By Kyle Merber
December 1, 2022
It’s not the time, it’s the speed rating. For New Yorkers, I likely don’t have to explain to you what West Virginia’s Irene Riggs running 171 means, but for those of you who grew up in one of the other 49 states, let me quickly explain.
High School running statistician and archivist, Bill Meylan, operates a popular website called Tully Runners. It’s been around for 22 years, and in the Empire State it’s the place to find results, or better yet, the speed ratings associated with those results. The concept is borrowed from horse racing, where a numerical value is assigned to all the runners in the race that can then be used to compare one performance against another, across years and courses.
The premise is that these values represent an objective measurement of how fast each performance is versus others regardless of what day or where they were run. (For a more in-depth look, check out one of his many articles on the methodology.)
It’s hard to explain how sacred speed ratings are in certain circles if you didn’t grow up with them. When I consider what the best race of my prep career was, I believe it to be the NYS Federation meet, which I lost, but ran a 194.4 – my highest ever speed rating, and a number I remember as clearly as any lifetime PR.
This is all to say, when I saw that Irene Riggs ran 16:02 for 5k to win the NXR Southeast Regional meet, I was impressed – that’s super fast. Even more impressive was that she won by 84 seconds, and even more impressive than that is the fact that she broke Katelyn Tuohy’s course record by 20 seconds. But when I saw that 171 speed rating, I was absolutely floored. Basically, I was the Vince McMahon meme.
For even more speed rating context, the highest Natalie Cook recorded last year before going on to run 15:25 in the spring was a 165. One speed rating point is worth three seconds which in theory means there is an 18-second differential between Riggs this year and Cook last year on a cross country course. That doesn’t mean the Stanford-bound Riggs will match that, but she did run 9:50 for 2-miles as a junior, and that doesn’t require a doctorate in statistics to quantify.
(For curious minds, the highest speed rating on the boy’s side this year came from Lex Young (202) as he led Newbury Park to a 52 point win at the California State Meet.)
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After hanging up his spikes – but never his running shoes – Kyle pivoted to the media side of things, where he shares his enthusiasm, insights, and experiences with subscribers of The Lap Count newsletter, as well as viewers of CITIUS MAG live shows.