Handicapping the Winter Series

[Tue 9th Apr] 




As requested at the committee meeting dated 4th March 2013, to follow is the general procedure used to calculate the handicapped start times for the Winter Series.


Formulating the “projected clock time”


At the very beginning of each Winter Series every member who is entered to race is given a “start time”.  This is formed by estimating the entrant’s potential time over our course and its set distance of 4 km.  As this is not a standard distance, a large amount of mathematics is needed to obtain a time.


As the beginning of the series normally starts just after quite a few “shorter” races such as our own Summer Cup and Autumn Relays as well as other races, there is normally some evidence of current form to go off for each and every runner.  If a member wishes to run and hasn’t actually done any races of this short nature, then any other races such as a 10 km can give an indication of ability.  If a member who wishes to run and hasn’t done any races whatsoever then the only way to tell ability is from our training nights.  This basically means who do they look comfortable against in training.  With Alison’s beginners this is particular important as in all likelihood they have not raced before.

I can use some “yardsticks” for this.  A) Are they faster than Alison who they are running with?. B) Are they faster than Andrew Grieves who they can also run with?.  This usually gives enough of a guide so as not to be totally wrong by a long way.  You tend to find that anyone with the main training groups has actually done some race before.  But if not (e.g. new member Claire Kirkwood) you can use the same principle.

The same method can be used during the series itself, such as with Claire above.


Once you have some idea of approximate potential race times of any member who wishes to run, you can then set the “projected clock time”.  You must give enough leeway at this stage to allow the slowest runner to A) Actually run slower than you estimate and B) Not to start on zero as it’s quite off putting and C) Not to be too far from the zero setting as then everyone has to wait for their own start times.


It is really important not to move this clock time if at all possible especially during the series.  As people get used to it very quickly.


Races used for information


In theory any race can be used, however I only tend to go to and beyond 10 km when I’m absolutely stuck.  All race examples are “road” ones that are used.  The most common races that I use for information are as follows:


A) If the start of the series then the Summer Cup is an excellent guide.

B) During the series then the series races themselves.

C) Any relays along the way, such as our own Autumn relays (start of the series), Good Fridays, Signals etc.  All are on the road.

D) Park Runs

E) NSP GP races (shorter ones)

F) Any other local known 5 km s


Fortunately our senior juniors do tend to do some of the Park Runs and in some of the relay events have their own races.


Abstracting the information


The times obtained from these races have to be then recalculated to “fit” into our own Winter Series course.  I normally obtain a few GPS findings of these races to obtain a good average actual distance.  You then have a time and a set distance.

Next are the conditions on the day of a race.  In our recent bad winter it has been difficult to run to full potential on surfaces, not through loss of form but physically because of the weather, each race gets its own simple weather report to aid myself. 


The course itself can cause a bit more calculating.  Fortunately I have run these all myself so know what the differences are; Whitley Bay for example is slower than that of the Town Moor (Park Runs).


Working out the “actual time”


Once you have abstracted the information etc you can commence with the maths of working out the potential actual time for our winter series course and distance.  The main time consuming part is the requirement of every single calculation needs converting from the normal time format of minutes and seconds to that of minutes and points of a minute, this is to undertake the maths to convert say a 3.54 km relay to a 4 km winter series race, then you need to turn it all back again to minutes and seconds for our ultimate usage.  This is one of the easier examples of calculations required as the difference in distance involved probably wouldn’t alter anyone’s pace per km too much.


Other races are more complex.  I have spent many an hour working out how to convert the NSP GP shorter race to a representative time for our own winter series race.  Distance and actual course content being different but similar.

I created a formulae using historical (last few years of data) comparing our more consistent runners times from the NSP races (shorter ones) and our winter series (new course). Once you are confident that you have enough raw data you can prepare to create the formulae.  Once you have the formulae (this can be rechecked as much as you like) its maths time again.  It isn’t ideal to use only the NSP GP as the way to obtain an actual time for our winter series, as for an example I personally was “better” on shorter races than slightly longer, but if put together with other race information it certainly gives an excellent guide.


Working out the “start times”


This is simply a deduction using “clock time minus start time”.




There are a few.  One of the main ones that seems to give everyone concern is the use of 15 second starting breaks and not an exact starting time.  This is used to give the starting officials enough time to read out the starter’s names, one per second cannot be read out in time!

Also in terms of assisting the runners it’s always better for pacing etc to run in a group wherever possible.

Another is that of runners not running to the best of their ability in a race, this can happen for numerous reasons; quite often a runner will actually say to me that they have not run well and give their reason, then request that their “start time” is not adjusted next time.  Sometimes a runner can have a totally off day.  This is why I look at the last races in my data to see if there is a constant theme.  Is this the likely pace now for the runner or was this a “one off”?. Hence when you see in our start times that some are moved “up” and then someone isn’t, this is normally the reason.




Not just our winter series races are used to calculate a start time.

Not just the “flat” times are used; these occasionally have to be adjusted to allow for conditions.

If a person wins or indeed comes last they do not automatically have their handicaps adjusted, this applies to all positions within the race. 

I define what recent form is (usually about three months) and how many races actually give enough data, I make that judgement against each runner such as those who only do the odd winter series race or indeed has only done a few.  The more they do the more accurate everything gets.


And finally………


This is all why we are radically different to the NSP GP.  To be fair to them they have in excess of 200 runners to handicap where as we have less than half that amount.  So in my opinion and to be honest facts do bear this out we actually have a far more accurate and therefore fairer system than that of the NSP GP.

The downside is that it can take many hours of preparation and presentation with this for each and every race.