Wednesday 10 December 2014

Team Scoring At The US Skyrunner Series

Recently there's been some online and in-person discussion about team scoring surrounding the North Face Endurance Challenge 50-miler in Marin, including some great thoughts from Ryan Ghelfi (his latest blog post). It got me thinking along lines I'd previously considered before being involved in the US Skyrunner Series as the Series Director - namely that sports need teams for people to support.

Now that I'm in a position to create a system of scoring for teams at a national level, I decided to relate my thoughts in a blog to get comments before putting it into practice, so please let me know what you think. Bear in mind a couple of constraints - there's no budget for offering prize money for this in 2015 and there's no time to create a budget...but this may kick start that side of things for 2016.

As an additional feature, I'm currently working on a way to include live, real-time scoring during each race for teams but details are not ready to be released yet.

Scoring principles:

Here are the key elements I'd like to incorporate in team scoring:

1. Allow both elites and the entire field to effect the scoring.
2. Incorporate both women and men into a combined score for both elites and the entire field.
3. Create teams that people will genuinely care about.
4. Only include it if it adds something to a given race and/or the entire Series.

To achieve these aims I'm considering scoring for both the top runners and the entire field, but with the top runners still scoring for the masses as well. To get people behind teams, I believe the most effective common denominator is geography as this is what works in basically every sport globally. Then I hope the combination of these factors makes it of interest and gets people psyched to run for and support their team.

The geographical scoring makes most sense if based on US States plus international countries, given all the races are in the US. Every State will score in every race even if they have no runners - see the scoring described below. Only countries with finishers will be included, but once they have a single finisher in a single race they will be scored in every race, even if they have no runners.

Elite team scoring:

Cross-country scoring is tried and tested, so I propose that the top two men and one woman from a team have they gender positions added up. For example, a team with men in 2nd and 3rd plus the 1st woman would score 6 points (2+3+1). If there are not enough finishers for a team to complete their three finishers then each missing runner scores 25 points, so the previously mentioned team score without a female finisher would score 30 points (2+3+25). The most a team can score is 75 and if a team's runner is lower than 25th place then they still score 25 points at worst.

Full team scoring:

Every runner counts for the State or Country they enter under originally (even if they move before race day), including elites. The average position of the runners in their gender is the number that counts for scoring, with a bonus for the more runners they have.

The State or country with the most runners in a race gets a 5 point deduction from their score, second largest gets 4 points off, third largest gets 3 points off, fourth largest gets 2 points off and the 5th largest gets a single point off their score. The lowest score possible is 1 point above the worst scoring team that has finishers. This score applies to all teams that fail to have 3 finishers.

For example, if Colorado has the most runners in a race and the average finisher's position in their gender is 22.567th then we round to one decimal place then deduct the 5 point bonus to give a score of 17.6.

Single race v entire Series:

I aim to include scoring for every distance at every event to give a result for the individual race plus a league table over the season. I guess I'll get comments about how all the scoring favors the States that hold more races since it's easier to get locals to turn up, but the bonus points' system only gives a slight advantage to big numbers. Regarding the elite races, 2015 should see some high-level competition across the entire Series, meaning that the States with the best mountain runners should do better in the elite rankings and they aren't punished too much if they can't get a full scoring team out given it only requires two men and one woman and there's only so many points that can be added as a penalty.

Overall thoughts:

There's a degree of trial and error with this approach since it's something new and relies on the races being reasonably geographically diverse and competitive. Both of these elements should increase over time and this is just the first step. Depending on how it goes it could morph into a number of things in 2016, especially with discussions with sponsors to get top athlete's sponsors on board.

Let me know what you think. Is this an exciting addition to the sport of trail running? Does it add something to the US Skyrunner Series? What would you change to my proposal (be realistic as well as ideas for where to aim for the in the longer term)?


  1. This is awesome! As cross-country runner turned MUT runner I welcome this! Aside from representing your country repping your State is the next big thing! Im USATF there is a reg process so maybe a sky running series membership could contribute towards the overall execution of the scoring series...maybe getting the MUT/XC grand prix series council in the fold to incorporate some of the systems could also make a 2016 transition smoother or at least bring more scoring brains into the mix.

  2. Ian, Really glad to see you are working so fastidiously to implement a legitimate scoring mechanism in US Skyrunning. Hats off to you. As I've written as well, I think that your idea and method here are purely additive for the runners in these races as well as those folks watching them. It may also help bring a more diverse group of runners to races to help their state in the scoring. I know I would consider driving to a race to help my state win. I guess the tough part is that home field advantage is pretty big in this case with races being in only a handful of states. But people do travel of course, and I think you are spot on with the number of scorers. It will certainly make it more likely to get a complete score from a larger number of states. I certainly hope to run at least one sky race this year! Ryan Ghelfi

  3. Ian, interesting topic - I'm a numbers nerd so anything with stats and rankings I pay attention too.

    Concerns I see are that this is getting too complicated when throwing in points off for states with the most runners, etc. That basically ensures the state in which the race is held will have the winning team, especially when considering a race is held in Oregon, California, Colorado, or Arizona, and a few others. Adding that to the fact that most fast men and women come from those states. I feel this method would totally discourage a team traveling far to compete as a "state." Even if I rounded up some studly men and women from Ohio, traveling to California to try to win would prove to be a disadvantage.

    I also wonder how this will actually affect Sponsorships. Will it increase the amount of runners being sponsored. And if so, will it all be centered on the runners from a select couple of states.

    I'm from the East, in Ohio, so I have a bias, but I have also felt a bit on the outskirts for the five years I've been into ultra running. Yes, I could move, but I feel there is geographic discrimination in ultra running. Maybe I just coined a new phrase there, but I feel it.. not saying it is fair or not, but its there.

    I have some other thoughts and opinions I won't share on this comment for brevity sake. I'm going to send you an email shortly.

  4. Michael, the point deduction for being in the top 5 States at a race in terms of finisher numbers is only a small bonus to reward bigger teams. Realistically the biggest numbers at any given race will be from home State runners, but they only save 1 point compared to the next biggest and still only 5 points from a State with very few runners but enough to score. Realistically that means the home State probably won't win the team event for the entire field. The best strategy is for a group of fast runners to travel then have all their scores be low, so their average is low.

  5. Love the idea! My only suggestion would be to simplify: Just do cross country scoring -- top three men score, top three women score. Separate results for states and sponsors. For the big races you could even go five deep. If a person following the race couldn't figure it out in their head, I think fans would be more likely to lose interest.

    A positive side benefit of team scoring might be fewer DNFs among elite runners. You'd be far less likely to abandon a sub-par race if you knew you had teammates depending on you.

    Good luck with all this!

  6. Ian, great idea to incorporate team scoring.
    Since you mentioned as one of the principles "Create teams that people will genuinely care about", I suggest not to limit team creation to only geographic criteria.
    This would allow people to be a part of the team that they truly care about.

    Some runners would probably form/join teams based on their geographic location, others - based on the running club or other meaningful for each person criteria.
    This way every runner will get a chance to catch a spirit of team competition, not only runners who happened to live in a state with many people who're willing to travel to races.
    I would also add some sort of score penalty for the number of DNFs within each team (as a % of total team runners).
    Obviously, there would be few details to work out: scoring, max and min size of each team (probably min 2 people), ranking of sponsored/elite teams, etc.
    I think this will add quite a bit of motivation to travel for our fellow Skyracers.