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NIEUWS van Februari 2003
 
Every one is aware that time spent at refreshment points is time wasted. Time that could be spent moving towards the finish. But that idea has to be balanced against the need to drink and, in races longer than the marathon, to eat. In races like the Spartathlon athletes have to change clothes as the weather and temperature alters, often quite dramatically.

Ever since I was director of the International 24 Hours Championships at Milton Keynes I have been aware of the very different approaches athletes have to this problem. The laps were only 969 yards (886 metres) so I could watch the single refreshment point.
I saw some athletes were relaxed at the refreshment point throughout the race. They never hurried. They never dawdled.
Others started by pausing only to gulp a drink, but towards the finish spent time over ten minutes at the refreshment point. Yet they were quite unconscious of the time wasted and, when questioned afterwards, denied taking longer and longer.
The winners like Don Ritchie, the World 100 kms Record Holder, hardly stopped moving forward for 24 hours. He not only had his own drinks, but at the British 100 Kms Championships had a supporter to run beside him to give him drinks so that he would not even slow down.

Of course there are many athletes who go off too fast at the start, or become exhausted for many other reasons, and who simply have to rest before the can carry on. Their problem is not time wasted at refreshment points, but poor pace judgement or lack of stamina.
Whilst I have been aware of wasted time for a long while, I have never had an accurate measurement of it. Lap times at the races gave some indication, but that is all.

Then after the 1997 race the President of the International Spartathlon Association (ISA) kindly sent me a computer printout of the times at refreshment points of all the runners. It is an extraordinary and most valuable document of 125 pages. Never before have I seen such a detailed analysis of an ultra distance race.
It also demonstrates what an enormous task it is to organise the Spartathlon. There are no less than 75 refreshment points: the majority within 4 kms of each other. Even the first are only just over 5 kms apart, and towards the end they are just two kms apart. Yet not so long ago in England the Amateur Athletic Association’s rule was that refreshment points should be ten miles (16 kms) apart. The famous 55 mile (88 kms) London to Brighton race still follows that rule.

There follows some extracts from the ISA statistics which show how long athletes spent at refreshment points to the nearest complete minute. That is to say if they spent less than a minute they are not recorded as having stopped. If they spent 2 mins 45 secs it is recorded as only 2 mins. Thus with 73 refreshment points on offer (only two out of 75 are missing in the ISA statistics), the total Proven Delay (shown at the bottom line of Table 1) is certainly less than what actually happened. The more determined the athlete to keep moving, the more significant this error becomes. In the cases of more relaxed or exhausted athletes taking more time at the stops the error is least.
To try and arrive at a more realistic assessment of time spent not moving forward, I have then calculated an Assumed Delay. Here I have added 30 seconds to each proven stop as the half way point between one minute and the next, plus an arbitrary 30 seconds for half the refreshment points where no stop is recorded. (If you doubt the logic of this, note that six athletes appear not to have stopped at all during the first marathon – in the heat of Greece !)
From my own experience as an ultra distance athlete and organiser of many ultra distance championships, I calculate that an athlete of Ritchie’s quality would stop at the very most:


30 seconds at 50 refreshment points for drink = 25 minutes
1 minute at 20 refreshment points for food and drink = 20 minutes
3 minutes at 5 points for changing clothes and using toilet = 15 minutes

total = 40 minutes
.

Of course not all the delays are caused by the athletes themselves. At some refreshment points the athletes’ own refreshments are displayed on a small table, and it is the faster ones at the front who are most delayed searching, even though the parcels are set out in numerical order. In fact at at least one refreshment point the volunteers insist on finding the parcel which, with language problems, can cause further delay.

The ISA statistics are a mine of information to athletes who want to improve, as distinct from taking part, and coaches and scientists who want to learn about how athletes perform in very severe conditions. With gradients on different parts of the route, and with a large difference in temperature between different times and parts of the route. I tentatively suggest that it would be most illuminating if refreshments points at 25 kms intervals were to record the temperature every hour and whether it was sunny, cloudy, windy or raining.

The following extract represented by Table 1 concentrates on the medal winners: Costas Reppos from Greece, Kenji Okiyama from Japan and Rune Larsson from Sweden, and Helga Backhaus from Germany, Kime Funada from Japan, and Heike Pawzik from Germany. Plus Markus Thalmann from Austria and Max Courtillon from France, for comparison.

To help athletes remember the refreshment points the following descriptions may help:

81.0 Hellas Can just over Korinthos Canal
93.4 Old Korinthos
102.5 Zevlogation (just beyond stop in vineyard)
113.1 Halkion EKO petrol station
124.0 Old Nemea in church yard
140.2 Maladrenion village after steep descent
148.5 Lurkia village street
159.3 Start of stony climb over pass
172.0 Nestani, the feast in a village square
195.0 Tegea, rather basic halt in village
222.5 Hero’s Monument (on left). Army ambulances
236.2 Voutani Shell petrol station

The ‘Proven Delays’ as listed in Table 1 were then used to calculate the ‘Assumed Delays’ in Table 2. With these Assumed Delays I then calculated the ‘Assumed Running Time’ and added the Ideal Delay of 40 minutes to reach the supposed Finish Time if only 40 minutes delay was realised.

NB In Table 2 also some other athletes are listed, compared to Table 1: August Lespinas from France, Kjell-Ove Skoglund from Sweden and Seppo Leinonen from Finland. Also included are all three British athletes (Peter Leslie Foxall, Robert Meadowcroft, and Mark Williams) and the Australian athlete (Paul Every) that reached the finish.

If anyone had any doubts that spending only 40 minutes at refreshment points was possible, this is improved by Rune Larsson probably having beaten this target, and Helga Backhaus having come close to it !
With such discipline might not have made much difference to positions at the front of the field (see final column of Table 2), it would have brought Costas Reppos within striking distance of Yiannis Kouros’ record of 20.25. It would also have dramatic effects on the middle of the field. The last to finish were probably so exhausted, that just reaching Sparta was achievement enough.

Congratulations to Rune, Helga and Kjell-Ove Skoglund on their disciplined running. Also to Max Courtillon on daring to even start the Spartathlon when aged 71, let alone finish 32nd out of 76 finishers (and 120 starters).

John Foden

Original source: Newsletter of the Spartathlon Club of the British Isles, winter 1997/1998

Note by Martien Baars. Although I left the text by John Foden in its original form practically, I have adapted his Tables. The first Table was considerably condensed by pooling the time recorded at all the points in between the points listed by name in the article. And I limited the number of athletes in Table 1 to five males and three females. John Foden’s second Table has been virtually unaltered, except that I rearranged the athletes, by putting them in their finish sequence, and corrected some typo’s and wrong figures.


Table 1. Time spent at refreshment points

Males Females
Kostas Kenji Rune Markus Max Helga Kime Heike
Reppos Okiyama Larsson Thalmann Courtillon Backhaus Funada Pawzik
stnr 11 stnr 76 stnr 171 stnr 15 stnr 123 stnr 105 stnr 85 stnr 104
finish 1 finish 2 finish 3 finish 5 finish 32 finish 1 finish 2 finish 3

first 80 km, 21 points 9 23 3 6 17 6 11 8
81 km Hellas Can 3 1 0 9 9 1 44 13
next 3 points 2 2 1 3 7 0 2 2
93.4 km Old Korinthos 0 0 1 3 6 0 0 0
next 2 points 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 2
102.5 km Zevlogation 1 0 0 2 2 0 10 1
next 2 points 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
113.1 km Halkion Eko petrol 0 0 0 1 6 0 0 3
next 2 points 3 1 0 1 8 2 3 3
124 km Old Nemea 9 1 0 7 15 3 3 7
next 4 points 6 1 1 5 15 5 4 4
140.2 km Maladrenion 3 1 1 5 7 1 4 1
next 2 points 4 28 0 6 7 3 1 1
148.5 km Lurkia 4 1 1 10 9 4 17 15
next 3 points 5 3 0 4 16 6 4 2
159.3 km start stony climb 3 5 1 6 1 0 6 2
next 4 points 8 4 3 7 10 2 9 1
172 km Nestani 7 2 0 5 13 2 10 5
next 7 points 7 6 4 11 32 5 13 7
195 km Tegea 7 0 1 16 11 1 31 12
next 8 points 19 4 1 10 17 1 8 9
222.5 km Heros' monument 4 2 0 2 1 2 26 0
next 3 points 3 4 1 5 4 1 2 2
236.2 km Voutiani petrol st 1 1 0 0 0 1 1 1
next 2 points 0 2 0 0 1 0 1 1

Total minutes delay 108 92 19 124 215 46 210 102

.


Table 2. Analysis of effect of time not actually running in 1997

Actual Name Proven Assumed Actual Assumed Running Place with
Place Delay Delay Finish Running Time plus Ideal
(min) (min) Time Time 40 mins Delay


1 Reppos M 108 138 23.37 21.19 21.59 1

2 Okiyama M 92 111 25.55 24.04 24.44 2

3 Larsson M 19 39 28.11 27.32 28.12 3

5 Thalmann M 124 154 28.19 25.45 26.25 3

13 Lespinas M 111 141 30.29 28.08 28.48 7

14 Backhaus F 46 72 30.39 29.27 30.07 13

15 Skoglund M 72 97 30.40 29.03 29.43 11

18 Leinonen M 85 112 31.09 29.17 29.57 12

32 Courtill M 215 247 33.21 29.14 29.54 12

34 Funada F 210 241 33.36 29.35 30.15 14

39 Pawzik F 102 130 33.46 31.36 32.16 25

54 Every M 99 128 34.57 32.49 33.29 34

62 Meadowcr M 83 108 35.37 33.49 34.29 44

63 Williams M 83 101 35.37 33.56 34.36 45

65 McConnel M 148 177 35.41 32.44 33.24 33

 

 
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