I'm 83.47% Better at Ultra Running Than a Sea of White Hair and Velcro Shoes Lining Up for a 4 o'clock Dinner at IHOP
By stephaniechivis on September 03, 2014
Before I get going on this post I want to express my love for the folks at ultrasignup.com and all that they do for the sport of ultra running. I will not be making fun of them and their percentages because they really have served endurance runners in a way that is altruistically compelling. Also remember that I am not one to make fun of people. Except for homeless people who wear deer pee stained T-shirts they find in the woods. They tend to smell funny.
Regardless, and like many other ultra runners, I do appreciate all of Ultrasignup's hard work and dedication to ironing out the details of every race from registration details to race results. So I thank them, and openly state that this post is in no way a cynical review of the website.
However, I do want to pose a question as to how much do the percentages posted there mean really?
Here's where I get confused: with my overall percentile of 83.47%, ultrasignup.com considers me a "solid athlete" which must mean I'm really good at something, right? But what is it that I'm good at? It’s my own fault for not asking them what exactly that is. For all I know they're referring to my mad hula hooping skills.
I'm guessing my percentage has to do with an anomaly that happens quite often. Non-elites who do well in races with small fields (like me) or when the races are non-competitive will tend to have a higher ranking, giving them the appearance of being better than they are (like me).
For example at my second 50k race in a Florida swampland complete with slippery tree roots and tree-rooted snakes I was given an "elite" ranking of 91.84% for finishing my slowest ultra race to date. In real life, I was beaten by two other chicks in my age group at this event. I also couldn’t even beat a monkey at a 50k if it meant achieving "elite" status. Even a drunk, blind monkey who doesn't even use Tailwind in his water bottle. Just Mountain Dew.
And I don't think I'm the only "solid athlete" with a results profile on ultrasignup.com to wonder what's up with this status quo. First off, anyone who has ever run an ultra event can be found on the site, as long as the RDs report their results to them (I've recently run a 50k that is not reported on ultrasignup as the RD went rogue with a different site). Evidently runners listed on the site receive their overall rankings based on previous finishes (from what I am told). Each runner's rank is simply an average of his or her past results in ultrasignup's database. For each race, ultrasignup takes the gender specific best time (winner) and divides that time by each participant's time. The result is a value less than 100% with winners receiving the full 100%. The average of the participant's past races is their ranking represented as a percent. So elite hybrid half-Marine, half-Army soldiers specially bred for killing by the US Government in climate controlled pods, will often place in the upper 80-90+% range whereas regular everyday runners garner a ranking of usually 40-70%. This is no reflection on the average person's running ability. However, these percentages posted on ultrasignup.com make the average Joe and Jane trail runners appear like the statistically challenged track club drop-outs better suited to running a gas station than running an ultra. These rankings can seem harsh to newbies just getting their ultras on. I worry these newbies will become too depressed to run upon reading their average-to-low percentile numbers. If this happens, they'll most likely spend hours on end wearing their fat pants and hiding under their desks at work with cans of chocolate frosting and spoons. It will become a pitiful time in the ultra racing community.
So it is because I am quite the opposite of "elite" and not so "solid" in my ultra performances as I begin my forray into the ultra running world that I cannot bring myself to focus too hard on the percentages dealt here. When I do give them more than half a thought, my eyes glaze over with confusion and I have an overwhelming desire to don a shirt with kitty cats and unicorns that matches my Garanimals rainbow pants with elastic around the waist. Just so I can constantly point to my chest and say, “Look at my pretty kitties”.