Does Temperature Affect Marathon Runners?

For our Information Visualization class, we were to visualize a section within the permanent collection at MoMA or the Metropolitan Museum of Art or a single sporting event or season. The project must include substantial quantitative data, a main visualization, supporting figures and a plan for interactivity.

Visualize the relationship between the finishing times of marathon runners and temperatures within the past ten years of NYC Marathon.

Initial Sketches
Since I was going to be dealing with a large quantity of data, I stuck with making my sketches in Excel and Illustrator, but first, I had to figure out where I was going to get my data. While searching the web for data sets, I stumbled upon a couple of interesting, potentially useful visualizations. The first was an elevation chart released by ING’s NYC Marathon website.

Elevation Chart of NYC Marathon

Elevation Chart of NYC Marathon

There was a moment of excitement, but then after overlaying the results from this year’s marathon onto the elevation chart, there was nothing very interesting about the graphic. If you take a look at the elevation chart again, the only interesting segment is the initial hill while the rest looks pretty flat in comparison.

Mapping the first and middle 50 runners

Mapping the first and middle 50 runners

The second interesting data set was that provided by the Web Marketing Associates’ with archived race results from 2000 to 2009. I also complemented this with historical average temperature and wind speed from race day (

Small multiples of several past marathons

Small multiples of several past marathons

With my data sets in hand, I started to finalize on the form of the infographic. My first approach was a caterpillar-like form. Each bubble represented the percentage of finishers within a certain time bracket (x-axis). After mapping out several marathons, there was no interesting narrative to tell. After a few more iterations, I came up with the final form (after the jump).

Caterpillar form - The head shrinks as temperature increases

Caterpillar form – The head shrinks as temperature increases

Final Form
In the final form, the y-axis represents the finishing time brackets while the x-axis represents the year and it’s respective temperature. Certain milestones were called out such as the record-setting finish in 2001 by Tesfaye Jifar, who finished the race in 2:07:43 on a day where the temperature was 54°F. Other notable points of interest included the increase in percentage of finishers in the later time brackets when race days were 59°F and above [High resolution of chart below (PDF)]

Final Form - Mr. Tufte, I call this The Chandelier

Final Form – Mr. Tufte, I call this The Chandelier

As pointed out by a colleague of mine, referenced a couple of various sources as to what the optimal running temperate is. Interestingly enough, the range is from 50°F to 55°F. Of course, I’d take this with a grain of salt since this is the web and all.

Further Reference