Sunday, January 8, 2012

The "Race Flow" plot

The first few teams running the Knik 200 have arrived at the finish but most are still out on the trail.  During the race I became very fond of Trackleaders new "Race Flow" graph, which plots trail location against race time.  It's a fantastic tool for visualizing how the race is actually playing out.  Right now they're only showing the first nine teams and I'm really hoping that they're going to beef it up over the coming months, and add features like allowing us to select which mushers we'd like displayed, and putting better mouse controls on it.

Anyway, as of this writing the top nine teams have arrived back in Knik, and this is what a top-level view (the default) of the race flow looks like:

This is pretty straightforward.  They traveled at a pretty steady pace to Skwentna, did their mandatory layovers, and then traveled at a somewhat less steady pace back to Knik.  If you look closely you can see little wrinkles at about race mile 40, or about 4 hours into the race.  It's not too hard to guess what that's about: Yentna.  You see something similar on the return trip but it looks like it took them longer to travel from Yentna back to the start, and that shouldn't be too surprising, either.

At this level the plot doesn't provide that much insight, but let's zoom in a little to look at a couple of things that were happening towards the end of the race.  Let's start with Mike Santos, who ran a really strong race and looked like he could possibly win.  Then this happened (Mike is the purple line):

At arrow 1 we can see Mike's speed drop.  Not coincidentally, Jake (the beige line) speeds up and Mike is passed.  About 15 minutes later Mike stops (arrow 2), gets going again, stops again for about 20 minutes (arrow 3), trucks on for about an hour, and then stops again, for about another 20 minutes.  I don't know for sure what was going on but if I had to guess I'd guess he was moving dogs around to try to get his speed back (which he did).  So, these little lines are telling a story, and we can watch it as it unfolds.  

Now here's the really great story from the plot:

What we can see is that Lance (blue line) and Jake (beige line) were traveling at about the same speed (the slope represents speed - steeper is faster and flatter is slower, and these were parallel - i.e. the same speed) a little less than 1/2 mile apart when Jake made a move at about race clock 25.3.  If the curves are to be believed there was some passing going on, although this may be an artifact of the Spot updates coming in at different times.  At any rate, the lines converged, and that's when things got a little crazy.

The tracking map shows where the mushers are, but this terrific little plot shows how the race actually played out - where people rested, where they raced, where they passed, who really is traveling together, and all sorts of small pieces of data that help capture the essence of what's happening.  You can bet that I'll be glued to it during the Yukon Quest.

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