Saturday, 15 November 2014

My guide on the RunBritain Handicap, SSS, vSSS, Rankings

We all like to spend a bit of time after a race comparing our times to others.  The more geeky runners among us also enjoy taking into account other things like the weather on the day, the course profile, wind etc. I use guides from the Jack Daniels’ running formula book to adjust race times for ascent, wind etc so I obtain an equivalent time for a flat course on a perfect weather day.  So, you can imagine that a system such as RunBritain’s handicap is right up my street.

RunBritain takes it’s Athletes and Race data from the Power of 10 and then waves a magic wand and hey presto it creates:
-          Handicap;
-          Standard Scratch Score (SSS);
-          Versus SSS;
-           UK Ranking.

In this article/blog I write about my understanding of these RunBritain features. 

RunBritain records all UKA official races and you can also upload your own performances.


The RunBritain handicap scoring system is a unique way of measuring your progress and comparing yourself with other runners.

As in golf, handicaps go from scratch (zero, or even slightly negative for elite runners) to 36 with increments of 0.1.

To work out your handicap, from what I can gather, Run Britain uses your recent best performances and also adjusts this by the "SSS" which is their measure of the course difficulty including weather conditions on the day.

This means that you can improve your handicap at any race.  RunBritain knows if the race course was hard.

A strange thing I've noticed is that your handicap can change without you doing anything!  I'll say more on this later in the article. But first lets look at the SSS and vSSS. 


This is a score of the course difficultly on that day.  The higher the number the more difficult the course was.

So for me, one of the highest scores I have is a 5.0 which was a race called Tattenhall Tough 9.  The name gives it away, it got a high score because it was a tough off road and hilly course.
The lowest score I have is -0.2 which was a 5.5mile flat road race on a fine day.

The SSS seems to take into account:
-          Hilliness;
-          Weather;
-          Anything else which made the course difficult for that day.

What I don’t know for certain is how RunBritain assesses the course difficulty.  Does it use it’s own race data or external data.  It’s very likely that it uses it’s own data, i.e. it has a expectation of how each participant should do and if they all do worse then it creates a higher score.  This is where I think the system may be flawed because if only a small number of people take part in the race surely it can’t be as accurate.  Take for example a small race which has a high percentage of a local club attend.  The race is on a Saturday and on the day before, Friday, that club has a hard training session.  Everyone in the club therefore does the race slower than expected.  This means it’ll get a higher SSS score which could artificaly bump up your handicap.


The vSSS is a measure of how you did compared to everyone else in a particular race.  The v, stands for versus and it's You v. Everyone else.  It's quite clever!  It looks at everyone else’s handicap and, somehow, in the background, estimates everyone's expected time.  Then it looks at this expected time and rates their performance against everyone else on the day. 

If you get a negative figure it means you were better than the average person. If it's a positive figure then you did worse than the others.

Lets look at a couple of examples:

Looking at my profile on Run Britain there is a half marathon I did where I got a negative vSSS score. This means that my performance on the day was better than expected when relating it to others in the race.  The reason is quite funny, it's because in that race I ran a shorter distance than most people because most people went the wrong way!

Let's look at Nick McCormick who holds the fastest 10k time in the UK this year, 2014.
Nov 14 his handicap is -4.6 (yes negative).
On the 9th March 2014 he ran 28:56 for a 10K this resulted in a vSSS of 1.2 on a fast course, sss 0.2.
Then on 18 May 2014 he ran 29.21 which is slower but his vSSS was better at 0.5. This is because the sss for the course was 1.4, tougher. It shows that compared to Nick everyone ran slower than expected on that course.

A bit of fun

RunBritain has a competition each month for the best handicap improvement so I thought that it would be a funny experiment, which I couldn't possibly do, to ask everyone in a race to run slower apart from one person who runs as fast as they can.  This person should have a relatively high handicap.  Then their vSSS would be off the chart for that race thus improving their handicap a lot.  This person then should have a good chance of winning the best handicap improvement that month! That would be good fun. 

Handicap changing on its own

I've noticed that my handicap can change without doing anything.  I think this is due to: 

- The first few days after a race the SSS for the course takes time to settle in so this, in turn, changes the v.SSS which then can change your handicap. In a recent race I did my vSSS just kept getting better over the week.  Maybe some of the other runner's handicap changed in the week and so updated the v.SSS?  I just don't know how the calculations work and whether or not the vSSS closes at some point afterwards so that it stops being affected by other handicaps? It's a mystery. 

- Older races will stop being a influence on your handicap and drop off. 

National Ladder

The main National Ladder position at the top of the page is your ranking out of all the road runners in the UK of your gender. They are just like the rankings in other sports like golf or tennis. Further down the page on RunBritain shows where you stand in your age group and out of everybody.

Post Code

There's also a post code rating to compare how you fare against others In your post code. So if you're 85 and live on a remote island you have a chance of being first. It is based on the first part of your post code. you can't view the other people in your post code otherwise you could hunt them Down!

Last thoughts 

So if you've made it this far, well done.  You may be even more confused than when you started.  I certainly am.  This, however, is often the way with things in life, the more you study something the more questions it raises, but hopefully along the way you've learnt something. 

If you know anything else or can add anything please comment; be nice, I'm not a writer by trade so my grammar may not be it's best. 
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