The Impact of Goals

[caption id=“attachment_454” align=“alignright” width=“300”] From the New York Times. Distribution of marathon completion times with red lines marking hourly milestones. Click the image to visit the original article.[/caption]

An intersting article on the New York Times’ new data-based venture The Upshot highlights a study from researchers at USC, Berkeley, and the University of Chicago in which millions of marathon results were gathered together and plotted as a simple histogram.

The result?  At a high level, the distribution resembled what you might expect: a roughly bell-shaped curve with a longer tail on the slow side.  But the interesting part is in the figure shown to the right: miniature peaks just below the psychological barriers of 3 hours, 4 hours, 5 hours, and 6 hours.  It shows the power of artificially meaningful measures.  The pyschological reward of meeting that 4 hour goal pushes runners to cut their times from 4:01 to 3:59.  The same time difference between 4:14 and 4:12 shows no similar allure.