Target Zero (and The Lark In The Dark)
The 2023 Target Zero took place on Weds 26th July; results below!
Perth Road Runners is a club not without its quirky and bizarre elements. Target Zero – and its winter counterpart, The Lark In The Dark – are such quirks.
Target Zero is less a race than a challenge of estimation. It is far less a question of “how fast can you run?” than “do you know just how fast (or slowly) you are running?”
The contest dates back to 2002; the 2023 renewal was its 21st edition. In recent years, it has been organised by one of its biggest afficionados, David Stokoe, who again put together the 2023 race. Owing to COVID-19, the 2021 race was moved into the winter, but Target Zero is traditionally a summer PRR fixture.
Broadly speaking, here’s how it works:
+ The organiser selects a course in the Perth area – it can vary from 3 to 8 miles, and may involve a range of terrains and surfaces. But – and here’s the whole point – he (or she) doesn’t announce the course. That would ruin it. The course itself remains a secret.
+ Participants are told only of the start location, and of the time they should be there to start. They may, of course, freely speculate where the course may take them, but the organiser is (typically) no slouch; various routes may/should be possible from that location.
+ On arrival at the start, the organiser will detail the course to the participants. They then have (just) a few minutes to estimate their time over the course and hand this to the organiser. Their estimate is hidden from – ie not announced to – other participants.
+ Runners are not allowed to carry watches or Garmins/GPSs, or indeed, any other instrumentation that will inform time or speed. Of course, mobile phones will do this, and it’s a hard task to force anyone these days to surrender theirs. If carried, mobile phones must be switched firmly off.
+ The race is then run. Runners set off as one mass (and finish in usual speed order).
+ But the winner is not the fastest runner. That would be far too obvious. The winner is the runner who most accurately estimated their actual race time.
History shows that most Perth Road Runners are pretty good at this particular game. Wins over the last few runnings have seen winning estimates differ from actual times by just a few seconds. The ne plus ultra of Target Zero performances was finally achieved in 2021 when winner Rhona Barclay was accurate to the second in her estimation. This will be a hard feat to replicate.
Being a task of estimation, and not one of sheer, all-out speed, Target Zero is equally winnable by males and females alike (that is, there are no separate M and F contests). It is a Club trophy event, with the cup being traditionally awarded at the event and PRR’s awards night in the following Spring.
The Lark In The Dark, as you might well surmise, is a similar caper pitched in the gloom and darkness of the Perthshire winter. It tends to involves forests and other dark places to accentuate that atmosphere. There’s no trophy here: it’s a mention and bragging rights only for this one.
Target Zero 2023 was held on the evening of Wednesday 26th July. It was held over a 4.9-mile course around Bridge of Earn; see here for the course map* and here for the results. 14 PRRs took part. 4 runners managed to predict their runs to an accuracy better than one minute. The Target Zero 2023 Champion is Neil Muir, whose prediction was just 9 seconds from his actual performance (just pipping Fiona Manson’s 11 seconds). We’ll do it all again in 2024…
* normally, reliable, high-quality mapping is provided on the evening to assist the participants in their estimation. Not so, however, in 2023. Organiser Stokoe instead provided runners with this comedy “matchstick-men-and-matchstick-cats-and-dogs” effort. It turned out not to be to scale. It provided quite a lot of amusement but not a lot of assistance.
Target Zero 2023 – above: winner Neil Muir – below: the Target Zeroists