Wow, there sure has been a lot of “complaining” on various blogs since the 2010 UROY results came out earlier this week. It’s interesting that people take this so seriously, including me. Isn’t it the races that actually count, not some subjective ranking comparing Bay Area trail vs Ohio road, Colorado rocky mountains vs California track meets, competitive vs cherry picks, lots of races vs an American record, real ultras (100 milers) vs those pseudo-ultra 50K’s? Consider the top three women. How the heck does one compare Tracy Garneau’s (#1) year that included only three races but all victories at well-known races (HURT, AR, WS) to Meghan Arbogast’s (#2) year where she finished 9 races including WS (2nd behind Tracy), TNF (6th), World 100K (5th) and won the MUC, to Ellie Greenwood’s (#3) that included 7 finishes including a big victory at the World 100K (in front of Meghan) but many smaller lesser-known Canadian races? Head-to-head both Tracy and Ellie beat Meghan (Ellie beat her twice). Tracy and Ellie never competed together (unless they both DNF’ed at a race together?). Tracy didn’t complete a race after WS. Meghan and Ellie ran for more months and both ran marathons, Meghan’s faster than Ellie’s. These diverse years are not easy to compare. Do I wish Meghan had won? Yes, because she is my friend, but the other two also had awesome years and I applaud all of them.
So how are these rankings determined? According to the release at Ultrarunning Magazine, “a panel of 18 race organizers from all regions of North America submitted ballots this year.” This panel of 18 is anonymous so we’ll never know who they are. While I don’t think there is anything wrong with the voting, in fact, I kind a like that the voters are anonymous so people can’t lobby or bribe them for votes, but maybe there is a better way. Yep, I think we could take some of the subjectivity out of it.
I’m not that big a football fan, but with the Oregon Ducks making it to the BCS Championship Bowl (is that redundant?) I was definitely paying attention to the weekly BCS rankings this season. For several weeks we were ranked #1, but eventually settled at #2 even though we never lost a regular season game. The BCS rankings, if you don’t know, are comprised of two human polls (AP, Coaches) and then the computerized rankings, which are actually six different ranking algorithms.
Can you see where I’m going with this? Ultrarunning is already setup to go to a BCS-style ranking with Ultrasignup, the center of the ultrarunning universe. Come on, everybody has looked at their ranking at Ultrasignup at least once. While the Ultrasignup ranking is a cumulative ranking and as you get older you get to watch it drop lower and lower (I actually just finished a race and a got a ranking higher than my cumulative ranking – the first time in 5 years!), I’m sure the engineers at Ultrasignup could come up with a system that only includes the current calendar year and be much more involved than a simple comparison to the winner’s time. The computer algorithm could keep track of things like depth of field (strength of schedule in BCS world), weather conditions, course records and how many years a race has been run, etc. It could also keep track of those annoying DNF’s and DNS’s which quickly disappear since they aren’t recorded anywhere except via an exclusion on AJW’s Christmas card list. With this new system, if you signup for a race and don’t get a finish you get a DNxmas and those take big points off your rank. It could also include a difficulty of entering component. Races that fill up and don’t allow elites to enter via other means could actually increase a runner’s rank as long as they tried to enter. Just like BCS, we’d still have the human polls and they would be conducted on AJW’s blog. The monthly results would be sent directly to Ultrasignup and factored in accordingly. I can envision an updated real-time UROY hot list so we all can know at all times who the leading runners are. For a small fee, a runner could click a button and the computer could spit out a list of suggested upcoming races to run that are likely to increase his/her rank. Oh, it could be good.
Yeah sure, the computerized rankings would likely generate lots of complaints, too, but at least humans wouldn’t be the targets of the complaints. It would be those damn computers at Ultrasignup.