Sunday, February 5, 2012

Let's do a little arithmetic

We're at about hour 32 of the Yukon Quest, a race that you can figure taking a little over 9 days in this direction.  That is to say, we're about 14% of the way through timewise (and about 16% in terms of distance), which means there's a lot of room for things to change, and to change drastically.  There's been a lot of speculation about who's leading the Yukon Quest and excitement about changes in position, and I thought it might be worthwhile to do a little arithmetic to figure out just how drastic a change would be needed to cause a major shift in outcomes.

So, right now Allen Moore is at mile 161.1 on the tracker, and is leading.  Gus Guenther is further back in the standings -- the Quest "current standings" page has him in 13th place.  He's currently at the Central checkpoint, or mile 140.5.  So, a little less than 21 miles separates Allen and Gus.  I'm not sure what the exact trail mileage is and the trackleaders site doesn't really say, but let's go with 991 miles, since that's what the Quest website says.

So, let's start with some assumptions.  Figure that it takes roughly 220 hours total for the finisher to arrive in Whitehorse, based on past results.  Now, let's assume that the current leader, Allen, holds his position and is the guy that arrives at hour 220.  Let's subtract the 48* hours of mandatory layover yet to come, to understand what kind of trail speed he'd need.  With 188 hours to go, minus 48 hours for layover, we'd get 140 trail hours.  To cover that in time to arrive at hour 220, he'd need to travel at an average speed of 5.9mph.

What about Gus?  Let's say that he's going to beat Allen by an hour -- how much faster would he have to travel?  He'd have to cover 851 miles (he's at Central) in 139 trail hours.  That's an average speed of 6.1mph, or 2/10 of a mile per hour.  Or it may be clearer to say that he'd need to be a little over 3% faster. And that's for arriving an hour earlier.  He could arrive a minute earlier and win.

If it were just that simple this small a difference with so much trail left, current positions could probably be considered to have virtually no predictive value.  But it's a dog race with huge human factors, major weather and terrain considerations, and so on.  Someone might have a strategy of holding back early and keeping their dogs rested, calculating just how much trail they've got left to reel in the leaders.  The weather or terrain may favor one team over another.  If it gets warm, teams from interior Alaska will have a harder time, while if the temperature plummets the dogs (and mushers) from down south are going to have more difficulty holding their race together.  You've got rookies who've never seen the trail running against people who've run the race many times and know this trail well.  There are so many different factors that affect outcomes.  Current trail position is just one, and arguably not much of one -- at least not yet.

[* A discerning Quest fan pointed out that while everybody knows that there is a mandatory 36 in Dawson City, YT, but may be less aware that there's also a mandatory 4-hour layover in Eagle, AK and a mandatory 8 in Braeburn, YT (the last checkpoint before the finish).  See this page at the Quest site for details.]

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