It didn't take too much reflection to settle on the idea, "Hey, last year's edition of the Cheyenne Mountain Stampede ran faster than this year's."
Perhaps your first big clue came with the top boys times. Last year, nine boys ran 16:30 or faster. This year, only two made the cut, and those just barely.
"But," you object, "weren't Ian Meek, Ethan Powell, and Max Martinez running last year? Doesn't the fact that we had an unusually good top end of the senior class last year count for something?"
Well, maybe it does, so let's digger a little deeper together.
There were 11 girls who ran 19:40 or faster last year and only seven this year. But, couldn't that just be random variation? Yes, it could.
To make this kind of determination we need to look at larger slices of the field than just the count of competitors who ran faster than some arbitrary time (even if that may have been what caused up to ask the question in the first place). So, I asked one of the MileSplit tools to gin up some numbers for me. Here's what we get when we look at the average times for the top 100 and for the entire field from last year and this:
|Top 100 Boys||All Boys|
|2016 Avg||2017 Avg||2016 Avg||2017 Avg|
|Top 100 Girls||All Girls|
|2016 Avg||2017 Avg||2016 Avg||2017 Avg|
As seen in the table above, times were clearly slower than in 2016. Boys were, on average, nearly 30 seconds slower this year than in 2016, and girls were, on average, over 70 seconds slower. Interestingly, the top 100 females finishers were not nearly that much slower, on average, than the whole body of female finishers.
This counts as anecdotal evidence for a pet theory of mine that girls tend to be more impacted by heat than boys are--at least so far as cross country races are concerned--but the larger question remains, "Why would 2017 be so much slower than 2016?"
We could make and test several hypotheses. I've collected a small handful of hypotheses below.
1. It was a weaker set of teams in 2017 than 2016.
2. A different set of runners was scored in 2017 versus 2016.
3. The course was different in 2017 from 2016.
4. Weather conditions were less favorable in 2017 than 2016.
5. We're not as strong, across the state, in cross country in 2017 as we were in 2016.
Let's take a look at each hypothesis in turn.
1. This hypothesis breaks down pretty quickly once you notice that the teams attending in 2017 and the teams attending in 2016 are largely the same. Like most meets, the Stampede has by now established a regular clientele of teams. Some are a little weaker and some a little stronger this year, but the teams are largely the same from last year to this. If anything, this year's Stampede had a slightly higher percentage of 4A and 5A teams than last year. That would tend to make the overall field faster rather than slower. The one high-powered team that stands out as present last year but absent this year is Silver Creek. Silver Creek's absence this year didn't produce the magnitude of change you observe from last year to this.
2. The Stampede has had the same scoring system for a few years now. They time and score the varsity races and leave the timing of JV and Novice races to the coaches. And, for every Cole Sprout who otherwise would have been in a varsity race this year, you have a Logan Simington who otherwise would have been in a varsity race last year. Yes, Sprout this year is a little faster than Simington last year, but you get the idea.
3. The course was slightly different this year. But, going around the south side of the indoor arena rather than through it should be pretty close to a net zero on the time differences. The rest of the course was the same (plus or minus maybe as much as a few feet on start and finish lines). Let's say, to be charitable, that the course change might have accounted for as much as two or three seconds of delta in the times.
4. It always seems to come down to this, doesn't it? Here are some temperatures from Colorado Springs Municipal at various times of the day in 2016: Noon - 65, 2 PM - 71, 5 PM - 72, 7 PM - 69. Now for 2017: Noon - 77, 2 PM - 81, 5 PM - 82, 7 PM - 76. How about winds? Winds stayed mostly below 10 mph both days. And, then, barometric pressure: 2016: Noon - 30.02, 2 PM - 29.97, 5 PM - 29.93, 7 PM - 29.95 vs. 2017: Noon - 29.94, 2 PM - 29.94, 5 PM - 29.95, 7 PM - 29.97. Honestly, whatever explanation is to be had here lies with temperature rather than barometric pressure (although warmer temperatures do create lesser oxygen densities, even as barometric pressure remains stable). The barometric pressures from the two dates for last year and this year simply do not differ by that much. But, the temperatures do differ. You would notice those temperature differences if you were the one out running the race. I'm not prepared to say the temperatures differ by enough to account for all the difference in times from 2016 to 2017, but--right now--they appear to be the best explanation we have.
5. Well, that is theoretically possible, but it's also a little early to be making that call.