ken3I’m very sad to hear that Ken Young passed away on Saturday.  I wrote the following summary of his running accomplishments in my online book Swift Endurance Legends.

Ken Young, of Petrolia California, was an accomplished runner. But he impacted running in America far more by collecting running results and creating running statistics. He grew up in Pasadena, California and attended high school in Phoenix, Arizona. As a youth he loved running and math. He ran a 10:10 two-mile in high school. In college he quit the cross-country team after one year because of his heavy course load. But in the late 1960s after reading an article about the benefits of running on health, complete with numbers and statistics, it struck a chord with him and he started to run while attending Arizona State University.

Ken ran his first marathon in 1969 at the National Junior AAU Championships in Redfield, Iowa. He finished in 3:21. He ran his first ultra in 1970, a 50-miler at the National AAU Championships in Rocklin California with a time of 6:20.

While working on his Ph.D at the University of Chicago, Ken joined the school’s track club where he met Ted Haydon who was twice an assistant coach on the USA Olympic team. He asked Ken to help him with statistics for a race to introduce the idea of handicapping. That started Ken’s lifelong computer work with runner data. He could compare results from various distances to determine who the faster runners were.

In 1971 he began a daily running streak of at least one mile a day that lasted nearly 42 years. In 1972, Coach Haydon set up a race to see if Ken could break an indoor world marathon record. He set the World Record in Chicago of 2:41:29. Later that year he made his mark running a 100-miler. He ran in Camelia Festival at Sacramento on a road course and finished 1st with an amazing time of 14:14:39. That same year on an outdoor track, he set an American Record for 40 miles of 4:08. Also that year on a track he ran 50K in 3:08 for an American record that would stand until 1977. Ken had serious speed.

But Ken’s main concentration was running marathons and he raced several per year. In 1974 he ran his marathon best at Boston in 2:25.

In 1973 he received his Ph.D. in geophysics, with a minor in statistics, from University of Chicago. He then went to work at University of Arizona, in Tucson, where he taught and researched atmospheric physics.

Starting in 1975, Ken started running on various trail around Tucson. In 1976, he and a training partner set themselves a goal to run up and down the four highest peaks around Tucson, including 9,156-foot tall, Mount Lemmon. They had a rough go of it with overgrown brush and a blizzard, but they survived. Ken then had the idea to have organized races on the trails. Various small races were put together starting in 1977, including a challenging race, “Multiple Mt. Wrightson Massacre” to run from trailhead to summit as many times as you could during daylight. Ken established a series of races making up a “triple crown” and a grand prix circuit. More races were established in the 1980s including track and road ultras in Tucson.

Ken traveled thousands of miles to libraries across the US and Canada and collected running data from their archives. He later founded the National Running Data Center in 1973. He eventually became associated with the USATF Long Distance Running Committee, where he was their official record keeper from 1979 to 1988. He also got involved with early official course certifications. In the early 1990s Ken started publishing a newsletter, Analytical Distance Runner.

statsIn 2003 he banded together with other like-minded statisticians to establish the Association of Road Racing Statisticians (ARRS) which maintains a large runner website on the Internet at arrs.net. Andy Milroy, another founding member of ARRS said “Ken and the ARRS have revolutionized the way road running is tracked, both researching records back 100 and more years, and also going global. Ken is the conduit that keeps the data flowing.” By 2016 the ARRS database included more than 1.1 million performances from 214,000 races.

In 1981 when Alberto Salazar and Allison Roe set World Records in the New York Marathon, Ken pushed to certify the course distance. No one paid attention until three years later and it was determined that the course was 157 yards short. ARRS doesn’t recognize their records, nor Grete Waitz’ several fastest-ever marathon records on the same course. Ken determined that courses that were short one meter per kilometer gave runners an advantage, and he could show that with statistics.

Starting in 1994 at the age of 54, Ken started to run in American River 50 for several years and performed well with a best time 7:21. He would also run the roads at Jed Smith 50K and 100K in Sacramento.

In 1999, at age 59, Ken, lived in a small rural community near the Pacific coast in Northern California where he wanted to get away from the city. He was still running 50-55 miles a week and trying to regain his speed. He had recently run a 3:07 marathon. Small injuries had kept him from running ultras. He was maintaining a system that ranks the elite runners worldwide for head-to-head competition. Race directors were using that to determine which runners to invite to their races. Ken was asked why it seemed like runners were not as fast as they were years ago. He replied, “Last year three or four Americans broke 2:15 in the marathon. Years ago 23 did it in one race. I think they’re avoiding the Kenyans. And I don’t think they are doing the training. (UR 1/1999 28)

In 2002, Ken’s running streak ended because of an injury and he ran his last marathon in 2013. His last ultra was run in 2001. But in 2013 he started a daily running streak again. He was very meticulous about distances. For his mile run, he would start with a 20 yard out and back at the end of his driveway. He explained, “I wanted a course that finished at the driveway, with mile splits accurate to within a meter.” In 2015 at the age of 73, he was running 2:10 half marathons but one day fell, broke a rib, twisted a knee, and hasn’t had the speed since then.

ken2Ken served as an unpaid running coach at area schools and volunteers with the local historical society and community center. In the 1960s he served two years in the US Air Force as a meteorologist in Okinawa. He has a lifelong fascination with the Japanese culture and has Japanese-themed tattoos covering about a quarter of his body. He also recorded his personal running statistics and comments in Japanese.

By the end of 2016 Ken had run more than 141,000 miles which included 4,500 miles during high school and college. He raced about 90 marathons. But more importantly over about a 40-year period, he sorted through running data for more than 40 hours per week. Ken said, “The world is full of so much chaos, and I’m a born planner, an organizer. I try to make sense out of things and look for an underlying structure.” On February 3, 2018, Ken passed away at the age of 76.