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HARRA Statement: Houston Marathon Local Elite Standards

HARRA Statement: Houston Marathon Local Elite Standards

Houston Striders' Houston Half Marathon Local Elite Results: 11/13/22

The Houston Half Marathon & 10K took place on a cool but humid Sunday morning exactly two weeks ago. So why the delay in this post? Well, that was purposeful. Specifically, I've refrained from addressing the Local Elite results until there was ample time for discussions on course logistics to resolve. At present, the course certification is live on usatf.org. Given the information available to me today, including certification by USATF standards and discussions I've had with those who executed the race, I see no reason to treat the race as any less official and valid than in previous years. [End my caveat on reflecting on the race results.]

For the 2022 Houston Striders' Houston Half Marathon, there were no Local Elite qualifying runners.

Let's look at an age/pace plot for past male Local Elite qualifiers for 2017-2022:

This follows the same layout as the previous post on the 10-Miler. The plot shows the 2020 Age-Graded model fit to half marathon world record times for men (smooth gray curve), 80% AG performance curve (light green), CHM's new threshold for Local Elite qualification for the 10-Miler and Half Marathon (red dashed), and the separate threshold for the 25K, 30K, and marathon (gray dashed). Dark purple dots plot the Local Elites from 2017-2021. Pink dots are those who would keep their Local Elite qualification under the new cut-off.

In total: 7 out of 17 (41%) of previous male Local Elites for the Houston Half Marathon would pass the new bar. 

The past results for women look like this:

Here we see 8 out of 18 (44%) past female Local Elites would still be invited into the LE program.

Regardless, two Sundays ago, none of the participating runners were able to achieve the required finish times for LE invitations.

Let's face it - this was not an easy half marathon for top performance or personal best results. The late change to a two loop-course created a scenario where half marathoners and 10K participants intermingled along a route dominated by wide curves and underpasses. Although temperatures were in the 50's (deg F), humidity at the event start was not so nice at over 90%. 

That said, this is Houston. Heat and humidity will be wild cards for every event. And events like this that use Allen Parkway and have multiple race distances share the same route will face the difficulty of managing merge points and congestion.

The new Local Elite program standard requires a first-in-age group finish and an 83% age-graded performance on an event with these known performance barriers. Perhaps this year's results will generate enough discussion to revisit that choice.

- CH


Space City 10-Miler Local Elite Results: 10/14/22

It's been almost 2 weeks, and the official results are in!  The Space City 10-Miler crowned 6 new Local Elites to join the 8 who met the new Local Elite standards at the 2022 Chevron Houston Marathon earlier this year. I was pleased to be present on race day for the 10-Miler if only to witness some of these incredible runners cross the finish line to claim their spots. Congratulations are in order to the following folks: Flora Lai, Allyson Serrao, Lynn Malloy, Sabra Harvey, Oscar Garcia, and Oscar Beltran. Absolutely stunning performances. We're proud of what you've accomplished!

I was lucky to take part in the 2022 Space City 10-Miler, not just because it meant I was healthy and uninjured, but also because of the incredible conditions on the course. I've been a Houston Runner for about 13 years now and have taken part in a fair number of 10-Milers in that time. This year's race took the cake for some of the most pristine conditions for Houston-area road racing in October. But don't just take my word for it - the weather data paints a better picture.  Here's a comparison between race morning in 2021 and 2022:

Yes, 2021 was a hot and humid classic Houston October Sunday morning, around 72 degrees F and 100% humidity at the race start.

This year, on the other hand, was a breath of fresh air! Wonderfully chilly at 59 degrees F with 72% humidity around the 7 am race start. Recipe for amazing performances. Based on the finishing times and giant smiles among the participants, I know I wasn't alone in achieving a 10-Miler PR.

Why take the time to document this? Quite simply, I want to emphasize the same point I raised in the report shared with the public and the Chevron Houston Marathon (original post below): changing the standards to use 80% of the 2020 Age Graded performance model is arguably reasonable given Houston's running talent, but adding a special bump to 83% just for the 10-Miler and the Houston Striders Half Marathon makes less sense. The Age-Graded model is a normalized model. It allows people to compare performances across ages, across race distances, and across genders. One single consistent threshold for all warm-up series races would use this standard effectively. Choosing different thresholds for different race distances redefines the standard.

Let's look again at an age/pace plot:

This graph shows the 2020 Age-Graded model that was fit to 10-Mile world record times for men (smooth gray curve), an 80% AG performance curve (light green), Chevron Houston Marathon's new threshold for Local Elite qualification for the 10-Miler and Half Marathon (red dashed), and the separate threshold for the 25K, 30K, and marathon (gray dashed). Dark purple dots plot the Local Elites from 2019 and 2021. The fuchsia dot without dark edges is world-record holder and elite athlete pacer, Calum Neff, who would be the only prior local elite from 2019 and 2021 to survive the new threshold. Using the 80% threshold has the opposite effect - only one previously-crowned local elite wouldn't pass the new test.

Consider the fact that excellent race morning conditions resulted in Local Elite qualifiers among just 2 of the 5 age group categories for men: Open and 50-59 (fuchsia dots with dark edges).  All other male age group runners competed strongly against each other but could not meet the 83% threshold introduced just for the 10-Miler and Half Marathon.

Now let's pivot to the women's field. Same plot, but I've included the 2022 results to make a couple of observations:

We see a similar trend of cutting off previous local elites using the 83% threshold, while the 80% threshold would be much more consistent with these 1st place in age group performances (the other requirement in place for Local Elite qualification). That said, look at this year! My first shout-out is to Flora Lai who pushed her performance to a higher level. The cluster of 3 points around 40 years of age literally tracks Flora's year-on-year progress, and she was able to best her previous performances to achieve an 82.6% age-graded time this year. Next is Allyson Serrao, who absolutely destroyed her previous performance (81.6% in 2021) with this year's 89.1% age-graded finish time at 56 years young. Lynn Malloy, the winner of the 60-69 local elite space, also bested her 2021 performance with a blistering 86.3% age-graded time this year. Then there's Sabra Harvey. Let me put it simply: Sabra is a legend. She achieved a 98.3% age-graded finish time at this year's 10-Miler. That's literally World Class.

One final note: an argument I've seen presented in favor of the new standards is we're seeing local elite qualifications, so everything's fine. My response is we're already seeing fewer qualifications, and the qualification standards are unbalanced between race distances. To put it frankly, why run the 10-Miler or Half Marathon for a local elite slot?  The 80% threshold for the 25K or 30K is an objectively easier time requirement. 

Well done to all of our local elite athletes! Next up: the Houston Striders' Houston Half & 10K event later this month. Fingers crossed we have weather conditions that allow for similar outcomes.

- CH


Space City 10-Miler Race Weekend Perspective: 10/1/22

In preparation for the first event in the 2022 HARRA Warmup Series, the Space City 10-Miler, I took some time to generate plots that represent the current Local Elite requirements and how they match against recent performances. Note that I only have local elite lists for Fall 2017, 2018, and 2021 (missing 2019).  If you have the 2019 list, please share it with me at races@harra.org so I can add it to my catalog.

For a quick description of what these plots show:

blue line = literally *the* baseline age-graded model that is trying to fit the world records times shown in gray dots (sourced from the data set used to generate the 2020 version of this model, archived on GitHub).

light green line = percentile referenced in the previous (since ~2010) Local Elite standard: 73% for women, 76% for men. 

dark green line = percentile referenced in the 2022 Local Elite standard: 83% for both genders.

red dashed line = actual 2022 Local Elite cut-offs, referenced against the mid-points of each age decade considered by the program.

purple dots = local runner gun times that led to Local Elite qualification in 2017, 2018, and 2021.

In this plot, we see only 2 individuals who make Local Elite standards by the new 83% cut-off and 2 who come close but still miss it. Going from left to right, Brian Barranza ran an 85.7% 2020 AG time in 2018 at the age of 23 and would still make it. The second is Luis Armenteros, achieving a 83.6% 2020 AG time in 2017 at the age of 45. Unfortunately, both Peter Lawrence (83.6% 2020 AG time, 49 y.o. in 2021) and Peter Mullin (77.6% 2020 AG time, 70 y.o. in 2021) would not make it due to the nature of the mid-decade anchor for the new Local Elite cutoffs. Peter L. would have missed it by 1.5 minutes, and Peter M. by a mere 2 seconds. In total, 2 of 12 would be Local Elites on Sunday with these performances at the age they ran them.

This is the Women's version of the same plot. The kink at the youngest ages is real - I don't know why it's part of the model, but it is.  Just one of the many quirks with the approved 2020 age-graded model that I will discuss in a future post.

In this plot, we see 3 individuals who make Local Elite standards by the new 83% cut-off. Going from left to right, Lauren Stroud ran a 83.8% 2020 AG time in 2021 at the age of 30. Next is Lynn Malloy, who achieved an 84.3% 2020 AG time in 2021 at the age of 61.  Finally, Sabra Harvey smashes it with a 97.95% (for real) 2020 AG time in 2017 at the age of 68. Anyone in our community would acknowledge these are truly exceptional athletes. The remaining 8 out of 11 would not meet the new Local Elite time requirements tomorrow with their previously recorded performances at the age they ran them.

Suffice it to say the new National Class standards are incredibly difficult to achieve. Nevertheless, I'll be at the the Space City 10-Miler tomorrow (10/2/22) and hope see some of our excellent runners persevere and be recognized by the CHM LE Program.

- CH


CHEVRON HOUSTON MARATHON 2023

LOCAL ELITE PROGRAM UPDATE: 9/30/22

For our fastest runners in the community, the Local Elite program  brings thoughts of incredible challenge and great reward for pushing the limits on their running abilities. For those unfamiliar, this 40-year old program selects a few among Houston's running talent to be given a VIP experience at the marathon, including a free entry and chance to start with the elite athletes. Getting selected is very difficult: you must achieve first local placement in your age group at the one of the designated HARRA Warmup Series races or the marathon and also meet an age-graded threshold for athletic performance, which roughly equates to a fixed percentage of world record times within five age brackets (i.e., Open, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60-69, 70+).

Earlier this summer, the standards for the 2023 race were updated and released. Feedback from the community was swift - previous local elites voiced confusion in the new numbers and some felt the thresholds too high to be reasonable. HARRA followed up on the standards changes, surveying the community for feedback on the program, its history, and the story behind the numbers. We determined the previous standards were derived from a 2010 age-graded model basis with performance threshold cutoffs of 73% for women and 76% for men. The new standards use the 2020 update to the age-graded model and set a gender-uniform threshold of 80% for the longer-distance races, 83% for the 10-M and half marathon races. This standard moves the Local Elite program into National Class performances by USATF designation.

We compiled our insights into a report, which included recommendations for i) a simpler standard that is consistent with local elite performances in the past and ii) more open and transparent communication from the marathon about the program changes with the community. Over the past two weeks, we took part in two 1-hour meetings with the Marathon to discuss. The Marathon Committee has decided to stick with the standards as previously communicated. HARRA will continue to hold discussions with the Marathon Committee and relay the opinions of our Houston running community.

To view a copy of the report and recommendations, click here.

Personal Note: as VP of Road Race Management for HARRA, this outcome comes as a disappointment. I believe the data and feedback collected in the report shared with the Marathon Committee make a compelling case for readjustment and/or more specific communication with the community. This commentary and posts that follow are an attempt to fill that gap. It's my hope that we can all work together as a unified running community in the future, solving problems together and elevating each other in the process. - CH