Friday, October 24, 2008

Life-Adjusted Race Times

Have you ever watched an athlete crush a course record and then be even more impressed when you find out that they have three kids, a new job, and recently moved? Or how about the other extreme - witnessing a new course record set by a 28-year-old with no social life, a part-time job, and nothing but time to train? Well of course they can haul ass with all that time to train. But how do you compare these breakthrough performances? I think we need a calculation for life-adjusted race times.

The World Association of Veteran Athletes has Age-Graded Tables, a set of "age factors" and "age standards" that, when multiplied by a time or distance, allow athletes of any age and event to compare their performances with that of any other athlete (go here for a calculator). Perhaps we could have the same for adjusting for major life events. But where to start?

I've seen a life stress test floating around (such as this one) to help determine susceptibility to stress-related illnesses. Perhaps we could use similar elements with a starting score of 100, where challenging life events subtract from your score, and calming life events add to it. Once you add/subtract all of your life events, divide by 100 to get your multiplier. I'll suggest some factors below - feel free to add to it!

Remember, negative numbers improve your life-adjusted time by lowering your multiplier. You can think of it as "they clocked that time despite having xxx life challenge".

ScoreLife Event
-15Death of spouse (unless they hated your workouts, then +5)
-10Recent divorce/break up (see above)
-7Fired/laid off from job (unless large severance check, then +10)
-7Recently had first child
-2For each child in household under the age of 10 (-4 each if single parent)
-3For each unruly teenager in the house
-3Recently moved (unless recently moved closer to your favorite trails, then +3)
+8No spouse or significant other
+3Spouse shares your passion for sports
-3Spouse "tolerates" your passion for sports
+10Independently wealthy
+5Part-time job
-7Recently denounced your God/religion
+5Recently found a new God/religion
-5Recently quit smoking/drugs/drinking
-2First time on this course/trail
+220+ time on this course/trail
Got any more?

- SD


  1. This is a great post! There's nothing I love more than when a "real person" kicks ass just because they love the sport!

  2. What about:
    Moving cross country
    New job
    50+ mile commute each way to work


    All of which apply to me... Great post btw!

  3. Sometimes I think some of those high stress events are what get me out running more since running can be such a stress reliever. Still, it's totally true about different life situations. I don't know how some people can still be so fast with a busy job and kids!

  4. Julianne - Wow! That's the trifecta (quadfecta?). That commute is worth about -5 for sure.

    Gretchen - I totally get what you mean. I originally had some life events like "high stress job", but I wasn't sure if that made you faster or slower. I know in my case, I have a lot of pent up energy from my job that gets released on the trail, so I think it's a benefit.


  5. great post, Scott! I can pretty much see where all those numbers come from. i have a 21 month old, a full time job, a 20-25 mile commute each way, which all effect training. not much, but it's daily, so it has a cumulative effect on your racing. then there's the unfamiliarity with a course. if you're talking about a relatively fast, well marked course, i don't think it comes into play as much. but on the trails or when course markings and degree of difficulty are a mystery going in, it definitely effects the pace.

  6. Love the post. I have learned that a 25 year old male would have to run a 3:35 marathon to compete with this 52 year old's p.b. of 4:10:43. I'm feelin' good! ... especially for a Friday. Thanks Scott. Mike

  7. Yes Scott, I read about a runner with amazing times and I can't figure out how he has time to!

    I think home owners should get some credit points. Of course, you can do what I do, just ignore all house work and go out and run.

    My word verification right now is ULatTRA... funny!

  8. Age-graded tables are useless except as ego pacifiers. Physiologists know that individual differences are enormous. The only standard that works across all ages and abilities is stretching personal edges. And the reward isn't ego balm; it goes deeper. At 66, believe me, you can feel like a young stud. Just do it.

  9. Stressor suggestion: Recently carved a "B" in your cheek and told police you got attacked for supporting candidate "X". Maybe a rating of +5.
    Receiving a phone call from candidate "X" - maybe score +10, if X is your hero.
    False report discovered and all over the media could be a score like -15.

    Okay, but seriously, another good one to add would be distance travelled. I pretty much refuse to race outside my home state. If someone flies in from New Zealand, has the stresses of currency exchange, visas, then that definitely has to count for something. But like you show for trails, if you're used to the drill, it wouldn't cost as much. Some people love the thrill of travelling, but most simply endure it. If they can still trump my butt after all that, I really admire them.

  10. Great post. I heard the PA/USATF might start using this system next year along with the Karl Rule.

    I agree, if you added stressful work/long hours, Mark Tanaka would win all the races (life-adjusted). Of course, he generally does not need that to win. ;-)

    How about "Sipping Mai-Tais in Hawaii before the (next) race" for +25?

  11. i agree so much with this post - i think we should start to implement it immediately!
    i agree with adding crappy/long commute into the equation as well as whether or not you have live-in childcare or full time daycare etc. or any other hired help...
    for example, are you at SAHM/D who has a nanny, house cleaner someone who comes over and mows your lawn?(then i wish i were you, lol...)

  12. Scott- I used to belong to a running club where some of the member left their jobs to just train full-time, get massages, do yoga and all that....while I was working full-time and trying to squeeze training/workouts in a night. And every key race, that person would be neck and neck with me and often finish ahead of me and I could see their satisfaction....but it pissed me off...this person was doing nothing but training- no job, etc. and I was killing myself in a corporate job.....not fair. I like your suggestion, for obvious reasons, a lot!

  13. Hmmmm, how about hoofing it from the campsite outside of town and hitch hiking the rest of the way to the start line? Or biking it in? Or accidentally taking contents of your friend's younger sister's bottle of x when you thought it was advil (it really, really, really pays to take a good look at a pill before dosing anything)?

  14. With three teenage kids (one of them with special needs), a full-time managerial job, countless hundreds of hours of trail volunteer work, President of the Board of Trustees of one of the most complex races in the country. I find it amazing Tim Twietmeyer even makes it to the start line...

    Cheers, PC

  15. Very clever idea! There should also be a "genetic calculator" but I have no idea how to measure that. Family history? Anyway, some suggestions for your stress factors:

    -1 For each household pet >5 lbs (unless the pet gets you outdoors more
    often, then +1 each)

    +1 For blogging about the race (but if stopping to take photos, then -1)

    -1 For getting attacked by small wildlife (bees, squirrels, sparrows,

    -10 For getting attacked by large wildlife (bears, cougars, bigfoot,

  16. scott,
    Thanks for the post. in a world where we want our 401k's going up up up with each passing year. Our income going up up up with each passing year ect ect. Its SOO important to have an honest assessment of our station in life. Fitness is something i want to be a joy and an asset and if I don't account for my place in life it becomes a just another thing that makes me fee that I'm dipping into the "-'S"

  17. Thanks Scott - great post. As I head into races I can see pretty well there's a strong correlation between how much "road time" I've had away from home, the number of super long days at work over the prior month and how deliberate my training was. Like others, I'm very thankful for the release and recreation that running offers, even if life slows me down.

  18. Great ideas, everyone!

    Commute, attack by wildlife, special needs kids - all worthy of life-adjusted scores. I find it interesting that a demanding job helps some stick to a more regimented training schedule - maybe there is no adjustment for that?

    Tanaka and Twietmeyer are great examples. I've seen Tanaka rolling off a 36 hour shift, win a 50-miler, then host a birthday party for one of his three kids. It's amazing.


  19. great post. i think it's worth noting that these stresses tend to effect people in very different ways. some people are wired in such a way that they "need" the stress and without it they would not be able to focus on thier running, even if it meant they had more time to do so.

    it's easy to get caught up thinking that if we just had more free time we could be such better runners, and for some people this may be the case, but definitely not for everyone. there are certainly no short cuts to reaching our fullest potential, and although specific stress factors CAN effect how "fast" we can become they don't automatically. i guess to some extent i would argue that these things only limit us to the extent that we "let" them... as obviously some of these great runners being talked about here just don't let their seemingly hectic lives slow them down. good for them. i think we can all have it that way. if we want running to be that important in our lives we'll find a way to excel at it despite what might seem like things holding us back.

  20. Scott,

    Reading your post I immediately thought of Mark (working in ER, young kids, rush to race start after work, competitiveness, etc.).

    As per Tim, I don't see any stress in him, I think he got rid of it, or under control with more than 30 years running ultras...

    Ok, we run for the fun of it, don't we? And because it's a great stress reliever!

    Farther Faster

  21. I often thought this is what seperates the pros from the amateurs in more popular sports such as Ironman or marathon. I wonder if ultras could do the same - "pro" means "I focus 100% of my non-family time to the sport" vs "amateur" which means "I have a day job".

  22. Kinda makes me feel better...but I will leave it to myself:) No, really, when you find a race with those adjustment, give me a call, ok? :)

  23. Scott,

    I would love this because I am in a high stress job, middle school teacher, and I have two kids under the age of 4 with a wife that tolerates my passion. I think there is one thing you need to add, where you live can dictate what type of training you can do. I live in Modesto, so I have to drive forty miles to find A hill. I guess you have to finish a race for these handicaps to even work. Poke at my two DNFs this year.

  24. Scott,

    The last comment was mine. My wifes name is appearing. Sorry.

    Jon Olsen

  25. Scott, this is too good! The only thing more amusing are the comments...Being attacked by wildlife - so valid.

  26. -7 Recently denounced your God/religion

    That's a great thing. Not sure why this is rated as a high challenge life situation.


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