Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Six kilometers, a tale of three races

A funny thing happened when I started looking for USATF-certified 6K road race courses. I found some.

One thing about the bad old days; even though there weren't many road races around, the distances came in quite a variety. Ten-mile events were a staple, but if you wanted to race four miles, five miles, or fifteen miles, you could probably find a group of folks competing at that distance somewhere. The Amateur Athletic Union went metric with their national championship road races, but everywhere else there was a glorious menagerie of imperial distances. And those were just the posted distances; who knows how long the races really were.

Duane Evans

Eventually Ted Corbitt invented course certification, giving athletes some confidence that when they ran the New Westwich Eight Miler they were actually running eight miles. The running boom came next, and there were more runners. With more runners there were more races. But strangely enough, even though there were more races, there was less variety in the contested distances. Imperial distances became rare; even though most Americans had no idea how far a kilometer was, races became almost universally metric. Over time, those metric events became dominated by a majority of five kilometer runs. You can still find the other distances on the racing calendar, but you'll have to sift through a lot of 5K runs before you find them.

Six kilometers was never a major player on the roads. It's common enough in cross country; the NCAA women's cross country champion is crowned in a six-kilometer race. In the Tallahasssee area, though, each February since 2009 the Gulf Winds Track Club has hosted a road 6K, the junior partner of the Flash 12K. Although the twelve-kilometer course is USATF certified, GWTC has never sought certification for the 6K on either it's original course in Woodville or the current course in Saint Marks. Why certify? What other six-kilometer road races would you compare times with?

Well, it turns out that there are more than a few 6K road runs, some with USATF-certified courses, and two of those right here in the state of Florida. There's the Character Counts 6K in Saint Augustine and the Ravine Gardens 6K in Palatka. How do these stack up against the Flash 6K?

Katie Gorman

2015 was the most recent year in which each race was held. St. Augustine's Character Counts 6K was clearly the largest of the three, with 218 finishers. The Flash 6K had 98 finishers that year, and the Ravine Gardens 6K only 49. It's true that the Flash shares the stage with a 12K race, but the Ravine Gardens and Character Counts races are each paired with a 3K partner.

How about speed? Duane Evans went 23:30 to win the Flash 6K in 2015, which is faster than Bryan Thompson's 24:25 winning time at that year's Character Counts 6K, and also betters the 23:47 winning time Peyton Snyder posted at Ravine Gardens. Likewise on the women's side, Katie Gorman's winning time of 24:20 at the Flash 6K is quicker than the top women's times at the other two races--Zahra Crim's 26:36 at Character Counts and Sally Chappell's 28:34 at Ravine Gardens.

For other years refer to the following table:

A comparison of three Florida 6K road races, 2013 - 2016
YearDateRaceMale WinnerFemale WinnerFinishers
20139 FebruaryCharacter Counts 6K21:33, Yaro Middaugh26:24, Beth Sweeny205
16 FebruaryFlash 6K21:54, Michael Martinez25:09, Jessica Gillard70
20148 FebruaryCharacter Counts 6K23:02, Mike Beaman26:53, Katie Dingler123
15 FebruaryFlash 6K21:56, Jon Mason28:15, Sarah Taff85
25 OctoberRavine Gardens 6K22:30, Dan Stoner26:50, Talisa Fletcher32
20157 FebruaryCharacter Counts 6K24:15, Bryan Thompson26:36, Zahra Crim218
21 FebruaryFlash 6K23:30, Duane Evans24:20, Katie Gorman98
24 OctoberRavine Gardens 6K23:47, Peyton Snyder28:34, Sally Chappell49
20166 FebruaryCharacter Counts 6K21:32, Yaro Middaugh23:54, Ani Veltcheva253
20 FebruaryFlash 6K23:17, Travis Parks32:26, Leah Kiros87
22 OctoberRavine Gardens 6K
The Character Counts 6K was held on USATF certified course FL12089EBM from 2013-2016.
The Ravine Gardens 6K was held on USATF certified course FL14061EBM in 2014 and 2015.
From 2011 to 2016 the Flash 6K has been held on an uncertified course in Saint Marks, Florida.

But before fans of the Flash 6K go into a victory dance, recall that the course of that race isn't USATF certified. The courses for the Character Counts 6K and the Ravines Gardens 6K are each certified. Now, knowing how the Flash 6K was measured, I have every confidence that the course is accurate to USATF standards, and that only thing lacking for a certification number is paperwork. But without a course certification number, no sports statistician is going to look at times from the Flash 6K. A driver's license is a kind of paperwork, too. If you're pulled over without one, the highway patrolman isn't going to appreciate any argument you make about the unimportance of paperwork.

The point is already moot in 2016. The Ravine Gardens 6K has yet to be run, but the Character Counts 6K was already larger and faster than the Flash 6K. Yaro Middaugh's winning time in Saint Augustine is currently the fastest 6K in the state this year, and Ani Veltcheva's 23:54 in that same race leads the women's list. Veltcheva had some earlier 6K experience before that event--she had run Gulf Winds Track Club's 2015 Tannenbaum Trail 6K cross-country race two months earlier.

Ani Veltcheva

Certified course or not, the Flash 6K may still be the oldest six-kilometer road race in Florida. The Character Counts 6K has only been around since 2013, and the upstart Ravine Gardens 6K was first run in 2014. Other races can grow bigger, they can strive to attract faster runners, but they can't apply for an earlier birthdate. Score one for the Flash.