Monday, March 14, 2011

Do Mile Runners Run Full Tilt?

Last night, I awoke, for some reason, in the middle of the night with a burning need to know if champion mile runners simply run flat out the whole way. So I took a look:

The current record for the mile is 3:43, or 16 m.p.h..

The current record for the 100m (328 feet) is 9.58, or 23 m.p.h..

So: good news, mile runners! Even if you hope to set a world record, you can still relax and lay back quite a bit!


Barry said...

There's a great, unsung movie that deals with this question WITHOUT LIMITS starring Billy Cruddup.

Anonymous said...

Your logic is a little off? Perhaps a winning sprinter is a person who runs full tilt for 100 meters, then runs out of steam and collapses, while a champion miler is a person who runs full tilt for 1600 meters and then collapses. The difference between them being, the sprinter burns his reserves faster, going faster but for a shorter period of time.

To draw your conclusion, you'd need data to show that the miler can run faster in the 100 meters than she normally does in the mile.

James Leff said...

the sprinter burns his reserves faster, going faster but for a shorter period of time

Yes, that was my conclusion as well. The sprinter goes faster for a shorter period of time.

Anonymous said...

Yes that was my conclusion as well

no, your question was, "do mile runners run full tilt?" I assume you meant by full tilt "as fast as the miler can run" (rather than "as fast as a sprinter can run"). You concluded that sprinters run faster, but I was pointing out that you didn't get to answer the question of whether the miler is running as fast as she can.

Jim Leff said...

Ok, I see. Your issue is with "can".

I guess one (highly empirical) way to check this would be to play, side-by-side, footage of milers starting a race and of sprinters starting a race, and gauge which group seems to be pouring on greater exertion.

From past experience watching track on TV, I'd put my money on the sprinters.

Anonymous said...

I don't think I was making a semantic point; I was making the point that you were wrong to draw you conclusion from the evidence you gathered; or that you could if you wished make a semantic point about "full tilt" and slide out from under it.

My original thought stands, that under the most likely interpretation of full tilt (which you seem loathe to clarify, but which I interpret as including "holding nothing in reserve"), it is possible that among the fastest milers is counted a person who runs full tilt for a half mile and holds nothing in reserve for the second half mile, runs that also at full tilt (whether faster or slower), and manages to come in first on some days.

Seems to me that's the question you asked and did not answer.

Jim Leff said...

You're responding to an earlier draft of my comment...which I'd deleted (and reposted something better). Please refresh your browser and reread! Sorry for the hassle.

Anonymous said...

Some other ways to gauge it, not perfect stand-ins for the scenario you describe, but strongly indicative of your conclusion:

I think there are some points in history when some exceptional athletes have held both short and long distance titles. (Too lazy to look, but Eric Heiden in skating?) and their speeds in the shorter events probably indicate that they push more to a full tilt when they don't have to hold anything in reserve.

Athletes who compete in pentathlon and decathlon where they must run both short and intermediate distance events, blah blah you know where i'm going with this, just note that those athletes aren't usually the best at any of the events.

And weirdly related, skilled horsemen extracting the maximum performance from their horses, whether it be the "wind sprints" of polo ponies (they substitute steeds frequently), the relay race of the pony express (they swap rides frequently), or the three events of the triple crown, each/all believe you can push full-tilt only so far, that there are horses who respond to competition, who finish stronger, need to be held back, and who need to be let run, blah blah blah not even I know where I'm going with that, but still it seem relevant.

But all that said, I think that there is something to your initial hypothesis, that what makes the champion milers so interesting, and the champion sprinters, and marathoners, is that they each are amazingly tuned for a high level of output for just that length of time, and if you are not a champion in that event (even if you are a champion in some other) and you try to compete with them, you will more or less soon feel like you are at full tilt and yet you are not keeping up, which is actually sort of interesting. Leads curiosity about related questions that probably are already answered someplace: just how slow a sprinter is the world champion marathoner, and is there a pattern for marathoners, or do they vary widely?

An interesting athletic event I thought of while thinking about this would be to have everybody at a track and field event run in one race of indeterminate duration, where the only award is first prize, but the prize is shared by all of the people who manage to lead the pack at any point. So by way of describing, we would expect the champion sprinter to be leading at the 100m mark, and the miler at the mile mark, etc. Assuming that you are good enough to be in the race (you are a contender in the 400m say, but not the champ), what is your optimal strategy, to run full tilt to be leading the pack at 350m or to hold back and try to hold out for 450m?

Jim Leff said...

race of indeterminate duration, where the only award is first prize

I'd assume it's a distance race (and therefore not go all out), because the odds would be against it being a short sprint (which is, after all, a special case in a spectrum extending all the way to ultra marathons).

but the prize is shared by all of the people who manage to lead the pack at any point

adding that part in, strategy is easy; simply stay toward the front of the pack, assuming you're a proficient runner. And if it turns out to be a 600 mile run, well, you all go down together.

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