Anthony Kay of the Department of Mathematical Sciences, Loughborough University, has kindly sent us a copy of a paper he has recently had published:

"Importance of descending skill for performance in fell races: a statistical analysis of race results”, Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports, vol. 10, pp. 173-181 (2014).

He uses Pen y Fan as one of his case studies, because a) it’s a race with a very steep descent, and b) we have recorded split times for ascent and descent whenever possible.

The full text is available at however a journal subscription is required to read any more than the abstract, and even the author himself says he’s not sure it’s worth the 30 Euros! A full copy is available by contacting the author A.Kay(at)

To summarise and paraphrase the conclusions…

  • The variability in the ratios of ascending to descending speeds between runners get larger the steeper and rougher the descent. That suggests that descending really is a skill that varies enormously between runners quite independently of what we might call general fitness.
  • This effect is most noticeable as a clear link between being bad at descending and doing badly overall! That is, you won’t win races if you are rubbish at descending, but being good at descending will not win races on its own.
  • Descending skills are still important even on less steep and rough terrain in determining overall performance in races.
  • There is only minor correlation between descending skill and age. Personally I was surprised by this one as I suspected that people get relatively less good at descending with age (by becoming more wise!) – seems I was wrong.
  • Women’s descending skills appear to inferior to those of men on the steepest and roughest terrain, but they are equal on descents on well made paths. Alternatively, since the deficit in women’s descent speed relative to men is by far the greatest in the one studied race where the sexes run separately (Mount Marathon in Alaska), the author thinks that perhaps“women go downhill faster when they are chasing men”!