Recent Charger Records 2021.12.01

Recent Charger Records 2021.12.01

Recent Charger Records 2021.12.01

F8084              8k Track                      Estelle Hahn                1:21:09            11/10/2021

M8589             8k Track                      Sam Graceffo              1:08:54            10/10/2021

Both Sam and Estelle added track records to the road records they set over the same distance this summer.

Which is Faster? Track, or Road?

Author Bob Glover once noted that, after a race, runners inevitably gather to discuss what went wrong. I’ve sometimes heard the excuse “I run better on the track” offered after a poor road race performance, and the opposite after a bad day at the track. Is either claim justified by the facts?

For the average runner, the question is hard to answer since most amateurs run on the roads and seldom offer track results suitable for comparison, but we can get some idea by comparing road and track records over the same distance. The table below lists current world, national, and club records for distances run on both track and the roads, together with a column that shows their proportional difference.

5K Road 5K Track 10K Road 10K Track
World Male 12:51 12:35.6 -2.1% 26:24 26:11 -0.8%
World Female 14:41 14:06.12 -4.1% 29:38 29:01.3 -2.1%
National Male 13:20 12:56.6 -3.0% 27:23 26:44.36 -2.4%
National Female 14:50 14:23.92 -3.0% 31:21 30:13.7 -3.7%
SCTC Male 14:21 14:11.2 -1.2% 29:29 29:20.6 -0.5%
SCTC Female 16:43 15:52.7 -5.3% 34:44 34:07.9 -1.8%

Based on these data we can hazard a tentative conclusion: for moderate distance races, times run on the roads are 2-3 percent slower than times for the same distance run on a standard outdoor track. Moreover, this difference is reasonably consistent at the world, national, and club levels.

The immediate question, or course, is why? There are undoubtedly many factors that come into play. Track world records are often recorded at prestigious European meets held during the summer. Top athletes plan their training schedules so that they will be in top form during the big meet season. If they compete in road races at all, it is most likely in the off-season when they are in training and not yet in peak shape. The “prestige factor” of world track records may carry over to the national and club level, as amateurs are inspired to save their best efforts for the rare occasions when they venture onto a track.

Road race records set in the early days of the running boom were often greeted with skepticism. Was the course short? Was the timing accurate? Did competitors receive aid or even cut the course a la Rosie Ruiz while not under the watchful eye of race officials? Attempting to legitimize road records, governing bodies like the RRCA greatly tightened record standards during the 1970s and 1980s. Record quality courses, for example, are subject to strict limits on elevation drop, the separation between the start and finish, and are even measured slightly long on purpose to make sure runners cover at least the stated distance. That 5k you just ran, for example, was probably closer to 5005 meters than to 5000 meters.

As you line up for your next record attempt on the roads, bear in mind that you will face several handicaps that would be absent were you standing at the waterfall start on a track: Since records are based on gun times rather than chip times, the extra distance to the starting line – not to mention the short course prevention factor – gets added to the advertised race distance. You will need to be skilled at selecting the shortest possible route (“running the tangents”), since the course will have been measured that way. In addition, you will face hills, broken pavement, stray dogs, unpredictable weather, and unpleasant smells, all factors that are mostly absent in the sanitized environment of a track race. Perhaps most importantly, you will not receive accurate split times every quarter mile that makes it easier to run an even pace, as you would on a track.

We should note that both Estelle and Sam ran slightly slower times on the track than they did on the road. Did they underperform on the track, or overperform on the roads? I won’t go near that one but will note that most record performances are statistical in that they are gleaned from the efforts of a large sample of runners. Statistical results, while interesting, generally do not apply to individual performances, and Sam and Estelle both set records that have not been attempted before by Chargers in their category.