In my fourth season as a cross country coach, I was blessed/burdened or burdened/blessed depending on the day with one of the top girl’s class A cross country runners in the State of Illinois. The only problem, was trying to keep her informed before the races about her possible competition. As most races were on the same days, we could not scout competition, as I had only one volunteer assistant coach. It wasn’t like track where I could just look at the times, knowing the distances were the same. Finally, I approached the problem scientifically as a Biology teacher with a hypothesis. Start with a known point, my runner always ran the entire race hard.
Assuming this was the case for most runners in big races, I could cross check my runners time with similar racers she had ran against in other races with other competition. Especially, if I had more than one other runners time to compare 5-7 or more is the best. Through much investigation, I found a website (www.dyestat.com) dedicated to cross country in my home state, where I could research the times of big races. Checking many events, I could get a pretty clear picture of the states competition, without ever seeing them run. We had a great schedule that took us into races throughout the state over the regular season.
Now an example of how I worked this. Hypothetical race, my runner beat runner A by 2:30, B by 2:45 and C by 3:35, I did not care about the places just that they had other runners close to them in time. Then I would compare the top runners to those times, say runner number 1, had won by 1:30 over A, 2:30 over B and 3:50 over C. The second place runner had been within a few seconds of number 1, so I assumed number 1 probably had ran close to her fastest race. That gave my runner a minute cushion roughly when we saw this other top runner. Variances will always occur, less for boys, more for girls, for the most part a coach can get a good visual picture of the majority of the competition. After her regional win, by using this method, I was able to figure out she only had probably one girl at sectionals that could run with her. That was the case, but I did not know her freshman competition would be an eventual 400 meter state champion, and beat my runner with an awesome kick at the end of the race. My runner returned the favor the next week at state taking 3rd place the highest finish by any freshman girl. It is not a perfect science, weather, age, injury and other factors can effect the data, but it seemed to work well for me over a three year period, especially if I could reference several runners for scientific data.