Dublin City Marathon is getting faster, older and more male

24 Oct 2016

Marathon running. Image: Pavel1964/Shutterstock

A look into the data behind the Dublin City Marathon makes for interesting reading, with today’s runner older, faster and more male than ever before.

Dublin City Marathon

An Irish data analyst has taken to long-distance running of late, with his findings on the Dublin City Marathon showing us just how much the field is changing.

With 26.2 miles of running, almost 20,000 participants, and no end of pain in store for competitors this weekend, 2016’s runner is far removed from his or her 2000 counterpart.

Prof Barry Smyth of the Insight Centre for Data Analytics has been delving into the data behind the race, looking at metrics for the past 16 years to spot any shifts and trends in the race-day make-up.

What he has found is that Dubliners really like marathons now, competitors are older than before, times are plummeting and fewer hit ‘the wall’ than perhaps you thought.

Dublin City Marathon

“The Dublin City Marathon has experienced a more or less sustained period of growth over the past 15 years,” said Smyth, noting a rise from 7,000 runners in 2000 to 13,000 last year.

The race is at capacity this weekend, with 19,500 registered runners and many more hopefuls interested in partaking. For many, the training has been going on for months, for many more, just weeks.

Dublin City Marathon

The average age of Dublin City Marathon runners

The hard yards they’re putting in means that many are noticeable up and down the streets and parks of Dublin – and Ireland – of late. What might be more noticeable is the make-up of those runners.

While participant numbers have been growing consistently, the last 15 years have been somewhat dominated by men – with 46pc of finishers female in 2000, but just 30pc last year (though even that is rising again).

Last year, for the first time, the number of runners aged over 40 was greater than that of those aged below. Interestingly, this is not having a negative effect on the finish times, with Smyth noting plummeting speeds.

Dublin City Marathon

The finish times of Dublin City Marathon runners

“In the year 2000, the average finish time was 305 minutes,” he said. “But this improved to just over 255 minutes by 2015, a 50-minute speed-up. Way to go, Dublin!”

Looking deeper into the finish times, Smyth found gender playing a bigger role in speeds than age. While the average finish time between men and women was 30 minutes last year (down from 85 in 2000, largely due to a fall-off in walkers), it was just 10-15 minutes between those aged below 40 and those aged above.

In general, Smyth found runners on a repeat marathon to be far more disciplined than those running their first, with fast starts and erratic speeds a sign that (a) you’re a newbie and (b) you’re going to struggle.

Pacing is key and that’s given more credence by one particularly odd finding. Pacesetters work, with significant spikes in finishers around the time of each pacesetter.

“In general, we find 60–100pc more finishers just before paced times than for any other nearby times,” said Smyth.

“And if the pacers change, so do the finisher spikes; in other words the spikes track the pacers, not the times!”

pacers 2

The average number of finishers by finish time during years with 15-minute pacing groups (2009–2011) and 10-minute pacing groups (2013 & 2015)

Although overall only 5pc of people hit the dreaded wall, the likelihood of hitting it is much higher for those finishing over 4.5 hours. For example, 20pc of men who finish at five hours hit the wall, and in general, men hit the wall far more often than women.

On average, those whose first 10km is their fastest finish way down the order, with the third (30km) the sweet spot for the fastest finishers. This is often true of many racing sports, the third leg of four being the hardest and most important.

Dublin City Marathon

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic