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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter May 10, 2014

Importance of descending skill for performance in fell races: a statistical analysis of race results

  • Anthony Kay EMAIL logo


The ratio of uphill pace to downhill pace in a foot race up and down a single mountain is used as a measure of a competitor’s descending skills – those qualities which are needed for fast descent but not for ascent. For the set of competitors in each of 44 races on seven courses of differing gradients and terrain roughnesses, we calculate the variance of this pace ratio and do linear regressions of pace ratio on finish time and on competitors’ age. The variances tend to be greater for races on steeper and rougher terrain, indicating a greater influence of descending skills on actual descent speeds in these races. The regression analysis shows a clear negative correlation with finish time, indicating that faster finishers tend to be those with better descending skills, but there is little evidence of correlation with age. Significant differences between the sexes are only found in races on the most difficult terrain, where men display better descending skills than women.

Corresponding author: Anthony Kay, Department of Mathematical Sciences, Loughborough University, Loughborough LE11 3TU, UK, Tel./Fax: 01509 222878, e-mail:

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    The author knows of several steeper uphill-only races in the Alps, and one steeper downhill-only race in Wales (Kay, 2012b)


This study would not have been possible without all the hard work of race organisers and their willingness to make full race results freely available. Their websites (accessed 9 July 2013) are: [Barr Trail]; [Snowdon]; [Ben Lomond]; [Slieve Donard];; [Pen y Fan] [Scafell Pike]; [Mount Marathon]. Several race organisers and photographers have corresponded with me and provided useful information or permission to reuse photographs: Crispin Flower, David Eiser, Hugh Suffern, John Garner, Stephen Edwards. Special thanks go to those unsung race officials who stand on mountain tops in all weathers, recording competitors’ times.


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Published Online: 2014-5-10
Published in Print: 2014-6-1

©2014 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Boston

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