The 2013 World Cross-Country Course Had To Be Short

March 28, 2013

Now that we are back from a fantastic trip to Bydgoszcz, Poland for the 2013 World Cross-Country Championships, we want to clear one thing up – the course was much shorter than reported.

How do we know the course wasn’t accurate? Simply math and common sense.

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Simple Math
The loop in Bydgoszcz was supposed to be 1,950 meters. Mathematically, there is no way for runners to run a loop of 1,950 meters and end up with distances of 6k for the junior girls, 8k for the senior women and junior boys and 12k for the senior men.

Much has been made by the IAAF of Hagos Gebrhiwet‘s alleged 8k time of 21:04 in Bydgoszcz, Poland. While we’re certain he didn’t run 8k, let’s assume for the moment he did. He ran four laps of 1,950m laps, or 7,800 meters total, so that would mean the extra bit that was run from the start to the loop and from the loop to the finish (course map here) totalled 200 meters. But if that is true, it would mean the other races were either short (men’s 12k would be 11,900 meters) or long (junior girls 6k would 6,050 meters). There’s no way to get accurate distances unless you run exactly 2km loops with no extra distance to the start/finish.

Common Sense – Cross-Country Is Way Slower Than A Track (Soggy Grass, Sharp Turns & Hills Slow You Down A Ton)
There is no doubt that the winner of the junior boys race is an exceptional talent. Hagos Gebrhiwet may soon be the third Ethiopian ruler in the Haile Gebrselassie, Kenenisa Bekele line of Ethiopian 5k/10k domination. In addition to being the world junior record holder, Gebrhiwet of Ethiopia is already the seventh-fastest man in history at 5,000. That being said, there is no doubt in our minds that the course distances weren’t accurate and thus we thought it was somewhat irresponsible of the IAAF to write an article talking about the time of Gebrhiwet and comparing it to track times.

There is no way that Gebrihiwet ran 21:04 for 8,000 meters on the course that was used in Poland. If he actually ran 21:04 on that course in those conditions, it would far surpass anything ever done in human history and yet for much of the race, he trailed Kenya’s Leonard Barsoton – who has a 13:26 5,000 PR.

We reached out to stat/coaching guru John Kellogg to ask him what he thought about the race. He tells us that 21:04 for 8k is equivalent to a 26:39 for 10k (rounding up to the nearest second), which isn’t humanly possible in XC. Yes, we know Kenenisa Bekele’s world record is 26:17, but this is cross-country. The course was very muddy, had a big hill on it and had a ton of turns – many of them greater than 90-degree turns. Yes, the course was in better condition earlier in the day when Gebrhiwet ran, but Bekele himself in his prime couldn’t run anywhere close to 26:39 on this course with all the turns and hills even if it was a paved track, let alone a mud bath.

Consider this: Ben True told us it was the hardest cross-country course he’s ever run on. That means it’s more difficult than Van Cortlandt Park, which on a great day John Kellogg has estimated to be at least 1:15 slower than a track 10k even with the trails groomed since the early days of the course.

Galen Rupp photo Even the great Galen Rupp runs much slower in XC than in track. Vault: 2008 NCAA XC photos here

In 2008 at NCAAs, Galen Rupp won his NCAA cross-country title on a fairly soggy course in Terre Haute with a time of 29:03 when he was a 27:33 guy. That’s 90 seconds off his PR right there. Our point? Cross-country is way slower than a track. The course for Worlds this year was much tougher than the Terre Haute course.

So how far does John Kellogg think the course in Poland was? He guesses the loop was more like 1,820 meters, not 1,950 meters. He came up with that by looking at the times in the first race of the day when the conditions were least soggy – the junior girls race. Knowing the previous 6k XC times and track PRs of many of the runners, particularly the USA runners, he made an estimate of what they should be able to run on a course of this severity, compared that to what they did run, and extrapolated from there.

“If the distance from the start to the loop and back to the finish was 180 meters combined, then I’m guessing the loop itself was probably more like 1,820 meters instead of 1,950. This means the “6k” was actually more like 5,640 meters and the winner’s 17:51 would have been about 19:02 for a full 6k. The “8k” was therefore more like 7,460 meters. The 21:04 would have been about 22:38 for a real 8k in this case. The 24:24 in the Senior W race would have been about 26:13 for a full 8k. The “12k” would come out to be 11,100 meters. 32:45 for this would be about 35:28 for a real 12k,” wrote Kellogg in an email.

“In terms of equivalent performances, 21:04 for 7,460 (22:38 for 8k) is equal to 28:40 for 10k and 32:05 for 11,100 – some 40 seconds faster than the actual wining time of Kenya’s Japhet Korir, so Gebrhiwet’s run was easily the fastest relative time of the day, not considering worsening course conditions. Since the course got slushier as the races went on, there’s no telling how much it affected the Senior M race, but if the slowdown due to extra mud was 3.6 seconds per k, the times from the two races would have been equivalent. That’s assuming all the above numbers are accurate. If anything, I’d imagine the loop was even less than 1,820.”

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