MacTuff 2017 performance analysis

MacTuff analysis: running uphill

MacTuff is a monster. A friend transferred me her ticket just a few days before the event, and I went into it with the expectation that it would be a bog-standard obstacle race with featureless running sections and over hyped obstacles.

I hugely underestimated it. I’m writing this days after the event, and my muscles are still not back to normal after all the climbs, crawls and clambers.

The obstacles were relentless – step off one, and there’s another, harder, one just around the corner. The toughest were the ones visible from a distance, and the winding course would give a multi-angle view of how hard it would be, leaving plenty time to psych yourself out. Even the running was over terrain far more challenging than many OCRs.

To be fair, the start line atmosphere gave more than enough clues that this was something a bit more extreme than other obstacle course races. The rendition of the Scottish national anthem followed by a face-off with a Pipe Band back with firework explosions felt more like entering a battle zone than a running race.

A battle would be a good metaphor for the race; never has a race challenged my willpower like MacTuff. Between the harsh terrain, tricky obstacles, bitter cold and descending fog, the whole experience was brilliantly brutal.

The race itself was excellent, very well organised, and a great route. I’d run it again next year. The obstacles were designed to offer a challenge to any competitor, including several regularly seen obstacles with slight variations to keep it fresh. Marshaling was top notch, each marshal genuinely seemed interested and supportive. The race organisers had posted on Facebook that their marshals all attempted the course the day before, that’s a great idea. The MacTuff marshals has perspective on the race which some event marshals don’t seem to want (plenty other events’ marshals they don’t even know which direction you’re mean to run!)

The results were tallied and finally published the next week, after a mammoth effort to include their obstacle completion records.

Race analysis

Timing chips round ankles, runners were tracked at the 5-kilometre mark (with live online results for spectators!) and again at the finish line courtesy of Keep It Simple Timing.

Starting runners

378 runners started the race, with a few late-entry runners listed as ageless and genderless ‘zombies’. Of those categorised, the field split a female to male ratio of 1:1.7.

Breaking this down further, males outnumbered females in all but one category. 👏 Shout out to the 60+ female who finished 👏, there apparently weren’t any men that age who managed it!

Athlete demographics


Fastest 1:24:04 1:51:26
Average 2:41:50 3:09:00 2:51:16

Splitting out the categories gives a better indication of where the average, maximum and minimum times lie across the field.

Fastest, average and slowest times across each category

Looking at counts of finish times grouped by two minute buckets, there’s a trend toward a small number of elite runners finishing very quickly, with many athletes spread in a roughly linear fashion. This trend is frequently seen across many races, so not too surprising.

A cluster group toward the higher end of the finish times crossed the line very close to each other.

Race time finish line spread

There’s an important point to be made about the clustering of finishers. The elite athletes are generally the fittest on the course, and capable of completing most obstacles swiftly – leading to faster finish times. Athletes who run at a slower pace are hit with an obstacle which elite athletes don’t always face. Mud. The front runners will often run around a fresh course and in the process chew up the softer ground, leaving tougher terrain and less grip opportunities for those behind – who would naturally run slower anyway, compounding the finish line spread.

Penalties and punishments

MacTuff had the most challenging obstacles I’ve encountered yet. That, coupled with five-minute time penalties for non-completion of mandatory obstacles really tested the limits of perseverance.

There was more than one way past the mandatory obstacles; complete the obstacle the hard way, complete a simplified obstacle, or skip the obstacle. Only the hard completion was enough to avoid a five-minute time penalty.

For me, this turned into just over 15 minutes spent unsuccessfully trying to get over the Nevis – a tall, steep ramp with no footholds and just a short rope to haul yourself up and over. I could NOT get an arm over the top, and no amount of tips from the awesome course marshals or support from my friends was translating to getting closer to the top. After 15 minutes, and with plenty of rope burn I gave my number and took a penalty. In hindsight, I could have saved myself almost 20 minutes by taking the tactical penalty much earlier!

The 15 minutes spent on that one obstacle really punished me, costing me energy and time. I was aware of many other athletes springing over the obstacle while I was repeatedly attempting, falling, then rejoining the queue to try again. I wondered how many people had fared better than me on this one and the first checkpoint timing mat had been only a few minutes before this, so comparing the positions at the checkpoint to the positions at the finish line should give a decent idea.

Checkpoint 1 to finish line position shift. First 100 runners only, as things went a bit haywire with the timings later on.

I lost thirty-five positions. That doesn’t even take into account that I made up a lot of places during the running after the Nevis. I’d estimate that I was probably overtaken by more than 50 other athletes on that obstacle. What was that about tactical penalties again?

The five-minute penalties for non-completion of the mandatory obstacles were applied to finish times by the organisers, and finish positions adjusted where necessary.

So how did penalties affect overall standings?

First, look at how the penalties spread across the field, and where the times have added onto athlete’s race times.

Race times with penalties added

Impressively, a lot of people, from the front to the back of the field have managed to avoid picking up a single penalty.

Turning this around a bit and rearranging the field by the final result times, look at where finishers had gained positions by completing more obstacles than racers in front of them.

Adjusted result positions after penalty application

Penalties have severely affected a small number of athletes, while many others managed to pick up some positions by completing the toughest obstacles on the course.

From this it’s clear that there’s definitely something to be said for giving the obstacles your best shot, and maybe a second if you got close the first time. However, really not worth spending 15 minutes at one and eating a penalty all the same! 😂


All in all, mighty impressive performances all round, from the elite front runners to everyone who completed the race, and special mention to those who did all of the mandatory obstacles the hard way!

My race data

Elevation gain583ft
StravaRough at MacTuff


TimingMacTuff 2017 final results on Keep It Simple Timing
MacTuff 2017 checkpoint 1 on Keep It Simple Timing