This weekend thousands of runners will test themselves to the full in the annual Flora London Marathon. At 42.195 km, it is a race of endurance. But why 42.195 km? That is tied up in the history of the 1908 London Olympic Games. But why does the United Kingdom press call it a 26 mile 385 yard race and does it matter? For the record, two measurements differ by 1 cm. (Article contributed by Martin Vlietstra)
The Marathon is governed by Rule 240 of The International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) rulebook. (http://www.iaaf.org/mm/Document/imported/42192.pdf). These rules state that state that the marathon must be 42.195 km in length; that for “events that are longer that 10 km, refreshment stations shall be provided at approximately every 5 kilometres”. Furthermore “The distance in kilometres on the route shall be displayed to all athletes”. So how does the London Flora Marathon fare?
The Flora London Marathon route description states â??Every mile is marked by a huge arch across the road. You will definitely not be able to miss them. At each mile marker there will be a clock giving the time elapsed since the start “Kilometres are marked at 5 km intervals”. The course route can be found at http://www.london-marathon.co.uk/site/content/file/course/marathon_map_2006.pdf. An examination of the course map and of the way in which the course is marked shows that the organizers are paying lip-service to the requirement to use kilometres.
Does it really matter whether the course is marked in miles or in kilometres? Anybody who watched Paula Radcliffe run (she has withdrawn from the 2008 Flora London Marathon due to injury) cannot help but notice that she is forever checking her watch – she is obviously monitoring her progress. Since kilometre markers are guaranteed in every race that she runs, it is highly probable that she uses kilometres rather than miles when monitoring her progress. It must be disconcerting having “useful” marker posts every 5 km instead of every kilometre (which she would be used to elsewhere). When she ran in the Athens Olympics, she was suffering from a stomach upset and subsequently withdrew towards the end of the race. Anybody who watched her running would have seen how she struggled to the 36 km marker, paused, summoned up her strength and started off again only to retire a few paces later. The British press was undecided as to whether she ran 21 miles or 22 miles – none mentioned the huge 36 km marker which was clearly visible to every television viewer in the world.
So is the Flora London Marathon yet another example of the cultural Apartheid that we have in Britain – one set of units for the professionals and another for the “man in the street”?