Why I’m leveling up to “Extreme”

I sat my Biostats III exam this past Friday. It was very thorough. As study preparation, I took a squizz through the Run the Berg data from the last three years. Doing biostats while studying for biostats isn’t procrastinating, is it? And I did run a Poisson regression, and I did construct a Kaplan Meier curve. And even though I’ve mostly run descriptive statistics, it got me thinking about my next Run the Berg, and about my training in general going forward.

I downloaded Excel spreadsheets for each year (2014, 2015, and 2016) from Elite Timing for both the Challenge (15km/day) and Extreme (25km/day) distances. I then read them into STATA 14.1, and appended them into one dataset.

The first thing that stood out was the gender breakdown. Over all three years, in total, there is an equal split between men and women, on average 48.3% men, and 51.7% women. As you know, that gender split is representative of the general population. However, when you look at the gender split by race distance, a very interesting picture emerges:


These pie charts show the total number of entrants from 2014-2016 (N=1465), with male entries evenly distributed between the Extreme and Challenge distances. But three quarters of female runners chose the Challenge. This difference is strongly significant (p=0.000), meaning that the relationship between gender and race distance is not by chance. Why are 75% of women entrants choosing the shorter distance?

Run the Berg is a staged race, so I defined “finishing” as completing either both Extreme stages, or both Challenge stages. I was curious if there was a gender difference between those who completed both races, and those who only ran one. The answer is, marginally (p=0.096), yes, there is some evidence to suggest that females tend to complete both races. By the numbers: 14.4% of males only complete one stage, compared to 11.5% of females completing only one race. Note that possible reasons for not running both stages have nothing to do with gender; someone could have: 1) run the Extreme one day and the Challenge the other, 2) not been available for one day, 3) become injured (or bailed) on the second day (perfect example- me at the Busted Bunny). By the numbers: there were 189 people over the 3 years who only completed one stage, 165 completed stage 1 only, and 24 people completed stage 2 only. Also note: there is no difference between distance and finishing both races, 12.1% did not finish two Extreme stages, and 13.3% did not complete two Challenge stages.

Another difference appeared when looking at total times (stage 1 time + stage 2 time), women group more closely with regard to combined time in both distances. Take a look at these totally cool ‘box and whisker’ plots:



These plots show that male times appear to vary more widely than female times. For the Extreme, men ranged from 4:00-13:18 (that’s a 9 hour spread) with a mean of 7:23. Women running the Extreme grouped more closely with a range of 5:09-11:26 (6 hour spread) with a mean of 8:02. Men in the Challenge had a range of 2:08-6:57 (an almost 5-hour spread) and a mean of 04:00. Women in the Challenge had a range of 2:52-10:15 (a 7-ish hour spread) and a mean of 04:32. Too many numbers? Just look at the graphs. Women did have quite a few stragglers on the Challenge though…I guess my point is, ladies, stop straggling! You aren’t that far behind men in terms of times, and when you commit to something- you’re unstoppable!

To sum up, there are fewer women doing the ‘Extreme’, but more women finish both stages, and their times cluster more closely together (this could be what I refer to as the ‘two-to-the-loo’ effect- women don’t go anywhere alone). For my training this means that if I plan ahead, and train accordingly, I won’t be an outlier (i.e. come in last). In fact, I might actually be competitive (for my gender, within my age group). Though these data only represent a fraction of trail racing, I think that women are selling themselves short. I think that with proper planning and training (as the more OCD among us do), more women should consider ‘extreme’ distances, the numbers are behind you! So I’ll be signing up for the ‘Extreme’ distance when entries open for Run the Berg on 1 November. And I’ve already asked the Mindful Runner for a training plan, but there’s a year of tough running and conditioning ahead. I’ll see you all on 30 Sep-1 Oct, 2017, unless you’re behind me, in which case I’ll cheer you on at the finish. I hope I get another training rock!

Oh, and here’s that Poisson regression:



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