Google+ Running in Cork, Ireland: Looking at the Ballycotton '5' race numbers over the years...

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Looking at the Ballycotton '5' race numbers over the years...

The Ballycotton 5 mile road race would certainly be one of the most popular road races locally. Looking through the stats for the race, various patterns emerge but just like the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words then a graph can make a lot more sense than a sheet full of numbers.

The graph above shows the numbers taking part in the Ballycotton '5' race over the last 35 years.

For the first few years, the numbers were very small until the running boom of the early 80's. What is evident from the peak in 1984 is that a high percentage (69%) ran faster than 7 min/mile pace.

By the late 80's, the numbers had reduced before recovering in the early 90's and hitting a new peak in 1993 with the percentage then running faster than 7 min/mile pace at 67%.

By the late 90's, the numbers had reduced again and remained more or less steady until about 2005. All the while, the percentage of faster runners was reducing. By 2005, the percentage of runners faster than 7 min/mile pace was 54%. When you look at the graph between say 1984 and 2004, you can see the steady drop in speed as a percentage but there is nothing's more of a gradual change.

When you look at the huge increase in recent years then it is evident that a lot more slower runners are now taking part. In fact when you look at the green line, you can see that the number of runners going faster than 7 min/mile pace hasn't increased by much. The number for 2011 was 193 while it was 176 back in 1993. As a percentage, those running sub 7 min/mile had reduced to 36% in 2011.

So why the huge influx of slower runners? There are probably a few factors but three that spring to mind are...
1) The increase in the number of women running who would naturally be slower than men. As a percentage, there are now more women in races than there were say 20 years ago although I think that may have been more of a gradual change than the step change as seen above. That might be worthy of another graph ;o)
2) The likes of the Cork Marathon attracting more casual runners who then go on to attend some of the local races.
3) The increased use of the Internet. It's easy now to find websites like this blog and you can find out about where the next race will be. 20 years ago, it was very much 'word of mouth' or by race flyers.

...and the lessons? Well for race organisers, it drives home the point yet again....big prizes do not equal big crowds. The vast majority of people attending local races do not expect to win anything so what is the point in offering big prizes with high entry fees?

Every local race will have a certain number of fixed costs when they are being organised. The addition of these slower runners now mean that a lot of races can be run at a slight profit rather than as a loss making venture.

So while some may lament the drop in overall standards, it is those people who are running away doing their own thing at 8 to 9 minute per mile pace who are largely responsible for the boom in race numbers.....and long may they continue.


Anonymous said...

A small point on this; it isn't necessarily the aim of every road race organising committee to get massive numbers entered. There are many road races, open cross country events, and track meets out there that aim to promote top-quality athletics, rather than just trying to get numbers to the start line. Some of these offer good prize money and have high entry fees; others do not. Most don't even aim to make any or much money from the venture – it is simply part of what an athletics club does to further the sport in its own locality.

It isn't always about just numbers – it is only through top-level competition that we might find the likes of the next Ciaran O'Lionaird.

Anonymous said...

Not necessarily true. Its by clubs staying in the black and investing in junior athletics that the stars of the future will be found.

Anonymous said...

I'm no statistician but to my mind what that graph shows is that the "natural" population of people running Ballycotton is about 180. In its first 6 years it was establishing itself. Each year more people hearing about it and promising to run the following year. Remember all word of mouth back then - no running blogs! It eventually settled into its natural population size.

There have been a few bumps from the "natural" population. One in the mid 80' and another in the early nineties. But these were small in comparison to what we see happening today. I dont thik you can compare todays doubling with anything thats gone before really. If you accept that the early 80's was more to do with a race getting itself established than a huge jump in the running population.

The factors you outlined for the decline in race speed are valid. The first one is very interesting and it would be brilliant to get a graph of womans participation during that time.

I expect it will go some way toward explaining what you see.

But another aspect to consider is this. All those people who ran Ballycotton in the 80's are probably (by an large) still running Ballycotton. But will natually be slowing down a bit after 20-30 years running.

So the Ballycotton age profile will be creeping upwards.

What I'd love to see is a comparison against a similar race elsewhere. How does the Munster running population compare against the UK Great Northern Run? Is 36% sub 7:00 normal? Better than normal?