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  • Writer's pictureMickey Ferri

Results of The California International Marathon 2018 (Numbers and Data Visualization)

Updated: Mar 26, 2019

The California International Marathon (CIM) 2018 was held in Sacramento, CA on December 2, 2018. The weather was excellent with sunny skies and comfortably cold temperatures, and the estimated 50,000 spectators made lots of noise throughout the 26.2 mile course of rolling hills into downtown Sacramento.

Congratulations to all 7,843 finishers who completed the marathon. This is a huge accomplishment, and I have a tremendous respect for anyone who can do so.

Key takeaway stats:

  1. 164 finishers (2.1%) finished in under 2:30 (pace <=5:44 min/mile). This included 162 men and 2 outstanding women!

  2. A whopping 2,126 runners (27.1%) met the BQ standard for their respective age groups

  3. San Francisco, CA led the way in number of Boston Qualifiers with 125 (35.6% of 351 finishers from San Francisco)

  4. Boulder, CO led the way in percentage of Boston Qualifiers with 81.0% (34/42)

  5. 28.9% of females met the BQ standard, compared to only 25.6% of males

  6. There was a sharp drop-off in number of finishers after age 49

  7. 930 finishers (11.9% of finishers) broke the 3 hour mark.

  8. As is typical around major milestones, many more runners finished in just under 3 hours than over 3 hours. For example, 69 runners finished in 2:59:xx, while only 27 runners finished in 3:00:xx.

If you ran CIM, here is a quick 5-10 minute survey on your race performance: Completing the survey may help you and fellow runners improve for your next races. You're eligible for prizes if you completed the survey by Friday, Dec 14.

Any other breakdowns or stats you want to see? Send me a message on Instagram @runningeconomist or email at

1. The CIM Running Mountain

Running a marathon is like climbing a mountain. It's brutally challenging physically and mentally. Your body and mind want to give in to the pain. The further you get, the harder it becomes. Many of us set out to get there, but don't make it all the way. As you get closer to the finish, you can see the light. When you finally get to the top, the feeling can be exhilarating!

In racing data, there is an interesting pattern that almost always emerges: finishing time data are shaped like a mountain. There are a few really fast runners at the top, and the layers get thicker and thicker as you go down the mountain.

The chart below shows finishing times of All CIM 2018 finishers. Each bar represents the number of finishers in a five minute interval. The colors represent 30 minute intervals. Full race results are available from Chronotrack. It's a steep climb to the top.

The CIM is one of the most competitive marathons in the world. 164 finishers (2.1%) completed the race in under 2:30. That's seriously moving fast - averaging a pace of 5:44 min per mile.

The Three Hour Marathon Mark

When looking at just a subset of the data (within 5 minutes of the 3 hour mark or better), the same "mountain" pattern emerges...with one important caveat.

Notice how the lowest red bar is MUCH longer than the highest grey bar? In this race, 69 runners finished in 2:59:xx, while only 27 runners finished in 3:00:xx. This pattern typically emerges above and below key milestones like the 3:00:00 mark because so many runners are planning their races to hit a key milestone in their careers.

If you were aiming for a key milestone and you made it, congratulations! If you were aiming for it and JUST MISSED IT, I feel your pain. I've been there (in shorter races :) ). I wish you the best of luck in your next race as you tune up to try again. Keep at it with your training and do the right things. It's only a matter of time and persistence.

2. Men and Women

A running data analysis wouldn't be complete without a gender breakdown, so here it is in the table below.

HUGE congratulations to the overall winners, Brogan Austin of West Des Moines, Iowa (2:12:39), and Emma Bates of Boise, Idaho (2:28:19). This race was the 2018 USA Track and Field Marathon Championships, so you are looking at the National champions in the marathon right here. This article provides a nice recap of the winning performances.

Below are tables of the top 10 males and females, respectively.

3. Boston Qualifiers

3.a. Overall

Qualifying for the Boston Marathon ("BQ") is a big deal for lots of runners! Qualifying marks vary based on gender and age, as shown in the table below. More details on the Boston Qualifying process are available at this website.

The CIM 2018 was past the deadline to qualify for Boston 2019, so CIM 2018 runners were attempting to qualify for Boston 2020. Note that meeting the BQ standard does not guarantee qualification; there is a limit to the total number of entrants in Boston. For example, in 2019, 23,073 of the 30,458 applicants (76%) were accepted, with preference placed on better times relative to the standard.

The CIM typically leads the way among large marathons in percentage of entrants that meet the BQ standard. At the CIM 2018, a whopping 2,126 runners (27.1%) met the BQ standard for their respective age groups!

The Boston Marathon features approximately 30,000 entries. Considering that, the top 2,126 runners in the 2018 CIM could make up about 8% of the 2020 Boston Marathon.

If you're more of a visual person, here are the same data presented as a stacked bar chart.

3.b. BQ Top Cities

Not surprisingly, the vast majority of CIM runners are from California (68%), with high concentrations coming from near the Sacramento area.

Ranking each city by (1) Number of Boston Marathon Qualifiers and (2) Percent of finishers that qualified for Boston yields the following tables. For (2), only cities with 13 or more finishers (approx. 100 cities) were considered.

Number of Boston Marathon Qualifiers (discussion)

Congratulations to San Francisco, CA for leading the way with 125 BQ performances. Wow! Congratulations to Austin, TX for squeezing out second place over Sacramento despite being over 1,700 miles away! Sacramento, congratulations for coming in third, although you definitely had a few more entrants...

As you can see, a lot of the cities above are in northern CA. It makes sense, the closer you are the lower the travel cost. It's exciting that we did have large contingents of top runners travel from far away cities such as (1) Austin, TX, (2) Minneapolis, MN, and (3) New York, NY to compete. You'll notice (again, not surprisingly) that cities that are further away from Sacramento have higher rates of BQ. Why is this? It's because the longer the distance, the more of a commitment it is to compete, so the runners who choose to travel far distances tend to be more talented and aiming for a BQ at this competitive race which justifies the long travel.

Percent of Finishers who were Boston Marathon Qualifiers (discussion)

Now we see a lot of cities that are very far away from Sacramento. For example, only 22 finishers traveled from Washington, DC for the race, and 13 (59.1%) qualified for Boston!

Congratulations to Boulder, CO, one of the running meccas of the world! Boulder led the way in this category with 81.0% of finishers qualifying for the Boston Marathon, which is head and shoulders above the second place city, Minneapolis, MN.

3.c. BQ by Age

The below chart shows how CIM 2018 runners fared by age group when it comes to qualifying for the 2020 Boston Marathon. I use the same time cutoffs used on the Boston Marathon website to illustrate the distribution of qualifying times, which are indicated by the colors in the legend. Using 2019 as a benchmark, anyone who beat the qualifying time by more than five minutes (purple, blue, and green) should be safe for 2020. While people in the orange and red zones met the qualifying standard, they may be cut if the year is really competitive. Black and shades of grey represent runners who finished the 2018 CIM and did not qualify for Boston.

I find it noteworthy that the relative sizes of the three age groups in the 35-49 age range are comparable, and there is a sharp drop-off in the number of finishers after age 49. I wonder why this is, and I see a few possible explanations:

  1. Running marathons could be too painful and/or difficult for people over 50

  2. People over 50 may not be as interested in running due to generational differences

  3. Northern CA could have younger populations than other parts of the country

  4. This marathon is rather competitive, so it may attract a younger crowd

Further research is required, and that's a potential area for another article. Anyone have any thoughts on this?

The below chart shows the percentages of Boston Qualifiers in each age group. While there are some differences across the age groups, I am impressed with how consistent the distributions are. An interpretation here is that the Boston Marathon does a pretty good job of setting the qualification standards across age groups!

The 18-34 age group led the way in percentage of qualifiers, which is impressive since this was by far the largest group. You can see this because the end of the red bar is furthest to the right. The 60-64 age group also did well, while the 45-49 and 65-69 groups struggled.

3.d. BQ by Gender

Finally, let's look at differences by gender. While there were more males who entered the race, females performed relatively better than males when evaluating based on performance relative to the Boston qualifying standards.

28.9% of females met the BQ standard, compared to only 25.6% of males. (For you stats buffs, this result is statistically significant at the 95% level; z-score of 3.285 in a 2-sample pooled hypothesis test). The difference was mainly driven by a difference in the top group, people who beat the BQ standard by 20 minutes or more. 13.7% of females beat the standard by 20 minutes or more, compared to only 10.1% of males!

For the visual folks out there who like pretty colors, I present the data in the table above as bar charts.

I hope you enjoyed this post, and you learned something about running and data visualization! Any questions, comments, or ideas for future work, kindly post below.


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