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  • Marathon distance measurement

    In a thread comparing men's world records with those for women, there emerged at message 31 a different topic: the marathon distance and its metric vs. imperial measurement as reflected in the title of this post.

    "Kuha" suggested that the marathon distance should be revised to 40 kilometers, prompting replies such as these:

    "The marathon began as 26 miles, 385 yards and remains exactly that."

    "...the 'original marathon measure' ... is the distance from Windsor Castle to the track in front of the Royal Box at the Olympic stadium in 1908 . . . Because England did not use the metric system in 1908, the people who measured that course did so in miles and yards. ... the distance from the Castle to the stadium turned out to be 42.195km."
    ---------
    If "original" refers to the first marathon of the Modern Olympics, then 40 kilometers could be the standard because that was the distance used at the 1896 Olympic Games in Athens. Source: Bert Nelson's "Olympic Track and Field" in 1975, a book that also showed varying distances during subsequent Olympics:
    42,196m - Paris, 1900
    42,195m - London, 1908
    40.200m - Stockholm, 1912
    42,750m - Antwerp, 1920
    (World War I canceled the 1916 Olympics.)

    Francois Fortin wrote in his encyclopedic "Sports: the Complete Visual Reference" that the 42,195 m distance was "officially adopted at the Paris Olympics of 1924." But many changes in event specifications have been made in athletics and the Olympics; that and history, including the inaugural 40 km marathon of 1896, lend support to the Kuha proposal.

  • #2
    Re: Marathon distance measurement

    The marathon (like the steeplechase) took quite a while to achieve truly "modern" standardization. It's a historical fluke, of course, that the '08 distance was 26m, 385y, but flukes play a pivotal role in history. My "proposal" to change the marathon distance wasn't overly serious--more a rebuttal of someone else's proposal to lengthen it to 50k. By contrast to this idea, I think 40k makes far more sense...and I do like the idea of the 20k distance taking on more importance. This whole argument runs counter to my more familiar position of arguing FOR imperial distances. But, hey, what's a little waffling and self-contradiction among friends?

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    • #3
      Re: Marathon distance measurement

      As much as I'm for the metric measurements in the sport instead of imperial, touching the marathon is a suicidal endeavor. The marathon transcends the whole sport and the times & distance mean something to everyone. Don't mess with perfection.

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      • #4
        Re: Marathon distance measurement

        Michael is absolutely correct. However, it's never occured to me that the 100% metric nations might not fully understand the distance. Can any non-English Euro's here enlighten us?

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        • #5
          Re: Marathon distance measurement

          Forget the distance. How about an hour run for an Olympic race to replace the marathon? Presumably everyone uses the hour, even if you measure in cubits.

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          • #6
            Re: Marathon distance measurement

            The hour run does not have the thrill nor the challenge of the marathon.

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            • #7
              Re: Marathon distance measurement

              Here are my pros & cons of changing marathon distance: con: l.The statistical history - i.e., comparing performances. That's it. But it's enough, in most opinions (I personally don't care - it's still the same exalted event, whether 40,42.195, or 50. Pro: l. Figuring splits - much easier for the spectator to know the pace(with 3 seconds of calculator-poking), and finishing splits. 2. um... well, guess that's it.. one reason, either way. Okay, 2: Courses & conditions vary so much, 'comparing performances' isn't accurate enough anyway(except course records.And even then...). In any event, the race would still be called The Marathon, not "the 40" 3. Ditto "the Half" - 20K DOES make more sense than 20.0975!

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              • #8
                Re: Marathon distance measurement

                But I'll add: NO CHANGE in marathon distance until we KNOW there won't be a sub-2:00. You never know....

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                • #9
                  Re: Marathon distance measurement

                  21.0975....

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                  • #10
                    Re: Marathon distance measurement

                    >Forget the distance. How about an hour run for an Olympic race to replace the marathon?

                    Having hosted an Hour National Championship, its a logistical nightmare even with experienced lap counters. If you did it on a loop course (instead of a track), like the walks are usually held on, it isn't so bad to count laps, but then measuring the distance each athlete goes and assuring that they don't cheat a bit to get a few extra meters is more problematic.

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                    • #11
                      Re: Marathon distance measurement

                      The Hour would be a great spectator event, with the world's top runners in a high-stakes winner-takes-all race. All you'd need is some good field events going on for 50 minutes. Or, at least, fans would know when to go to concession stand and get back in time for the real racing.

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                      • #12
                        Re: Marathon distance measurement

                        >Michael is absolutely correct. However, it's never occured to me that the 100%
                        >metric nations might not fully understand the distance. Can any non-English
                        >Euro's here enlighten us?

                        42km and 196m or what ever sounds very metric to me! I don't see the need for a change but if the Marathon race distance were to change I would measure the distance from where ever Pheidippidis (or Pheilippidis to some other sources) started running from Marathon to the main headquarters of the Greek Army in Athens during the Persian wars. Does anyone know the exact spots? Actually, Pheidippidis may not have been the messenger after all since he had just finished another long run from Athens to Sparta. Talking about overwork.

                        Do you know by the way that there is another annual race in Greece from Athens to Sparta and it is appropriately called Spartathon? 250km more or less.

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                        • #13
                          Re: Marathon distance measurement

                          You're right bf. For tv a timed event like the hour run is perfect. Imagine a whole meet like that. The 15 min run, half-hour, etc. You could even have a three minute run with a giant egg timer in the middle of the track. You could even show it on the Food Channel. Hell, you could get that cooking guy, Emiel, or whatever his name, to comment. He couldn't be any worse than LR. Think of the number of housewives that would get turned onto track.

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                          • #14
                            Re: Marathon distance measurement

                            I like the idea of the hour run...which has a more distinguised history than people today realize. At least it would be clear to TV and spectators WHEN it would end. Actually, if it was like that %$#* basketball game a month ago, we could say that a "tie" at the end of the regulation hour would result in an added 5 minutes of competition. I can easily imagine a prime-time televised live hour run championship race impinging on a major baseball or football game (yeah, right!).

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                            • #15
                              Re: Marathon distance measurement

                              I was facetious about 'going to concession stand' etc. - I do think a top-level 1 Hour race would be great. The problem with it, though, is the finish - how do the runners, if it's a tight race, time their finishing kick? They'd obviously have to be able to see the clock easily from every vantage point. Or, be able to hear the announcer counting the time down. Still, it would be interesting - and worth it for elite runners if the money was right.

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