number of women finishing under 3:00 and men finishing under 2:30 was 30% greater in the Chicago marathon than in the following year, when no Olympic-trials slots were at stake.”
While we’re on the topic of the Olympics, the winner of the inaugural women’s Olympic Marathon, Joan Benoit Samuelson, has also announced that she will be running the Chicago Marathon this year. At age 58, she wants to run within 30 minutes of her lifetime best, and will hence be shooting for a time of 2:51:21.
*Although the qualifying window technically lasts until January 17, the trials race is on February 13, so that would be cutting it a little close on the training cycle front.