What is the place of engineering in endurance sports? In running?
This past week I registered for this year’s Mount Washington Road Race. “Only one hill” they like to say!
So, I have some training in front of me. Until now I haven’t put any 2013 races on my calendar. There are great races locally and elsewhere, of course. In the past I’ve entered races that I could run with friends and that were available.
Anticipating this season I’ve held off because I’ve been re-thinking my approach to races – and to training. Any race is a good race, I have no hesitation to race. And any trail race is even better! This year I want to define more direction for my racing, so, what direction? Where do I want to go? So far I know this: long and up. My love of ultras remains strong. I have also decided that I need to spend more time on mountains.
In the past few years worked on some mountains and skied down some mountains. I have not climbed many, however. I need to do that.
Now that I have to run up the tallest mountain in the Northeast United States, its time to put my ideas into action. So, the questions: “how to race?” and “how to train?” are on my mind more acutely.
Time for an answer!
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Last June Audi won the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans victory, it’s tenth victory in this French sportscar endurance classic.
Recently I watched the film “Truth in 24: every second counts” about Audi’s victory there. The film portrays the thrill of the race and the people of the Audi Sport team. I was struck by the breadth of expertise teams bring to the endurace racing endeavor. This is not just a race car driver and some mechanics.
The Mount Washington race isn’t twenty-four hours long, but does demand four thousand, six hundred and fifty feet of elevation gain over seven-point-six miles.
In the midst of thinking about racing I reflected more on the Le Mans race story and the Audi team. One role intrigued me: Race Engineer.
I’m not a motorsports fan, so this is a role that is new to me. For a race like Le Mans, a entrant campaigns more than one car. Audi campaigned three R18 e-tron quattros. So, the car = team formula doesn’t hold. Each car has a team including drivers, and pit crew and this team is part of Audi’s whole race team. It turns out that the Race Engineer is really the leader of a car’s team. Audi Sport’s Race Engineer Leena Gade:
“I am responsible for the entire crew, mechanics, background engineers, assistant engineer. I’m in charge of that,” Gade said.
“Then you’ve got the drivers, the set-up of the car and the strategy side of things. I’m responsible for the final decisions on the race car. If a part on the car moves, changes temperature or changes pressure, I’m logging it. The collected information is then used by me to give instructions over a radio to the driver to help him maintain tires or maximise the engine performance for example. I’m the main contact to the driver.”…
Gade confirms what I saw in the film: the driver and the racecar are both guided by engineering. Yes, the design of the R18 is determined by engineering, of course. What struck me was how race decisions, both tactical and strategic, were by and large engineered.
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Last week I had the rare opportunity to glimpse into another endurance sport: singlehanded ocean racing. I was invited to hear American solo ocean racer Bruce Schawb talk about his 2002-2003 Around Alone and 2008 Vendee Globe campaign. He, too, had a pit crew who monitored his boat, his route, weather, sails, hull performance.
Looking back to his story after seeing the account of Audi’s Le Mans campaign and thinking about preparation for my own upcoming races, I wonder if endurance runners could approach racing this way – assessing performance and guiding the their race decisions with engineering principles across the duration of the race.
Other questions arise from this idea:
- Do any runners do this?
- Is there an endurance race in which this is the common approach?
- Is there competitive advantage to be gained from this approach?
- From what companies would the money to fund a technical team come?
- Do well-funded racing teams consider this? Nike? Salomon? Montrail? Any universities? Orienteering teams?
- What engineering disciplines would be relevant? Gait? Nutrition? Biomechanics? Navigation?
- Do racing rules allow live monitoring of racers? By voice, telecom or observation?
- What factors might be candidates for engineering improvement and optimization?
I don’t yet have a picture of this. I will explore further.
And it occurred to me: