(Note: The following is an explanation of how the Nielson Challenge handicap times are
computed. It's not a straight average, as most people think.)
by Bob Royse
The system keeps times only for the most recent 24 months. All older times are purged. For each runner, the system takes all of their times for these 24 months, and sorts them. It then takes the top half (i.e. fastest) of the runner's times, up to a maximum of five times. It uses only these times to calculate the handicap time. As a result, if a runner had five times recorded, and ran a new race with a time slower than his previous three best times, he would see no change in his handicap.
To finish calculating the handicap, the program takes the average time for these five (or fewer) fastest times. If a runner has enough recorded times to reach the five limit, this average is her handicap.
If not, a "penalty" is calculated for too few times. So a runner must have ten recorded times in the past 24 months to not have any penalty calculated. As you can see, a few of our dedicated runners fit into this category.
The closer you are to reaching ten races, the smaller the penalty. To figure your penalty, the program takes the average calculated above and subtracts 9 1/2 minutes. A percentage is determined by subtracting the number of races run from 10.
For example if a runner has run six races, her penalty is 4%. Suppose the average of her three fastest races is 14 1/2 minutes, by subtracting 9 1/2 minutes, you get 5 minutes. Four percent of 5 minutes is 12 seconds. These 12 seconds are subtracted from her average to get her handicap.
All calculations are done and times stored to the tenth of a second. Since beginning runners show the most improvement, straight time comparisons heavily favor them. But they have fewer races, so they will have a bigger percentage penalty to offset this somewhat. In addition, since their times are slower, this penalty is applied to a larger number, so they get a bigger penalty even for the same number of races.
Overall, this formula still provides an advantage to new runners, as well as to those
who run frequently, which is precisely the audience the handicap race was designed for.