Saturday, January 8, 2011

New System for Determining Race Dates

The current system for scheduling races is in dire need of an overhaul. There are too many variables in outdoor racing that need to be accounted for before the gun, whistle, or, in some cases, a loud-mouthed guy goes off. One of the variables is an inhospitable climate. Therefore, I propose a new system for determining a race date. The title of my creation, Training Degree Days.

In an ideal world, I would sign up for a race and the race date would be determined by the number of nice training days. Bad weather? Doesn't count. Freezing temperatures? Doesn't count. Wind speeds at plus 35 mph? Tornado warning? Hail? Visiting mother-in-law? Doesn't count. Granted, there are some holes in this hypothesis and it's still work in progress, but you'll get the gist of it. There are working models behind the concept.

Working model #1: Heating Degree/ Cooling Degrees Days- the government and energy companies use this model to calculate the amount of energy needed to heat or cool buildings. See, here in America, we have a low tolerance for discomfort. If the house temperature is above 75º, we turn on the air conditioner. Should the residence drop below 65º, on goes the heat. Apparently, our comfort level for life is roughly +10º, much like training. One way energy companies use HDD/ CDD to calculate the average cost of energy for people who opt for fixed monthly fees. As athletes, our tolerance for outdoor training mimics that of the average American. Low temperatures equal no-training or it's evil cousin, indoor training. High temperatures also yield a lack of or reduced training. Training Degree Days would set a temperature range of comfortable outdoor training days.

Working model #2: Growing Degree Units- Most of us learned in the elementary school classroom that plants grow quickly in the warm, slowly in the cool, and stop in the cold. Plant scientists have created a formula to aid in calculating the amount of time a plant will arrive at maturity. Plants tend to grow at temperatures above 45º. This serves at the base for plant growth. Temperatures above this base encourage plant growth while temperatures below halt growth. Higher temps equate to faster growth rates. There is an upper limit to plant growth rate, somewhere around 85º depending on the species and variety. Simplistically, if you take the average temperature for the day and compare it to the base, you get GDUs. Hopefully, by now, you can see the correlation between growing flora and training. Athletes have a base that they will head outside and an upper limit for when they will not train. Skip the growth and it becomes TDUs.

How does this apply towards racing? Suppose I sign up for a race, say an Ironman or 140.6 (for WTC haters). Instead on announcing a race date, the race director announces, for example 60 local TDDs from January 1st. A race with with 60 TDDs post 1/1 scheduled in Arizona will start long before a 60 TDD race scheduled in Minnesota. The TDDs are calculated based on race site climate, not athlete residence climate. The race website would be required to display, on their home page, an up-to-date calculation of TDDs.

Using the TDD system would allow for a more level training field. TDDs encourage healthy training habits. Under the current system, athletes force themselves to train under the worst, non-race-like conditions. Gone will be the days of training for a summer race while there is ice on the road. Thick balaclavas designed for sherpas will be relegated to the past. All entrants can look across the starting line and ensure that they had an equal chance of success as compared to their competitors.

The TDD system allots for secondary benefits as well. Travel costs may be reduced as athletes would choose local races over those that have differing TDDs. This equates to lowered pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and local money staying in the local economy. TDDs will help the local athlete community become more cohesive.

Forward this message on to your local USAT representative. Make sure it is an election year and let's get the process started. Change is good and you have the power to make it happen.

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