I will admit...I am one of the cult members. The cult members of speed ratings. I used them throughout my coaching career and found them to be immensely helpful for helping my runners know where they stood in a race full of people that they had never run against. They allowed me to have a grasp of how good my team was regionally or nationally. And it was another piece of evidence that I could use to see performance improvement during the season and during a runner's high school career. BUT they are very polarizing and some people think they are complete waste of time...I am not one of those people. I’m going to try and just explain how and why I used them during my coaching career and provide some resources if anyone would like to delve into them a little bit more.
I don’t really know when and how I came across tullyrunners.com but at some point I found the site and that is when it began. Bill Meylan started posting ratings in the year 2000 so it has now been over 20 years that he has been posting them to his site. These ratings are similar to what the Daily Racing Forum has done for years to rate horses for their performance. Obviously we aren’t betting on our cross country runners but you get the drift...I hope! The basic premise of the rating is that it creates a number, the higher the better, to give a value to a race performance. But….as we all know not all courses are created equal! His rating will take into account the difficulty of the course, possible weather issues and other factors that may affect the times for that day. Are they perfect? No. Even Bill says in the things that he has written about speed ratings that they are a decent way to evaluate performance but they are not absolute.
The big question for many at this point probably is, ok, I kind of understand what they are on a basic scale but what makes them useful to you? I basically used them to help have my runners as prepared for the competition they were going to face as possible. I wanted them to have an understanding of where they should expect to be in a race and who would be our main competition. Race times do not really do that for me. This is where the importance of understanding why race times don’t totally help me know where we stand in a future race. Race times are not comparable because courses vary significantly. We all know this or we all should know this. We are not racing on a track in cross country. When you then compare our team's season bests with season bests from teams from different states our times don’t look that impressive.This is where the speed ratings could help me gauge the level of my runners and the level of my team. If a runner on a team from NJ ran a fast time but their rating was a 126 and my girl ran a slower time at Thetford(can be a brutally hard course) but was a 126 rating then I know they are comparable even with the race time difference.
Another thing that I must admit though is that I really enjoy digging into the numbers and trying to figure out where I think we stood against other competition. If you don’t enjoy that, the ratings will be useless for you because it does take some time to learn how to interpret them, understand some of the weaknesses and how to use them to help your team. For example over time I started to know which courses I think the ratings are skewed too high for. In my experience it was usually on the flatter faster courses that the number would be, in my opinion, too high. I would never come to this decision based on only one race's speed rating. I would be looking at as many ratings from as many races as possible for each team. This would give me an idea of the norm for each runner on that team. I could see their progress and which runners were improving as the season went on. I could see runners that may be flattening out or falling back. Then if I saw a result that seemed out of line with their normal performance I could check on what the course was like and then use my judgement on how I viewed that rating.
Speed ratings are not for everyone. They were invaluable to me. They still are as I run my website and do some previews, etc and I want to determine who the runners and teams to watch are. BUT I put a lot of time and effort into figuring out how I wanted to use them to help my teams. I always had identified teams that we needed to watch for New Englands and for NXR in the Northeast. I would keep an eye on all of those teams throughout the season and add in any new teams that weren’t on the radar at the beginning of the season. I would watch races from other states to see the course and determine how difficult I felt the course was and then look at race times and speed ratings to calibrate the performance. Doing this over a number of years allowed me to be able to pretty closely predict our runners performance and our teams performance. Some runners thought it was kind of creepy that I could guess within a few seconds what they could run on a course they had never run before which made all of the time and effort worth it. Plus I enjoy going through results, comparing courses, tracking teams and their progress and using the ratings to help me predict where my runners could possibly be against different runners and different teams that we had not raced before.
To give people a visual of what it might look like over the course of a season below is the breakdown of our girls 2018 season when we won the VT State Championship, New England Championship, finished 2nd at NXR and qualified for NXN. We had 9 races that had speed ratings done for them. Not all races are going to be rated by Bill at Tullyrunners because he does need to have a life too! Most large invitational from around the country he will rate and a large majority of races in NY state. We traveled a lot when I was coaching because we were seeking out the best competition we could find. This led to us having a lot of ratings and that helped me monitor our team's progress. Factors I knew and was looking for were: 1. If I have a girl in or around a 130 rating then I’m going to have a low stick at most of the meets. Our girl who was there was a top 10 Eastern States runner at Manhattan Invitational and a top 10 runner at NXR. 2. If I have at least one in the high teens to low 120s we are ok at the top end of our team usually. 3. Once we got to 5+ in the 100s I knew we had a shot in the Northeast to challenge for a spot at NXN.
You can also see the progress of the 3-7 runners as the season progresses. The rating helps give me another data point to judge what I think I’m already seeing with my own eyes and the race times. There are times that the ratings get a bit funky and that is where the years of me using them helped me to determine what I want to take from those ratings. A prime example of this is the NH Meet of Champions course is a rocket ship and the race is held the week before New Englands. Looking at the results and the ratings every year would make you think that you didn’t have a chance the next week at New Englands. But because I knew the course. Because I knew how fast it was and because I thought the ratings were skewed because of it...I knew not to overreact too much. I just had to try and get my kids not to see the results!
Springstead Invite NY
Queensbury Invite NY
Manchester Invite NH
Woods Trail - Thetford VT
Eastern States - Manhattan, NY
VT State Meet - Thetford VT
New Englands - Manchester NH
NXR Bowdoin Park NY
NXN Portland OR
I hope this helped and didn’t confuse people more and that it was maybe at least a little interesting. I think speed ratings are a very useful tool for some people and for others they may serve no purpose at all. I have found them to be very helpful the majority of the time and don’t think that I could have prepared my team as well to compete without them. The big BUT is that this was not something that I just started one day and was instantly ok at. It did take a lot of time(practice?) using them and pairing them with other things like watching videos of races and tracking the ratings throughout the course of an entire race season. Putting all of those pieces together led to me being comfortable with making decisions to help my team be the best prepared that it could possibly be and without speed ratings I do not believe that I could have done that.
http://tullyrunners.com/index.htm - home page for tons of speed ratings
http://tullyrunners.com/Data/Articles/SpeedRatingInfo.htm - article by Bill Meylan answering common questions about speed ratings
http://tullyrunners.com/Articles.htm - articles page from tullyrunners.com
https://mixcspeedratings.com/2021-season/ - michigan state speed ratings page