Category Archives: bullying

Reporting on Pacing Failures at the SCMM 2017

The FunRunParty Bus

The FunRunParty Bus

The Messenger is Back
Ever since my “Being a Pacer, Choosing a Pacer – A Guide” I have published a table once a year after the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM) on the performance of official pacers selected to set the pace for other recreational runners for various target times.

The reason for my tabulated updates after the race are outlined in the 2016 report and some lessons from pacer failures are outlined in the 2015 report.

Last Sunday, it felt great to be greeted throughout the race morning of the 2017 edition by runners who had used my freely available pacing bands. Even the tiny proportion of runners who decided to race with a pacer would have done well to use one of my pacing bands. For the SCMM, they were first released in 2016, and then republished in 2017. To see why I think they are calibrated brilliantly read this.

This Time you may Shoot the Messenger

Lights, Music, Dance, Colour

Lights, Music, Dance, Colour

A whopping 184 runners pre-registered their interest to make history and run on my FunRunParty 2-hour Bus and many others joined along the way. The goal was to party along the entire route and, as promised, we had lights, music, dance and other action.  Wine, however, was not served – nor was beer! Save a few grumblers, everyone who was part of it had a wonderful experience… so, success was achieved at least on the ‘fun party’ dimension!

Shockingly enough I did not realize until I crossed the finish mat that I had missed my own strict deadline requirement by 32 seconds! Abominable and unforgivable! So, this time around, we can shoot the messenger! Not that one should have any excuse, but I did encourage everyone on my bus to wear the pacing band for their own target times, and I joked that those who were targeting 1:59:00 were to keep me on track. (It’s not the easiest thing to watch both wrists in crowds when carrying a very large flag while running at 10.6228 km/h. Excuses shex-queue-zes… Stop it Puru!!)

Results

OK, so here are the results in two separate tables for the half marathon and the full marathon.

Half Marathon

SCMM 2017 – Half Marathon – Pacer Performance

Full Marathon

SCMM 2017 – Full Marathon – Pacer Performance

Why are things still going wrong?
To continue to have half the pacers in the full marathon failing again this year is not a joking matter! The half marathon had significantly more failures than last year and the year before that– again not something to take lightly!
In terms of process, there continue to be odd things happening in the race times of the pacers listed. Just to cite a couple of examples and I am sure there are more:
Example 1: One of the 3-hour pacers for the half marathon was announced to have dropped out of the event because of a prior injury but his race time shows up as 2:17:33.
Example 2: Prior to the event I received communication from puzzled runners about the 3:45 pacer for the full marathon whose prior best time with the SCMM was 4:06:34. To give him the benefit of your doubt, which would have been formed based on what was advertised, perhaps he had indeed trained enough to achieve 3:45. However, those who decided to not run with him based on public information would have felt vindicated after he finished in 4:09:03.

So, What Next?
Presenting this table each year seems to not affect the outcome in the next year. But, it is still worth my doing so for the running community. On the bright side, do look out for more interesting articles from me based on this specific race in the weeks ahead that might be more relevant to your training as well as race experience.

Wait for the messenger!

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Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

Information and Your Happiness

Information and Happiness

Information and Happiness

Today I am going to chat with you about the information you deal with, its impact on your happiness, and ways to make it work for you to have a more fulfilling life.

Introducing Information

A few weeks ago, as part of the recently added theme on better living, I introduced you to my infographic that I call “A Better Life” to be helpful in my guidance for you. It is not because I have it in my tagline (the refusal to think is evil) that I think that your thoughts are critical to your happiness. You want to be happier, you want to feel that life is fulfilling. Hey, I want that too! You have thoughts, lots of thoughts, and all the time. Whatever you think, they lead to what you feel, and then to the action you take, and the result that follows. The thoughts are based on the information set you hold at any point in time. (The term ‘information set’ is just a fancy term for everything you know. In other words, it is a sum total of all the things you experienced since birth minus all the things that you have forgotten.)

So, why should we pay attention to the formation of this information set and what can we do about constructing and using it in a way that makes us happier?

Impact – Short Term – Incremental Information

If through some mechanism we created a replica of you right now, and called that twin ‘YourTwin’ you would both be in precisely the same emotional state. If YourTwin was then whispered some good news, and you were whispered some bad news, your emotional states would typically diverge. That additional news imparted was added to the information set that each of you held. As time passes you and I receive different bits of information and so our information sets are very different.

Impact of Incremental Information

Impact of Incremental Information

In the case of the sudden magical existence of YourTwin, before the additional news was imparted, with the same information, the thoughts, feelings and actions would have been identical. It is the incremental information that led to a divergence of moods.

Impact – Long Term – Integral of Information

screenshot255You are the sum total of your experiences so far. Because the long term is made up of the many, many short-terms it is important to understand the impact of each short-term and also the interaction between the many short-terms that make up the long-term.

Revelation of Information, Resolution of Uncertainty

Uncertainty, Reality - Information includes unrealized possibilities

Information includes unrealized possibilities

As time passes uncertainty is resolved. What was once a set of possibilities in our information set becomes a single reality in the information set. It is also worthwhile noting that the many unrealized possibilities are not to be discarded in favour of the single possibility that was eventually realized.

 

Let us now zoom into the information component of the infographic, A Better Life

Information in A Better Life

Information in A Better Life

Information Sources – Internal and External

External Information lies outside your mind. The non-human sources are many (e.g. internet, TV, printed material). The human sources are all the people you interact with directly. Internal Information is that which resides in your mind already, memories since birth. Most of the internal information will have originated from external sources. It is this information that we must take great care of and is essentially what drives your happiness. Your internal information is also your knowledge.

The Value of Information – My Green Underwear and Your Consumption

Many of us confuse ‘information’ with ‘useful information’. Even academics will often publish research that is ‘new’ and even incremental to existing information. [Click here to see some of mine 🙂 ]  However, you need to understand that, for you, information is useful and worth sourcing, analyzing and storing only if it will affect your current or future consumption. The knowledge that I am wearing green underwear does not affect your future happiness – it is new information but it is of zero value [or even negative value 😉 ]. Perhaps this crude analogy will help you remember this point whenever you think of information sources, so-called-information or news items, and storing that information. Ideally, information you seek ought to be both incremental and useful.

Action – External Information Sources

Given that information is the input to our thoughts, filtering it appropriately is important. Doing it consciously and with intelligent focus is very important. When I block out certain information sources, I call it ‘negative filtering’. Blocking out is extreme filtering – preventing information sources from reaching you in the first place! With external non-human information sources, this could include switching out of rubbish TV channels, muting the TV during adverts, watching news channels that do not constantly pipe through bad news. Filtering out external human information sources would include avoiding people who are ‘a waste of time’ or affect your state of mind negatively. And then we have the converse, ‘positive filtering’, to actively receive targeted e-mails on subject areas or sub-topics of interest, or meeting friends and experts who enhance our state of mind.

Block out Rubbish, Store the Useful Stuff Carefully, and Try to Not Forget it!

Block out Rubbish, Store the Useful Stuff Carefully, and Try to Not Forget it!

Action – Noise, not News

Someone who reads nothing is likely to not benefit much from the information available out there. Someone who reads a lot without being discerning is likely to (a) not retain much (b) spend less time on reflecting or have less time for acting in ways that make that information useful (c) not become particularly knowledgeable at things that are useful. Stop reading that newspaper every day. It is more likely to be making you more stressed and less happy. Even if you work in the financial markets, going to news actively at more spaced out intervals is likely to help you make better decisions. Do not waste your pre-frontal-cortex’s limited bandwidth on noise. Become a connoisseur of new useful information, not a mindless consumer of noise.

Pre-Processing Before Storage

Processing the information that you receive is also important so that you can decide whether you need to take specific action based on it or simply store away that information. Understanding how we commit to memory is also important then. Techniques for reinforcing useful memories for the short term (e.g. the name of the waiter who just served you – for a better meal experience) or the long term (e.g. the process for emergency CPR – to save a life!) will also be good for you to develop.

Internal Information

Information once stored comes in handy later for solving problems (e.g. getting to your favourite restaurant) and at times it can be debilitating (e.g. fear of approaching your boss to ask for a pay rise because of experiences in your childhood or recent past). Handling that internal information consciously is also important for thriving. Being conscious of your power to try to retrieve only useful information will make you feel more in control of your own life. Your internal information is your knowledge – and knowledge is power! Focus on quality not just quantity. But, with regards to quantity, remember that knowledge builds on knowledge – you can’t read unless you know the alphabet! You won’t eat healthily if you don’t even know something as simple as what the nutrient groups are!

Results as Information

With the information that we have we think through a decision process and then perform certain actions. Those actions lead to certain results and those results become new information that we have to then manage. We generally tag or label these results e.g. ‘disaster’, ‘bad’, ‘good’, ‘awesome’ when we store them away but that tagging also needs wisdom. I spoke to you many months ago about how such labels can limit you. Results are just an outcome and, therefore, beyond the necessary analysis, resultant conclusions and sensible storage, it makes more sense to focus in a disciplined manner on improving the design and execution of the daily processes (that drive the results).

Information and Cognitive Biases

Humans are subject to a whole host of cognitive biases that make us function in less than optimal ways. Knowing what these biases are, and what their impact might be, will help reduce the cost of errors you make using the information you handle. Ignore this aspect at your peril!

Junkie? No! Snob? Yes!

If you are anywhere close to my age or older you grew up in times when information and knowledge were not easy to come by. There was no world-wide-web and definitely no smart search engines. You had to typically get hold of books, journals or wait for a specific documentary to be aired on TV. Today, there is concern about information overload. There are some people who still take pride in being news junkies. I prefer to follow the approach of being an information snob. Don’t take false pride in hearing about a lot, or even knowing a lot. Take pride in knowing enough of what is important to lead a happier life. It is not a problem of information overload – it is a problem of inappropriate filtering! I consciously seek additional knowledge every day but I try to do that under the umbrella of consciously deciding what information to add to my information set. Information that will not make me happier now or in the future, I consciously avoid. Information that will help me consume more units of happiness now or in the future is what I am interested in. Paying attention to that detail is important.

Be a snob, don’t consume junk!

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Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

You Might Run Slower Sooner Than You Think

Land, Air or Sea - Natural Limits Exist

Land, Air or Sea – Natural Limits Exist

Do you sometimes wonder for how long you will keep improving your race times? Do you see some friends (appear to) continue to improve year after year, and yet others (seem to) not improve much at all, and some even (seem to) be get slightly worse every year? What could your own benchmark be for athletic performance as the years roll past? Would be good to have a handle on that, right? (Did you wonder why I have those few words in parentheses and emphasized in italics? It is because what ‘appears to’ be, or ‘seems to’ be, might not always be!)

Now, what if you could follow almost 200 recreational distance runners for 7 years over the same race that they ran year-after-year? That might tell you a lot about where your own running might take you, right? Well, here’s some evidence based guidance, based on data never seen before, that I have put together for you.

After listening to what I have to say here, mostly facts, and some conjecture, you will be able to plan your own distance running or other athletic targets for the years to come.

Quick Background

From early childhood to post-puberty, children keep improving for years in various measures of fitness. There is a difference between boys and girls and, depending on what feature of athletic performance one looks at, for a given youth the path will follow periods of rapid improvement, stagnation, and then further improvement followed by tapering off in improvements. What can we say for adult recreational athletes?

Some studies suggest that it takes about 4 years of training for an adult to reach their peak potential. Of course, it is quite likely that the results from controlled studies on adult sporting professionals might not apply to you. That is especially the case if you are an urban recreational athlete. So, let us listen to the story from a unique data set that I have prepared for us.

Unique Data

I look at the case of my ‘home race’, the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon, and examine the performance of all the runners who raced the exact same half marathon or full marathon every single year for 7 years in a row (2010 to 2016). This is a small subset of the urban running population. But it is a very valuable subset as it allows us to follow the exact same population of runners over multiple years. Recreational runners in Mumbai face all the constraints and challenges of life in a city with a very high population density, stupidly high real estate costs, terrible public infrastructure and not the most pleasant weather in the world. Having said that, I believe the broad pattern of results will apply to any pairwise population cohort and race combination.

Earlier Work on this Race Event

In a much earlier conversation I presented what happened between 2010 and 2014 to the overall numbers of all participants in the races and average race times over those 5 years. Earlier this year I presented here how that overall quality (race times) and quantity (number of participants) had changed in the period 2010 to 2016. Neither of those investigations had controlled for individual runners being identified and tracked separately across races. Then, when I addressed the question Are Recreational Marathoners in India Getting Faster? I tackled the issue of identifying runners across consecutive races and examining their performance. I identified and tracked 50,719 consecutive period race pairs. However, this repeated pairing was done only across consecutive races – not across the entire span of multiple years. Now, for the first time, here, I identify and examine the same runner across a long span of 7 years and always running the same race – either the half marathon 7 years in a row, or the full marathon 7 years in a row.

Noise

There will be a few cases within the data where the race times are not representative of the ‘true state of athletic performance’. Examples include: transfer of racing bibs to friends who are a lot slower/faster, pacing a slower set of runners, sudden bout of food poisoning during the race. Cramping or running injuries mid-race are not equivalent examples because they do indicate the state of the runner – unprepared for the race!

What happened to Race Times over 7 Years?

There were only 158 participants who ran the half marathon in all 7 years. The equivalent number for the full marathon is just 35, so I exclude them for now but will refer to them shortly.

Same Race, Same Runners, Net-Finish-Times

As the bar graph shows, in terms of the average finish time of the group, the absolute athletic performance does not keep improving each year endlessly. In fact, besides being numerically similar, the average race time sometimes does not prove to be statistically different from one year to the next (i.e. given the variation in individual timings from one race to the next, the average of the race times of all runners in each year does not change enough for that change to be distinguished to be different from zero). So then what can we say about the variation from one year to the next?

Factors Affecting Performance

Factors Affecting Aggregate Race Performance

Factors Affecting Aggregate Race Performance

Of the broad factors affecting performance, the (i) Temperature on race morning and (ii) Humidity on race morning which can, confusingly, often vary in opposite directions to each other can be cleverly combined into the single Heat Index for those race mornings for neater analysis. The process followed by (iii) Ageing is deterministic (a year every year!) even if its effect is not constant, and so can be ignored to a very good first approximation between consecutive years (even if not across a 7-year jump). The (iv) Elevation profile was approximately the same for the years 2010 to 2015 (inclusive) and we can note the effect of the noticeably changed route in 2016. The process followed by (v) Training is the big unknown, and is individual runner specific, and is into which we can subsume all variation unexplained by the other factors when comparing successive years for any individual runner. This includes physical conditioning over a year, psychological training for athletic performance, and any other on-race-day individual behaviour.

Note that although we cannot distinguish between those who commenced running in 2010 and those who might have been active distance runners for 30 years, by aggregating numbers, we can smoothen out individual idiosyncracies and examine the overall impact of Training and the other factors on the entire cohort over that period.

Reasonable Factor Variability Reduction

Reasonable Factor Variability Reduction

Plotting the Heat Index for each of the race mornings along with the average finish times we can see that, from 2011 to 2016 the Heat Index stays within a narrow band, but the performance does not really improve much with time. The effect of training of these runners over a year is not strong enough to drive race performance to faster finish times.

Weather within a Narrow Band - Performance Stagnates

Weather within a Narrow Band – Performance Stagnates

Worsening Performance in 2016 – Route Change, Ageing or Training?

When the changed route for the Half Marathon was announced for 2016 I spoke to you about the challenges. My estimate then was that it would add between 1%-3% to your race time. Given that the Heat Index was almost identical on the race mornings of 2015 and 2016, one might conclude that (all other things remaining equal) the (2.56%) slower time in 2016 vindicated my forecast estimate of 1%-3%. Of course, the runners were a year older. But, let’s assume that the extra year of ageing didn’t really affect performance. Then, since the Full Marathon had the same route for both 2015 and 2016, perhaps we can say that those who had been running it for 7 years in a row displayed worse performance! The effect of a year of ageing had now overpowered an extra year of training! In that case we cannot separate out the effects of the route change for the Half Marathon and the worsening because of ageing versus training.

Same Weather - Same/Changed Route - Worse Performance!

Same Weather – Same/Changed Route – Worse Performance!

Why we should Love this Special Population?

It is instructive to note that this population of runners who had run the same 7 races for 7 years in a row is a unique subset of the 45,000 humans who ran in either the half or the full marathon in those 7 years. They are not representative of the typical recreational runner (who clearly did not run the same race for 7 years). However, they are an especially useful segment of the running population because they tell us what we can reasonably expect of ourselves when we set out to make running (or any other physical activity) a part of our lives for the long run. You can also see that their athletic ability spans a wide range and you will be able to identify your own ability within this range.

2016 SCMM Half Marathon Finish Times for the Cohort of 158 runners

2016 SCMM Half Marathon Finish Times for the Cohort of 158 runners

What does this Story Really Mean for You?

I have told you why you need not run and even why I don’t care about your podium finish (or mine). I love to include running as one very very tiny part of the many activities I engage in for a happier life. I ran my first half marathon (accidentally) in that same Half Marathon in 2010 but am not part of this data set. However, the numbers speak to me very clearly and form evidence based guidance on what could be appropriate benchmarks for my own running as the years roll by. Even as I write this closing paragraph, I noticed that my regular weekend long-run buddy features in the data. He has a Half Marathon PB of 1-hour-12-minutes (many years ago) and is the fastest runner in this cohort of runners. I like the guidance that these numbers give me. How will you benefit from their story?

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Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

The Better Life Infographic

A Better Life – The Infographic

When I spoke to you here a few weeks ago about leading a better life both today and tomorrow, it was to introduce an additional theme to the articles to come. Articles on various aspects of life – experiences, thoughts, moods, feelings, decisions, actions, results. My goal for you is to live a happier and more fulfilling life for as long as possible, and not happier just “some day in the future”, or only today. To attempt to live a happier life everyday!

The Infographic

To encourage clearer thinking, and consistent decision making, I will often refer to the ‘model’ whose diagram I present in the infographic above. If you can internalize this image for your own daily decisions, that’s great. (One of my future articles will address the topic of internalizing and learning!) In any case, you can come back to this image at any time in the future whenever I refer to it.

This is a wide-angle or zoomed-out view of the model. As time goes by, depending on the topic, I will zoom us into parts of it so that you will better understand the point I am trying to get across to you, or the hypothesis that I am postulating.

I hope you will make time to enjoy benefiting from the chats to come. This infographic will be of great assistance.

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Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

A Better Life – Today and Tomorrow?

A Better Life – Today and Tomorrow?

A Better Life – Today and Tomorrow?

Even if you are blissfully happy, this 2-minute-30-seconds read will help you have a more fulfilling life. Simple to understand, easy to implement, tried and tested.

Billionaires or Paupers

A few months ago, I was invited to speak at a private club of billionaires. I started my discourse to the room full of friendly faces with the simple fact that, whether a pauper or billionaire, our number of hours of living per day are the same 24 hours. It is what we do (and think) in those 24 hours that determine our level of happiness and fulfillment.

Trade-offs

We all want to live happy and fulfilling lives. We are born into this life with nothing material, and we go to death with nothing financial. If you are reading this on a screen, you are unlikely to be on the poverty line, no matter where in the world you live. And yet, you are likely to be breaking your back in the pursuit of wealth beyond your needs. That might be acceptable to you until you realize that the trade-off is not worth it. Often you realize it when it is too late, and often you realize it when it is not late but you feel the regret about time lost.

Preparing for a Robust Future

When we are little children, we naturally enjoy each moment. A year seems like eternity. As we get older the natural instincts to survive and procreate increase our drive to do something that will have a beneficial impact on our future. We think of investing in our future with education and training, with building cooperative networks, new friendships and even marriage. We even try to future proof our careers by investing in further education, or protect the future of our businesses through investing research or additional land or new equipment. As a general framework, all that is right on track.

Hindsight Regret

There come those moments before death when we realize that we have gathered too much that is material and, yet, immaterial. That farmhouse that we visited for a couple of weeks each year. That set of diamonds we wore five times. That expensive rare watch that only signalled that we had money not character. That car more expensive than the home of your chauffeur who will drive it on traffic jammed roads while you sit at the back, and what gets weaker is your back!

Even long before we get to that late stage, and long after we are set on a path of considerable wealth relative to our needs, NOT our wants, we continue to acquire with little regard to the bigger picture. We pay little attention to our physical fitness – oh, but we pay for all the equipment and gear our kids need to play sports. We give little notice to what we put in our mouths – oh, but we spend a lot on the finest restaurants with our friends. We don’t think much about our thoughts – but we pay for our kids to get schooled at the best. We spend little time thinking about life’s true meaning – but we will be eager to donate to the local church, mosque, or temple.

Disconnect

We save as if we’ll live for decades, but we live like we do not care to be healthy to live that long. There is clearly a disconnect. In fact, even when we know that there is a disconnect, we don’t usually address it – mostly because at first glance it is not a simple problem to solve. Being human, we go down the path of least resistance, and so we ‘continue as is’. Maintaining the status quo is the widely practised default scenario played out.

The Path Ahead – Leading a Better Life

I started this series of conversations with you more than two years ago with my first chat about ‘Discipline’. Following on from there I spoke over many months on topics such as nutrition, fitness, health, process, performance and excellence. Today’s conversation was to set the stage for another theme that I speak to audiences about often – leading a better life – beyond just physical fitness improvements and intellectual development.

I hope you will make time to enjoy benefiting from the chats to come.

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Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

Learning from the IDBI Mumbai 2016 Race Event

Learning from the IDBI Mumbai 2016

The IDBI Federal Life Insurance Mumbai Race had its first edition on 21 August 2016. What are some of the things that we can learn from it as pacers, race runners, organizers or coaches?

Learning from – The Route

Two days before the race I chatted with you to provide a few tips specific for this race day. It seems like there was indeed some (fortunately, only minor) confusion in stages where the 5-km, 10-km and 21-km routes overlapped. Hopefully that did not cause any problems for your pace.

Although some of you who ran the half marathon version have reported that you found the distance measure was slightly short of 21.1 km, my analysis from various independent GPS devices suggests that the distance was correctly measured within an acceptable range. Please be aware that if your GPS device has a sampling frequency that is not very high then you will typically get a distance reading that is biased to be shorter than what you actually ran. Also, be aware that running the shortest distance between any pair of the 20+ twists and turns will lead to a shorter measure than the official measurement device which has been used for internationally approved races. That device is specifically used with the protocol of traversing a path in the middle of the road-route, not the shortest distance between two turns.

Learning from – The Weather

The weather was not a surprise to us. My own rudimentary forecast was almost bang on target. The temperature and humidity were both as I expected. Also, there was some drizzle which is always nice. And, the wind was less forceful than than my forecast and also gentler than in the mornings leading up to the race. In summary, the weather was, at best, a small positive surprise!

Learning from – The Pacing

I have already reported on the failure of pacers at this race. This aspect definitely needs to change in race events. Western businesses often complain about Indians’ approach to winning projects – reassurances of “yes, we can do that” – followed by under-delivery!  Let’s root out such repeated failures! Whether you are a race organizer, a pacer, a wannabe pacer, or someone who is selecting a pacer for help in their next race, you would be well advised to read my guide on it.

Learning from – The Post-Race Breakfast

I do not have much to comment about the post-race nutrition – I rarely find that it is what I want to eat after a tough race. Because everyone has different preferences, when I suspect that what is offered will bother me, I ensure that I arrange for my own post-race food and drink.

Learning from – Expectation v Actual

IDBI Mumbai 2016 – Performance – Actual v Expected

I asked, and many of you responded (thank you for that) about your own performance versus target. Given that the weather conditions were not different from expected, in fact less headwind where we might have had some (“between the 17-19km markers”), my guidance is the following. Think back to each and every step of your process for setting up the expectation that you had for your target. In parallel, read what I said a few weeks ago about process for performance. Going through this exercise is likely to generate a more accurate ex ante forecast of your next race finish time. Not necessarily because you might be faster, but because you will understand your own ability more accurately.

Mat Placement Error for the Half Marathon

Click to enlarge

I happened to come across the following error about the race organization. On scouring the GPS records of my mentees who ran the race, compared with the official timing records, I noticed that the official 16.0 km timing mat was not at the 16.0 km point – it was actually placed a significantly further distance down the route. I do not have any reason to think that this error is directly related to the wrong placement of Km markers on the official route map, that I mentioned in my pre-race guide, but you never know! So, why do I think that the mat was in the wrong place, and where exactly was it? Here are my answers to these two questions.

Why do I think the 16.0 km mat was in the wrong place?

Wrong mat distance suggests wrong pace

If you pick anyone who ran the race without any “odd or unusual” pattern you will notice that their ‘average pace’ up to the 16.0 km mat according to the official distance/time splits was unusually slower compared with the ‘average pace’ up to the 12.1 km mat. Now, all that would be fine, except that the ‘average pace’ up to the 21.1 km (finish) mat is then faster again. This will strike you as slightly unusual, and prompt you to ask a question like “ah, but maybe the person actually ran really slowly between 12.1 km and 16.0 km and then ran much faster between the 16.0 km and 21.1 km mark?”  However, that argument falls apart when you calculate that the pace the recreational runner would have to run the last 5.1 km is significantly faster than what they ran in the earlier parts of the race, when in fact they had been gradually slowing down from the very start (as recreational runners typically do!).

So where was the 16.0 km mat actually placed?

Highly likely that the 16.0km mat was at 16.75km

Highly likely that the 16.0km mat was at 16.75km

It is 30 elite and 2,213 non-elite half marathoners for whom there exist valid readings across all the 8 timing mats (km = 0, 3, 5.7, 9.1, 10.4, 12.1, 16.0, 21.1). Taking all their mat timings and building a few linear and non-linear models I concluded that the 16.0 km mat was actually placed at the 16.75 km mark. This is clearly a glaring error, not a small one! Perhaps you do not need to look at the official splits because you (a) are not interested in your performance details (b) have your own GPS device readings (c) don’t see what the big deal is. After all most racers do not bother to do an ex post quantitative analysis of their race. However, my more serious question is, what went wrong with the race organization process and the (non-existent?) checks that should be in place?

Concluding Remarks

Each of us individually has to focus on what we can do, as well as we can do it, and in every aspect of our personal and professional lives. We are happy to pay the equivalent of a household maid’s weekly wages for a single Sunday morning run.  We expect fairly high performance from our domestic helpers. How often do we stop and ask ourselves if we get that from others, especially organizations, that we are paying for a service or product?

Let us work together to make all races across the country, not just the next edition of the IDBI Mumbai, a more successful event at the individual and organizational level.

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Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

Reporting on Pacing Failures at the IDBI 2016

Start…                          Middle…                          Finish!

Don’t shoot the messenger

Last month I ran and won my main race of the year, the BNP Endurathon 25.0, a 25km race with some pretty tough hills in muggy conditions. I did not stick to a pacing strategy because my goal there was to win along with only a soft pace target – I had a racing strategy. But let’s not care about my podium finish. When my goal is specifically to pace others in a race, it is no longer competitive strategy and game-theory that I employ – after all the mandate is to hit an acceptable time band for crossing the finish line. Come hell or high water! The race strategy is then simply a pacing strategy

to run the route at an appropriate pace at each of the many stages of the entire distance to ensure that the typical person who has trained appropriately crosses the finish line ahead of the target time”

So, to go too fast at times might lose certain participants, and to go too slow at specific stages of the race might force others to drop back later when the pace is increased too much in order to catch up. The money is in the detail and success is in the process. It was in that vein that I also created these free gifts for you, specifically for that race.

I should tell you that I do not like this part of my ‘self-inflicted job’ – being the messenger to you about pacing failures at races. After all, many of the pacers are my friends! The IDBI (Mumbai) 2016 of last Sunday was no different.

Previous Reports

I reported on the Failure of Pacers at the SCMM-2016 earlier this year, and about the Pacing Failures at the SCMM 2015 a year prior to that. For some background, my most widely read guide on being a pacer or choosing a pacer is worth going through if you haven’t already.

It is true that most people do not use a pacer, but whether you use one or not, you might like to see that the quality of pacers is not sub-standard, as that sets the tone for other things at the event too then!

The IDBI-2016 10km Race Pacers Report – Shocking Failure Rates!

IDBI-2016 10km Pacer Race Times

Of course this categorization of what is success and failure is my own, based on what I think a recreational runner doing a 10km race would find acceptable when targeting a finish time in the range 50-minutes to 90-minutes. Going slower than the finish time is definitely unacceptable, but you might argue that going faster than 1-min-15-sec is not too bad. However, I believe that someone struggling to complete his race in, say, 70-minutes, would find it incredibly difficult if pushed to a time faster than 68-min 45-sec. As a pacer, if you go inappropriately fast, you will lose runners who will drop back and then never catch up with their goal pace. A strategy with built-in dynamic balance is key. In any case, even if you were to relax the conditions, the failure rate is shocking! The actual times are also listed in the table for you to make your own judgement of pass/fail. I am just the messenger.

What I would like to point out is that I do not even think that a ‘yaay!’ is necessarily success if the pacer simply ran too fast for most of the distance and then slowed down deliberately close to the finish line to avoid being documented as a failure.

The IDBI-2016 Half Marathon Race Pacers Report – Shocking Failure Rates!

IDBI-2016 Half Marathon Pacer Race Times

The acceptable band, like in previous reports, starts 2-min 30-sec before the target time. For longer distances such as a full marathon, I have the same width of acceptance. As you can see from the table, the failure rate is shocking!

Why this report update?

Most mass participation sporting events are about combining physical fitness with entertainment. In India with all its frustrations of corruption in so many walks of life, we often look at recreational running as a way to get away from things that we often seem to have little control over, towards something that we can have some control over that also leads to a better physical existence. So, when we race towards a time target with a pacer, we expect that promises will not be broken, just like that of politicians. We expect that we won’t get failure, just like that of electricity supply. We hope that we won’t fall short of our target like we might fall short of water in our homes. 7 pacers out of 12 failing to achieve their promised target for the half marathon is shocking!

It’s great that so many entities are able to use the financial profits from such events as an incentive to create and conduct these events. As customers of such service providers, we would like to get value for money in terms of the experience – often we don’t. In the same vein, it’s always good to report on the standards of pacers. I decided to report on this aspect of the IDBI 2016 race because it is the main competitor in the race calendar for what has been my “home city’s race”, the SCMM held in January each year.

Questions to be answered

I have many friends among both the lists above and I hope that those who didn’t finish successfully will not take this report personally. I am sure they already feel quite rotten about what transpired. Perhaps they will step back and think about their performance objectively. In the cases where the same pacer has failed in a previous race, perhaps we should ask the race organizers “why was that person selected again to be a pacer?” What are we doing about Process for Performance?

I have told you why you need not run to be fit. But if you are going to run, and if you are going to race, and have been promised a pacer, you deserve a successful pacer. I’m just saying…

Don’t shoot the messenger!

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Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.