The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Wednesday 23 January 2013

PCT Food: Part 3 (Random Thoughts)

Here are 11 random thoughts as to food items that featured in our PCT trip:

1) Chocolate

Chocolate is a must on any of our long walks! Choice in the US was disappointing (particularly compared to the hundreds of branded and unbranded options that there are in the UK), but we could get Snickers, Kit Kat, Twix, M&Ms, Reeces and Hersheys. All of those came at a huge price, and Hersheys was out of the question anyway as (in my opinion) it’s the most disgusting excuse for chocolate known to man. Fortunately, we mainly bought M&Ms, which were available in huge packets, but we did also get some Snickers and KitKats.

M&Ms have the benefit of a sugar shell, but we soon realised quite how badly Snickers and KitKats fare in the desert, being solid only in the middle of the night. Snickers as pre-breakfast, at 4am, didn’t go down too well!

Later in the trip, I came to discover that eating a KitKat in the middle of the day was possible if using a spoon. It’s the only time I’ve ever eaten a KitKat with a spoon, and it was a surprisingly good experience!

2) Oreo Cakesters

Oreo Cakesters (they look like oversized Oreos, but the chocolatey bits are made out of cake rather than biscuit) are good! And they even taste nice when completely mashed, which is a good thing, as they really don’t travel well!

3) Pints of Ice-Cream

Obviously not something that we popped into our backpacks, but there’s nothing nicer than walking into a town, in approaching 40 degree temperatures, and to feel no guilt whatsoever in destroying an entire pint of ice cream.

4) Biscuits (or Cookies if you’re American)

In our original resupply shop in Los Angeles we really struggled to find things for puddings. The item that we found, which not only offered an excellent calorie to weight ratio but were also available at a reasonable price, was big 1kg packets of biscuits (think Oreos, but some were half chocolate half plain, and some were entirely plain). Fourteen biscuits fitted nicely, as two stacks, into a ziplock bag and they travelled really well. We did, perhaps, buy too many (mainly as they were one of the only items we found that wasn’t outrageously expensive) as, by the end of the trip, Mick couldn’t even bear to look at them. That said, I think that every single one got eaten.

5) Granola

On UK backpacking trips, breakfast is usually muesli or granola and sometimes porridge, but interspersed with a cooked breakfast in a greasy spoon or a B&B when the opportunity arises. On the PCT, in the absence of greasy spoons and B&Bs, granola featured heavily. Even though we had a good variety of flavours, by the end of the trip neither of us ever wanted to see a spoonful of the stuff ever again. In fact, there’s a box of muesli sitting in the cupboard at home that’s about to go out of date because we still can’t even bear muesli; must make it into some flapjacks to save wastage!


All foods mentioned in this post, except for the ice-cream, are on that table and chair.

6) Gatorade

I attribute no small part of the success of this trip on Gatorade! It’s available in US supermarkets in powdered form and we drank one bottle with breakfast, one with our evening meal and sometimes (if we had enough powder) one with lunch too. Extra calories, a very pleasant change to plain water, and allegedly good for electrolyte balance when walking in such a hot place. We ended up throwing all of our tea bags away, as the Gatorade took the place of our usual cups of tea.

7) Stock Cubes

I’m so pleased that I took along a selection of stock cubes as, when I finally remembered that we had them with us, they did improve our meals.

8) Olive Oil

Olive oil was carried purely for the extra calories. We didn’t need as much as we carried, as we kept forgetting to use it, but once I did get into the swing of adding a glug to every meal it worked out fine. 

9) Minute Rice

Why can’t we get Minute Rice (an instant cooked, dried rice) in supermarkets in the UK? Surely there must be a market for it? If we could, then I really don’t think that I would go to the bother of cooking and dehydrating my own.

10) Fish & Biscuits! (and a mention of Noodles)

We didn’t get our trail names for nothing, as fish and crackers featured quite a bit in our diet. In fact, more than usual, as the opportunities to buy cheese were so limited. The fish options were good. I clearly remember the joy of kippers and oat cakes, which seemed somewhat out of place as a meal to have in the desert! Noodles also featured quite a bit, but Mick ended up eating more of them than me, as never have I had such bad and long-lived indigestion as when I had noodles for lunch (don’t know why; I’ve eaten noodles since with no issues).

11) Food Shopping In General

What really surprised us about the food was the price of it. Eating out was cheap, yet supermarket shopping was expensive and (in some product lines) surprisingly lacking in choice. I can see why eating out is so popular over there – it’s just a pity that there were so few (well, strictly speaking, none) restaurants on our route.

Monday 21 January 2013

PCT Food: Part 2 (The Resupply Strategy)

As I already mentioned in Part 1, the section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) that we walked is one of the more remote parts with limited resupply opportunities. Even where we visited some form of civilisation where it was possible to receive a parcel, few had any significant grocery shopping facilities. In fact, only one of our planned resupply points boasted a large supermarket.

It was information gleaned from the PCT Handbook, on the subject of resupply opportunities, that guided our resupply plan. Maybe it was purely a matter of lucky timing, but reality turned out to be somewhat different from the information upon which we had based the plan.

The Plan

Our intended resupply plan was as follows:


It’s Lake Hughes, not Lake Huges, but I’m not re-doing that table just to insert an ‘h’. It also appears that there was a severe shortage of apostrophes when I put it together.

The Reality

As it turned out, we could easily have resupplied from shops as we went along.

The petrol station in Lake Hughes was very poorly stocked and I really struggled to choose even two days’ of food, but Mojave, as we knew it would, boasted a big Safeway where we were not only able to get everything we needed for the following week, but we had choice too.

When we got to Walker Pass (and having failed to get a hitch into town) we ended up getting a lift to the Post Office in Onyx (there’s nothing in Onyx except for a Post Office) with a trail angel who was continuing into the town of Lake Isabella. We went with her and ended up visiting a couple of big supermarkets, so we could easily have shopped instead of sending a parcel. It was the prospect of a 70-mile round hitch (not that I relished the 35 miles to Onyx and back!) that had put us off including Lake Isabella as a resupply stop.

The Handbook warned that the Kennedy Meadows store (where everyone goes) may have been cleared out by those who arrived before you as it’s only a small store. As it went, there was impressive array of food available and, because pretty well all PCTers stop there, it’s very much focussed on backpacker friendly food. We could easily have bought there.

Likewise, because Vermillion Valley Resort is so remote (I seem to recall that it’s 70 miles away from a shop), they don’t get to re-stock too often and thus it’s not hailed as a reliable resupply point. We not only found it well stocked, but it was whilst we were there that we changed our plans to go into Mammoth, which meant that we only needed a day and a bit of food, not the 4 days that we’d sent.

Mammoth was the easiest hitch of the trip, and it would have been even easier from a logistics point of view if we’d been a day later, when the shuttle bus started running. We didn’t visit the supermarket in Mammoth (as it wasn’t an intended stop, we already had enough food to see us through), but if we had wanted to then a free shuttle bus would have taken us there and I’m sure we wouldn’t have struggled with buying 2 days’ of tasty fresh, heavy stuff to get us the last hop and skip to our destination.

Day 31_1

Random food photo

What I’d do differently

Even though it transpired that we could have resupplied on the way, if we were to do the trip again (or, indeed, any other long walk in the USA), I would still go down the same route of buying dehydrated ingredients.

Why? Three reasons:

1) Because I didn’t find a single packet meal in the supermarkets that I would actually want to eat, and certainly not for five weeks. We did buy a few packet meals (pasta and sauce, noodles, cous cous – the usual fayre) and the noodles and cous cous were fine – for a snack or a minor meal, but I just can’t consider them to be a main meal, day after day. As for the commercial ‘pasta and sauce’ meals – urgh!

2) Being a non-meat-eater, my options would be severely limited if I was buying supermarket packet meals.

3) I like to feel like there’s some nutrition in my meals, and I just couldn’t feel that way if eating commercial, processed packet meals every day.

However, I wouldn’t mail breakfasts, lunches and snacks if there was the prospect of reasonable grocery shopping en-route. We would have managed just fine to pick up something for these meals as we went along (and if we had bought as we’d gone we wouldn’t have had the incident of the granola that got too close to the washing powder in transit, resulting in heavily perfumed granola, which we had no choice but to eat by the time we found out that it had been tainted!)

Even though I would use dehydrated ingredients again, I would do it differently next time. I would buy a slightly smaller array of ingredients (but only so as to avoid the crunchily raw ones), and I wouldn’t make them up into meals in advance. Instead, I would just bag up the individual ingredients, together with a stash of various flavours of stock cubes and bags of seasonings (including sachets of powdered ready sauces such as chilli and bolognese) and I would make up meals according to our fancy as we went along. Whereas usually our meals would have the emphasis on the veg/bean/meat element, with the rice/cous cous/mash/pasta as an accompaniment, in using commercial dehydrated ingredients in the future I would change the emphasis so that the bulk of the meal would be the carb element, with the ‘topping’ playing a lesser role. I would still feel like I was getting some nutrition, but with the filling comfort of having more stodge.


Now, I think that rather thoroughly answers Geoff’s original question, but I’ve still got one more post to go on the subject, just to cover a few other random thoughts on the foods we ate.

Sunday 20 January 2013

PCT Food: Part 1 (The Evening Meals)

Geoff got in touch with me last week to ask how our food strategy on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) had worked out, which has chivvied me, rather belatedly, to gather my thoughts on the subject*. It may have seemed like a simple question, and Geoff was probably expecting a brief answer, but I have once again demonstrated a complete inability to be succinct, and have therefore written three posts around the subjects of food and resupply on our PCT trip.

Background: For our backpacking trips in the UK, we always cook and dehydrate our evening meals before we set out, but buy most of our breakfasts and lunches as we go along. That approach wouldn’t work for an American trip due to food import restrictions (although there are some things you can take). Had we been walking a route with easy buy-as-you-go resupply opportunities, then we probably would have just bought as we went. However, the section of the PCT we chose is one of the more remote parts and the PCT Handbook told us that the places that could be relied on to provide resupply were few and far between.

I vacillated at length between buying commercial processed packet food in a supermarket on arrival in the US, or buying dehydrated ingredients. Either way it was going to be posted ahead.

Harmony House Foods: Eventually, having decided that I wanted both a bit of variety and a bit of nutrition over the course of our five weeks of walking, I came down on the side of dehydrated ingredients, and considered a number of suppliers. After much perusal of their websites, Harmony House Foods was selected as they offered almost all of the ingredients that I wanted in air-dried (rather than freeze-dried) form.

Deciding how much we wanted of each ingredient was tricky. We didn’t have the ability to experiment, so I took my knowledge that each of my home dehydrated meals come in at around about 100g in dry weight, except for pasta sauce which (being mainly tomato based) comes in at nearer 75g, I listed the ingredients for each meal that I wanted to create (a spread sheet was involved, as you’ll see below, but no graphs, I promise!), and made an educated guess as to the proportions of each ingredient.



In the absence of meat, I also bought various flavours of fake meat to add to Mick’s meals, but that didn’t make it onto the ingredient list

On arrival in LA, our food was all waiting – and there was masses of it. Even after splitting it out and mixing it up into bagged meals (tricky without implements, measurers or scales), we could have no idea how the quantities would work out.


Evening meals for 4 weeks.

The two pieces of paper on the top left of the table were my print outs of the spread sheet, so that I knew what I was doing with all of those ingredients!

More worrying, however, was whether the meals would prove to be palatable. Once they were all bagged up, we couldn’t help but notice that there was an awful smell of ‘dried vegetables’ emanating from the parcels, and if they tasted like they smelt then it was going to be a culinary disaster of a holiday. Another worry on the palatability issue was something that hadn’t occurred to me until we got to LA: when we dehydrate meals at home all of the ingredients are cooked first; the bought pulses were cooked, but the vegetables were all raw.


I divvied up the tomatoes first…

It was with great relief that we mixed up our meal on the first day and found that it was edible. Admittedly not what you might choose to eat if you were at home, but it was tasty enough. I wouldn’t call that first meal a real success though, as it was rather crunchy and the later intense intestinal discomfort added to what had already been a very challenging first day.

That first meal taught us two things:

1) Even if the meal looks to be rehydrated after fifteen minutes, it’s best left for far longer; and

2) Some dehydrated raw ingredients work better than others.

From Day 2 our meals became more successful. The routine became that we would in a shady spot for lunch (lunch during the first 3 weeks being a break of between 3 and 5 hours, depending on how unbearably hot it was), pop up the tent as insect protection, boil up some water and put the food on to rehydrate. We would then kip/read/blog/watch the world go by from the comfort of the tent for an hour or so, then I would venture back out to the stove and bring the meal back up to boiling point, add the rice/pasta/cous cous, and leave it for another ten minutes (if we were having smash, that was added when we were ready to eat). That didn’t get around the fact that the leeks, peppers and celery were still crunchily raw, but all of the other ingredients had softened up enough to give a decent meal.

Day 18_2

Leave the rehydrating meal unattended at your peril! This one wasn’t unattended though, as I was sitting a couple of feet away as this cheeky fella tried to remove the lid from the pot!

Some meals worked better than others. We were so put off by the under-cooked pasta sauce experience of the first day that I don’t believe that we ate another one during the entire trip. As it turned out, commercially dried foods weigh a lot less than hour home dehydrated meals and thus we had way more food than we needed. In the case of our favourite meals (lentil stew, chilli and curry) that meant that on receiving our parcels we re-sized the portions, also taking the opportunity to pick out as many of the ingredients that didn’t soften up as we could. In the case of pasta sauce, we just binned them.

In hindsight, would I call our main meals a success, and would I choose dehydrated ingredients over supermarket dried ready meals in future? I think that’s a subject for a different post, as in answering that question it’s worth considering the wider subject of resupply.

(* If anyone would like to ask me about our tent, our water filters, our Personal Locator Beacon or my waterproof jacket, then maybe I would finally get around to writing those reviews too. I didn’t intend to comment on many bits of kit, but those are the ones that struck me as noteworthy.)

Monday 14 January 2013

LEJOG Toileting Reference Causes Trip Down Memory Lane

Whilst Mick was playing with the Monster Spread Sheet over the weekend, I (in amongst many other things) had a quick peek at my blog stats for the last month, on Google Analytics. It’s not often that I pop over there, but when I do I find that the most interesting table of information is the search terms that led people to visit this blog.

The majority of people were either clearly looking to come here (e.g. by Googling ‘Mick & Gayle’) or were looking for gear reviews on some item that I have mentioned at some point or were looking for information about walks between two places where we happen to have walked.

However, the search that really caught my attention this time was this one (and I quote verbatim, including quotation marks):

LEJOG “needed a poo”

After my mind had boggled as to what it might have been that they were actually looking for, my mind boggled some more as to how that search term had led them here.

There was only one thing for it: I Googled it myself.

No exact match, was the initial result, but of the suggested pages that came up, I was the second in the list, and this is the text that was shown in the search result:

3 Jul 2009 – Because of not having the charger I was aware of the need to make the ... and drink pints of wonder the poo shovel went missing!

Well, this got more and more curious! Whatever had I been talking about on 3 July 2009?!

I clicked on through to find out (as you can do, just here). It turned out to be innocuous, and most of the text shown on the Google search was actually contained in a comment left by Martin, referring to a couple of photos and their captions. Having established that, it became more than just a flying visit to the post in question, as the subject of the post was our LEJOG photos and it has been a long time since I looked at them.

So, with a blast from the past, I watched the slide show and reminded myself what a fantastic trip that was.

There are so many new places on the list for us to visit, but once again, having looked at those photos, I find myself with my feet itching to nip straight out (okay, maybe not tonight; it’s a bit nippy out there just now) and walk LEJOG again…

Saturday 12 January 2013

TGO Challenge Analysis (Part 7–In Which The Graphs Get Fancy)

I said that I was putting the Monster Spread Sheet away and not looking at it again until at least the middle of next week, and I have been (almost) true to my word. Fortunately I wasn’t swayed by Alan Sloman’s (somewhat mischievous) request for 3D graphs, because they’re outside of my knowledge of Excel.

Mick, however, was happy to play with the numbers some more, and he’s been disproportionately enthusiastic about the results of his labours.

Just two charts have resulted. This first one shows a 3D plot of ages against each year, against the number of people of that age. Across the front of the graph are the ages from 17 to 90. From front to back are the years with the first challenge of 1980 at the front and the most recent challenge of 2012 at the back. The vertical axis is the number of Challengers in each age group for each year. The colour coding helps to see how many people are in each age group. Simple, eh?


What you see is that there are lines being formed going from front left towards the back right, showing that the population is getting older as the event goes on. You also see that there is becoming a bigger concentration of participants in the ‘popular’ ages (so people new to the event tend to be in that age group of mid-40s to about-60), and those ‘popular’ ages are also moving further right, year on year. Mick’s suggests that the right-wards march of the peaks indicates there is a core of Challengers who return each year and who are, of course, getting older each year. The plot also shows the event is no longer attracting the younger element (under 35s).

Here’s another view of the same thing:


As you’ve probably gathered (the title’s a bit of a give away), this is simply looking down on the same plot from above. It would have been better if it had used more colours, but Excel was somewhat unmoving on the colour options on this version. What is clearly shown, even in the limited colours, is the marching rightwards of the ‘popular’ age group, with a widening of the ‘popular’ group too.

Now surely that’s befuddled/impressed everyone enough to mean that there will be no more requests, at least until the end of next week?


Click to go to previous parts of this series of posts:

Part 1      Part 2      Part 3      Part 4      Part 5      Part 6

Thursday 10 January 2013

TGO Challenge Analysis (Part 6–How Solo Females Fare)

I was going to put the Monster Spread Sheet away after Part 5 of this series, except that someone who I used to like Winking smile was mischievous enough to say that she would be interested to know how solo females fare, in the full knowledge that I wouldn’t be able to resist just sneaking a little peek at the relevant data.

After a few instability issues with Excel, and the resultant loss of more than one lot of work (really must save more often!), I’m finally there.

Before we get onto my interpretation of what might be meant by ‘how solo females fare’, it’s probably first worth looking at, in absolute numbers, how many people go solo each year compared to the total number of Challengers:image

The first question that sprang into my mind on the question in hand was what has been the male/female split of soloists over the whole history of the event. It turns out, perhaps not surprisingly, that men have dominated the solo category:


The unknowns account for such a small number that the space couldn’t be found to colour it in green, per the key, but I threw them in there purely to help the numbers add up. Needn’t have bothered really as there’s still a rounding error!

Having established how much in the minority solo females have been over the course of the event, the next question that popped into my mind was whether they’ve been increasing over the years, and the answer is that yes they have. Here’s the same male/female split, but on a year by year basis (and where the curves aren’t quite mirroring each other it’s because of the ‘unknowns’, who I didn’t bother to plot):


Whilst the proportion of soloists who are female has been increasing, the next question that came to mind was whether the popularity of soloism has also been increasing amongst females – i.e. has the number of female soloists, as a percentage of all females, increased? It has, and for completeness I’ve looked at the same information for men too:

imageProbably best to ignore the first year, as the high percentage was caused by the fact that only four women took part in the event, one of whom went solo (clarified just in case you needed help in working out 25% of 4…). In 2012 the numbers were somewhat increased, with 27 women out of 71 being solo.

All very well as background, but it doesn’t tell us much about how those girlies fare, does it? The only information we have to try to answer that question relates to retirements and One-Timers. What I found here is that solo women are more likely to retire during the event than solo men:


The data over the whole course of the event shows that in total 13% of solo women have retired but only 11% of solo men. That one surprised me. I really did think that, at worst, it would be even, considering that in Part 2 it was shown that, overall, women are notably less likely than men to retire.

That only left one bit of information to look at: which gender is more likely to call it a day after just one challenge and never return? At a glance, the answer looks obvious: that it’s the women who are more likely to find better things to do for two weeks in May. However, when you consider that some of those bigger spikes occur when only 2 or 4 women went solo, you start to realise that things may not be quite as simple as they seem – plus there are all of those years where no solo women, but some solo men, were put off. Overall it’s a pretty close run thing, with 9% of solo women and 10% of solo men not returning after their first event – a pretty low number compared with the nearly-50% of all First Timers who become One Timers (as shown in Part 5)


So, there we go. Does that answer your question Louise?

Now, please everyone, no more irresistible data-related questions until at least the middle of next week!

(I confess that the numbers used in this post may not all be entirely accurate. On the original data a person’s status is shown as ‘S’ for Solo, ‘P’ for Partnership, ‘T’ for Trio, ‘F’ for Foursome or ‘R’ for Retired. So, it’s possible to see for definite where someone has been a solo participant, but where a person retired the basis on which they entered is no longer made clear. I’ve worked on the basis that if their entry isn’t followed by a statement as to who they walked with, then they must have been solo. However, I have come across one entry where I believe that a partnering isn’t shown for a retiree (although it’s possible that the person in question entered as a soloist, but on the ground formed part of a partnership or team). That one entry leads me to wonder whether there is a lack of clarity in some of the data when it comes to the original status of retirees.)

Click to go to previous parts of this series of posts:

Part 1      Part 2     Part 3     Part 4     Part 5

Saturday 5 January 2013

TGO Challenge Statistical Analysis (Part 5–First Timer Retirees and One-Timers)

I am a bear of very little brain, and this latest set of analysis has taxed me greatly. After another afternoon of staring at numbers and concocting ‘countifs’ and ‘sumifs’ formulas, I was struggling to know my own name, never mind to work out what exactly it was that I was trying to achieve.

“You have to help me here!” I said to Mick finally, in desperation.

“What is the question you’re trying to answer” he replied?

I thought hard, staring at a column of numbers for a while. I tore my hair out a little bit more (a lot of hair-tearing has been going on). Then I answered “I don’t know”.

So, I put it away and came back to it this morning. The calculations suddenly became much simpler (helped by having written down a list of the questions that I was trying to answer) … until I got sucked down another rabbit hole and suddenly the questions became difficult again. Both Mick and I struggled over the data and the combination of my few brain cells with Mick’s many brain cells seems to have come up with some answers (whether they’re the right answers is a different matter).

First off, let’s look at some retirement statistics. I’ve already shown, in Part 2, the percentage of all participants who retire each year. The question that raised was how many of those retirees were first timers? Is it more likely that you will retire if you’re new to the event? Here, in absolute numbers, are the retirements for First Timers, plotted along with the retirements for non-First Timers (non-First Timers being those people who have started at least one Challenge before; there are a small handful of people who have started multiple Challenges but haven’t completed one*, but they’re few enough not to skew things unduly):


Absolute numbers aren’t that useful though, as they don’t put the numbers into context with how many participants were First Timers in that year. It’s probably more useful to look at the numbers in terms of percentages. This one shows Retiree First Timers as a percentage of all First Timers and Retiree Non-First Timers as a percentage of all Non-First Timers:


From that, it seems to me that it’s not a given that you’re more likely to retire if you’re a First Timer.

From looking at First Timers I went on to look at what I called ‘One Timers’ – those people who did one Challenge and never came back for another. It’s always possible that some of those people will come back one day, but for the purposes of this analysis the ‘Yes’ category are those who have already got multiple starts under their belts; the ‘No’ category are those who did their first Challenge between 1980 and 2007 but haven’t returned in the last five years; and the ‘Maybe’ category are those who did their first Challenge between 2008 and 2012 and haven’t yet been back, but they’re recent enough to consider that they may well do in the next few years.


I then looked at whether there’s any trend as to whether One Timers (taken as a percentage of all Challengers in any given year) are increasing, decreasing or staying the same, but on plotting that I realised that there must be a correlation between First Timer numbers and One Timer numbers (because you can only become a One Timer if you’re a First Timer, so, for example, in the year when there was only 1 First Timer there were no One Timers created). The chart below shows that in general it holds true that the one line follows the other, but the gap between the two isn’t constant. Where the gap is the smallest, a greater proportion of First Timers became One Timers than when the gap is bigger:


Remember that 1989 was the odd year when there was only 1 First Timer

That led to the question as to which year(s) put the most First Timers off? That is, in which year(s) did the highest proportion of First Timers opt not to take part in the event again?


Again, for the purposes of this analysis I’ve assumed that if a First Timer hasn’t returned in the last five years then they won’t come back, so have included all years up to 2007.

That begs the question as to what it was about 2003 that caused 62% of First Timers to not come back for a second Challenge?


Right, I think that’s enough statistical analysis and graphs for now. Surely, if anyone has made it through all of these posts, you must now be as sick of graphs as I am? For me, I think that enough time has been lost this week in complete immersion in the Monster Spread Sheet, so I’m now going to put it away for a while. I’m sure that there are many other statistics that can be drawn from it (together with a few lies and damned lies…), but they’ll have to sit patiently within the data for another while.

(*The biggest non-completer has been on the list for six Challenges but has completed none, with five retirements and one ‘Did Not Start’.)


Click to go to other Parts of this series of posts:

Part 1     Part 2     Part 3     Part 4     Part 6

Thursday 3 January 2013

TGO Challenge Analysis (Part 4 – First Timer DNSs)

The problem with the Monster TGO Challenge Data Spread Sheet is that it’s all too easy to pick up one particular piece of information, thinking ‘I wonder what…’ and then getting sucked down a rabbit hole in examining the stats related to that piece of information.

A question asked by Alan Sloman on my last post (as to whether I had considered only the First Timers who had finished the event, thus discounting Retirees (you’ll have to go to the comments on Part 3 to see the answer to that one!)) made me realise that I had forgotten to deal with the ‘Did Not Start’ (DNS*) First Timers, which in turn meant that my first cut of Part 3 was skewed. I’ve now put that right, but in the process I got sucked down a rabbit hole, starting with ‘how many DNSs never came back’ and going on from there.

‘Did Not Start’, as the name suggests, occurs where someone was on the list of Participants, but didn’t make it to the start line. Nowadays, with the standby list, people tend to pull out officially rather than simply not arriving at the start line and, although there must be scope for DNSs (sudden day-before-the-start accidents or emergencies), either they are not recorded or one hasn’t occurred for years, as the last DNS recorded was in 1997**. As the system has changed, the DNSs are of little statistical value, but, even so, let me share what I found.

The first recorded First Timer DNS was in 1982; the last was in 1995 (note that I’ve only looked at First Timer DNSs, not at people who DNSd on their second or subsequent Challenge). Over the period 1982 to 1995 there were 1330 First Timers listed, of whom 24 did not make it to the start line. A very small percentage really:


Not a very interesting statistic by itself, is it? It becomes more interesting when you start to look at what happened to that 1.8% in subsequent years:


When I say ‘Didn’t Enter Again’ what I mean is they didn’t appear on the list again. If we were to be pedantic, I concede that it is possible they entered then withdrew before the start.

So, only 5 out of the 24 First Timer DNSs ever entered the event again. What happened to those 5 people next?

Incredibly, of those five, every single one of them did start a subsequent Challenge and every single one of them retired from a subsequent Challenge. Let me repeat that: 100% of First Timer DNSs who came back for a later event have retired on at least one Challenge. Of course, some of those five returning First Time DNSs entered more than one subsequent Challenge, and not only did every one of them retire from at least one Challenge, but 40% of them DNSd for a second time.

Some were successful on subsequent Challenges, but no-one who DNSd on their first entry managed successfully to complete more than two Challenges:


The ‘never completed’ includes both DNS and Retired.

And now, having spent/lost another morning playing with data (so much more interesting than work!) I really must go and do a little housework and then take myself out for a little yomp through some of the local mud.

(*Please forgive me for having treated ‘DNS’ as both a noun and a verb!

**Whilst looking at when the last DNS occurred, I noticed that one of the 1997 DNSs was on the list for 9 Challenges in the 1990s and didn’t even make it to the start line on 6 of them. He completed two and retired on one. Two completions in 9 consecutive entries – I wonder if that’s a record? Hmmm, there’s another rabbit hole down which I could so easily fall …)


Click to go to other Parts of this series of posts:

Part 1     Part 2     Part 3     Part 5     Part 6

Wednesday 2 January 2013

TGO Challenge Analysis (Part 3)

I cannot believe how many hours I have spent today just to produce a small handful of graphs! Admittedly, my knowledge of Excel is not a patch on Mick’s, so I did go around the houses rather a lot to get to the right answers*.

Working from a question posed by Alan Sloman, I started out by looking at what age participants were on their first challenge. What I learnt was that the youngest first-timer was 17, the oldest were 77 and the most common age for a first timer is 45. Here is the data shown graphically:


I then realised that, as interesting as that was, it didn’t actually answer Alan’s question. So, after significant amounts of head-scratching and formula writing (involving a little bit of Googling), I came up with this one, showing the average age of the first timers for each year of the event:


Quite a few ages are missing from the early Challenges, particularly the first one. These averages are based just on those participants whose ages are known. 1980 is the only year which may be significantly skewed by the missing data as 42% of ages are missing.

I confess that I went around the houses a bit to come up with the data behind that graph, and in doing so I noticed what appeared to be an error, as my information was telling me that there was only one first timer in 1989. So convinced was I that something had gone awry that I went back to the original source data (in the form Word document files) and did a bit of searching. Sure enough, there was only one first timer on the 10th running of the event.

All of that work led me to look at the number of first timers for each year of the event:


All very interesting, but of limited value without also knowing the total number of participants, hence here’s the Number of First Timers plotted against the Total Participants for each year:


Which shows that in 1989 there was one first timer out of 218 participants. Curious, but I’m sure someone can explain why that came to be.

I would have left my day’s work at that point, and taken myself and a nice cup of tea to sit with my feet up in front of the telly for a nice relaxing evening, except that in talking to Mick this evening he asked why I hadn’t looked at the percentage of first timers each year and once the idea was in my head I felt that it would be an unforgivable omission if I didn’t produce that graph too. Here it is (bit cluttered, mind!):


I hope that answers your question, Alan.

Sorry I couldn’t answer your question Mike Knipe, nor meet your deadline(!) … as interesting as it would be, that information isn’t available.


(* I did spend the best part of two hours manually gathering data from each of the 2920 entries on the spreadsheet, before I managed to get hold of Mick to ask him what function it was that I needed to automate the process. I then redid my best-part-of-two-hours of work, plus finished the job, in about five seconds flat!)


Click to go to other Parts of this series of posts:

Part 1     Part 2     Part 4     Part 5     Part 6