The 39th running of the Yahoo will be on Tuesday 12th December 2023.
Entries close at 6pm on Friday 8th December.
Final instructions for the race can be found here.
The handicap – along with final details – will be posted here (and only here) at 8pm on Sunday 10th December.
Following on from the catering success of last year’s event, we’ll be offering hot stovie and hot chocolate again for runners, volunteers and spectators. Please bring own plate, cutlery + mug.
At 1st December, we so far have 38 runners going to post.
If you would like to join us – as a runner or volunteer – please email email@example.com.
The Yahoo is weird, odd and ever-so-slightly bizarre. It is Perth Road Runners’ annual handicap race. It was first run in 1983, and its 2022 renewal (held early in 2023) was the 38th fixture. It is traditionally held in the ten days or so before Christmas, although has occasionally been delayed into the early New Year where necessary. A Christmas race it may be, but some of the most competitive performances from PRRs occur at this race in the final scrap around the North Inch for Yahoo glory.
As a handicap race, it seeks to provide an even contest for all participants, sending more leisurely/stately runners on their way before the later-starting elite athletes. The contest is held over a 9½-mile course around Perth (containing both the climb of Newhouse Road and some infamously steep slopes in Craigie; clink link for more details). The first runner over the line on the North Inch takes the leviathan trophy for which the Yahoo has become famous/notorious (potential winners are advised to bring a wheelbarrow to the event).
A key feature of the Yahoo is that it is held on an evening in December/January; that is, in the dark. This adds an extra dimension to the race. The course nowadays is marked with flour arrows to within an inch of its life (and generously marshalled). It is not a night for standard club kit: runners (absolutely) must wear reflective or day-glo clothing (and ideally some sort of lighting). The ability to run fast when you can’t see where you’re going is particularly useful. Much of the last mile – ie the section heading upriver/North by the Tay on the North Inch – is invariably and especially dark. A full(ish) moon* helps; without one, the pre-placing of head torches under Smeaton’s Bridge is not unknown. The 2023 race falls on a new moon, so ‘extra’ darkness should be expected.
As to the history of the trophy, Club stalwart Neil Muir relates that “the trophy was donated to a group of athletes from Perth Strathtay Harriers alongside a small number of PRRs on a visit to Aschaffenburg [Perth’s twin town in Bavaria, S Germany] in the eighties. The trophy was competed for between the Aschaffenburg athletes and the Perth athletes with the German athletes visiting Perth at a later date. It was then decided that the trophy would become the trophy for the Yahoo. The Yahoo came about as the route was often used by the Harriers as a training route and decided to make it a Christmas club race and called it the Yahoo as a bit of a laugh.”
A trophy is also awarded to the fastest time recorded over the course by both male and female athletes. Records of course times are not well kept; so far, I’ve struggled to find anything faster than the times posted by James Waldie and Paige Brown in the 2022 race (although the course is now marginally shorter by dint of the newly-introduced and controversial Peri-Peri Shortcut).
[* if you can see the moon, it’s because the sky is clear. If the sky is clear, it’s because there are no clouds. If there are no clouds (and in the Perth midwinter at night), it’s probably freezing. And that means the race has probably been called off as the course is too icy. The point here? Full(ish) moons at the Yahoo are rare].
The handicap itself is always a talking point, as it shapes the final winner and finishing order every bit as much as fine runs from athletes. Until recently, participants were invited to submit estimates of the times they would achieve over the course. However, these estimates inevitably involved a major element of conservative ‘sandbagging’, giving each athlete a rather higher chance of a win. What then emerges is something of an arms race in which estimates become more and more ‘tactically wayward’. The practice of self-estimating was eliminated in the 2021 race in favour of a data-based, independent (if such a thing is possible) and mathematical stab at the handicap.
Essentially and obviously, the handicapper asks the question “how fast will this runner cover the course on the evening?” for all runners … and then staggers each of their start times, seeking to create a utopia where they all cross the finish line together. But how?
- Previous Yahoo form is the best guide.
- Races across the current season are also very useful (all the better if close to the date of the Yahoo).
- An initial step – especially where data are sparse – is to ask “how fast would this runner cover a flat parkrun today at full tilt?“.
- This time is then extrapolated up to 9.5 miles: this step also features a ‘fade factor’. Athletes known/thought/felt/believed to be better over short distances are assigned a higher fade factor; marathon runners have a lower one. [Mathematicians and number geeks may like to know that this is a power applied to the ratio of the two distances: a very low fade factor would be a power of 1.05; a high fade factor is 1.08 or even 1.09].
- There may then be a slight adjustment (+/- 1 minute max) for the hilly nature of the course; this allows for PRR having both a) runners who regard 30km + 5 Munros as a mere pre-breakfast warm-up and b) those who tremble at crossing railway bridges.
- Finally, the handicapper takes notice of the historic trend mentioned above, ie that it is very tough indeed for a faster runner to work his or her way through the entire field to win the handicap race. To this end, and also to incentivise the club’s top runners to compete, up to another 30 seconds may well be deducted from the handicap for the three or four fastest runners in the field.
- Note that the handicapper takes note of current form. It may well be that, historically, Athlete X could run much faster than they are currently displaying. Albeit with a margin of security, Athlete X is handicapped relative to their current capacity, not their historic peak.
- Newcomers with little track record (plus long-term PRRs sneakily training ‘on the quiet’) present the greatest danger to even handicapping; an additional burden to account for this uncertainty is increasingly imposed.
- For what it’s worth, this approach resulted in an average difference-from-actual-time of 1’19” across the field of competitors at the 2022 race.
Viewed historically, Yahoo winners (see table below) seldom emerge from the slowest end of the handicap and almost never from the fast end: winners typically tend to be saddled with a middling handicap. They are often new to the race, making it tricky for the handicappers/organisers to assess their likely performance. Once performance capability over the course is known, it is hard to escape the grip of the handicap. Consequently, only one athlete has ever won the handicap trophy twice; for that, you need to look back to E. Hartley in 1993 and 1995!
The 2022 race (run in January 2023 owing to ice and snow in December 2022) saw 23 runners go to post, depleted by injury (top honours: Mr Ronnie Glen; dislocated shoulder, ski-ing), illnesses and all the usual excuses relating to marathon schedules needing to be followed. The race HQ team – housed within the club gazebo at the start on the North Inch – speculated heavily on the likely winner and weaknesses in the handicap. Our money (figuratively) was on some selection of Paige Brown, Lynn Gatherer or David Stokoe.
Ann Reed set off some 32’20” ahead of James Waldie, these two book-ending the handicap. According to texts coming in from marshalls around Perth, places on the course were soon starting to change hands. It became clear that fast times were being run on a very clement evening. Lynn Gatherer – clearly in much richer form than the handicapper had assumed – was first over the line to claim the monster Yahoo handicap trophy. Guy Humpleby, a Yahoo first-timer, impressively held off the field behind to roll in second, just ahead of Rhiannon Laing, she taking some 3+ minutes off her time of the previous Yahoo (which won the Fastest Lady prize that year). Mike McConnell, that seasoned Yahoo campaigner, impressively defied a very tough handicap to come home fourth in a very fast 53:25.
Paige Brown, cynically clobbered with a last-minute, additional-penalty burden to her handicap (for foolishly displaying good form over the Yahoo course in a ‘dry run’ or two and then – sportingly or foolishly again – posting them on Strava), lived up to all expectations to take the Fastest Lady’s quaich in a very fast 64:53 (and fifth place). Club Chairman James Waldie (12th home) improved his daftly fast time of the 2021 event by over a minute to clock 50:49 and take the weighty Fastest Male trophy. Given the state of PRR’s records cataloguing in the distant past, it’s hard to know how these compare with all-time records, but neither can be far adrift.
Full results – see link below.
The event finished with cake and hot chocolate. A huge thank-you is due to the race HQ volunteers and marshalls who made the event possible.
2022 – Results – 23 ran
2021 – Results – 31 ran
2019 – Results – 22 ran
2018 – Results – 39 ran
2017 – Results – 21 ran
2016 – Results – 38 ran
2015 – Results – 39 ran