Virgin London Marathon 2010

Martin Vlietstra, a frequent contributor to MetricViews, passes on some misgivings about on the 2010 London Marathon.

The countdown to the 2010 Virgin London Marathon has already begun – anybody who is planning to enter should have started their training by now.  After the marathon was given some publicity at my workplace, I visited the website. The irrational way in which miles and kilometres were mixed up makes sorry reading.

This event is a world-class event so if any world records are to be set, the course must comply with IAAF regulations.  In particular, these regulations require that intermediate course distances be given in kilometres (with miles as an optional extra). The map on the website only gives miles.

A list of timings that runners should aim for on a mile-by-mile basis can be found on the website, yet if a runner looks at their results, they will find timings at 5 kilometre intervals!  How should a runner reconcile these outputs to what their planned schedule?

When top marathon runners are interviewed in the press, they invariably talk in kilometres – after all when they are running outside the UK or the US they do not come across miles.  Yet the marathon publicity machinery in the United Kingdom is totally mile-oriented.  Is this a case of one system of units for the top runners and another for the not-so-good runners – a kind of cultural Apartheid?


7 thoughts on “Virgin London Marathon 2010”

  1. It is pretty ridiculous that an international event can’t even comply with the international rules set out for that event.

    It will be worth contacting the organisers and the IAAF about this error to allow them to rectify this. I have contacted various places about the lack of use or mistakes relating to metric and have had success. Sometimes its just down to not knowing rather than deliberate.


  2. Clearly, this is yet another manifestation of the metric muddle.

    Had road signs been converted to kilometres as originally planned in the UK (back in the seventies?). none of this would be happening now and there would be no miles at all anywhere. (either on the roads or in the London Olympics)

    More government short-sightedness. ‘Tis a pity.


  3. I have been through this with a fine-tooth comb – the offical race map for last year’s race showed distance markers every mile and only every five kilometres. I imagine that this years offical map will be the same. It seems to me that the Virgin London Marathon committee are pandering to every utterance from the British Press while doing just enough the ensure that the comply with IAAF regulations.


  4. The answer would be if the distance reverted back to the original 40km. Everyone would then be able to remember the distance and the confusion with miles would no longer exist.


  5. I believe that the attention paid to using miles is based on the perception that the public understands miles and prefers miles so the extra effort is made to accommodate them.

    In reference to the PDF that shows mile times, the main Marathon link states the reason for this chart as:

    “Use our race timings guide to find out what time each group of runners will reach the mile markers.

    Plot your route around the course to these times so you don’t miss your favourite runners in action.”

    In other words, this chart is not for the runners themselves but for the public. If there are those in the public who do prefer kilometres, then they can reference the official and measured points showing their precise times every 5 km and be near the timing stations to great their favourite runner.

    The runners don’t care about miles as is experienced when they are interviewed and speak only in kilometres. If miles were important to any runner then the marathon organizers would set up their own precise timing stations at mile increments and post the results for those runners. Since no one is asking, they aren’t going to spend the extra money to produce data that is of no interest or use to the runners.

    The organizers most likely feel that they must pander to the innumerates and Luddites since these groups are most likely to patronize the sponsors. If enough of these write into businesses that advertise and insist that if miles are removed or kilometres are emphasized resulting in a threat of lost business to the advertisers, the advertisers will insist that miles not only remain, but are emphasized over kilometres. Kilometres are the legal standard for the race, but that must be hidden from the public at all costs.

    The runners obviously don’t care as they can ignore all the mile crap and get the results they want in kilometres and even see it posted to the website for years following. This way their data is consistent with every marathon they run no matter where in the world it is.

    The best anyone can do at this point is to write to sponsors and officials that more metric should be included and if it isn’t, then the pro-metric side will boycott the sponsors. At least this way if they decide to act in favour of more metric, the pro-metric side can ignore the odd references to miles. Possibly someone from the UKMA can produce a metric course map and a metric PDF of race times and submit it to the Marathon organizers as extra information for those who prefer it (numerate Brits and international visitors). You will be beating a dead horse if you insist reference to miles be removed, but it is a worthy effort to get more metric in the public view.


  6. In reference to Tim’s comment of the race reverting to the original 40 km, this would be easy to accomplish and there would be no problem comparing race results to past marathons as all marathon races time at the 20 km (which would become the half-marathon mark) and 40 km (which would become the new full marathon mark). Thus new results can be compared to the past.

    I find it interesting that the marathon is actually 42 m (0.001) longer then the published difference per the rules. The actual course length is 42.237 km and not 42.195 km as published.

    Instead of a 40 km race, why not 50 km?


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