Training

MARATHON SHORTENED: 26.2 becomes 24.5 miles

 Marathon Distance Shortened

Classic distance no longer 26 miles 385 yards
 
By Hal Higdon
 

For more than a century marathoners have run a precise but quirky distance of 26 miles 385 yards, or 42.2 kilometers.

No more. At a meeting of the World Marathon Majors recently, race directors for the Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, New York and Tokyo Marathons decided to downsize their races to 40 kilometers, an easier number for non-runners to both understand and remember, also closer to the actual 24.5 miles run in the first marathon from Marathon to Athens in the 1896 Olympic Games.

Cutting the official 26.2-mile distance will begin this fall, admits a New York City Marathon  spokesperson, whose identity cannot be revealed because he is not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. Telephone calls and emails to the marathon race director went unanswered, but New York allegedly is considering a shift this November. “We like to be number one,” admitted the spokesperson.

Cutting nearly two miles from the official distance means that the New York City Marathon will begin on the near side of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, not on the far side. Staten Island thus will be eliminated from the previous five-borough course. “Everything is being downsized,” says the spokesperson. “Coke and Pepsi now come in 8-ounce cans.”

No longer under consideration, however, is a move to the George Washington Bridge. According to a New Jersey spokesperson, whose identity cannot be revealed because he is not authorized to discuss the matter publicly: “The Governor feared that staging 45,000 runners on the bridge would disrupt traffic into Fort Lee.”

The marathon distance was not always 26 miles 385 yards. There is nothing classic about the classic distance. Nobody knows how many miles Pheidippides covered running from Marathon into Athens in 490 B.C. The first Olympic Marathon in 1896 followed a course about 24.5 miles long. Not until the 1908 Olympic Games in London was the distance lengthened to 26 miles 385 yards, reportedly so the Queen’s grandchildren could watch the start. The British monarch failed to return phone calls and emails asking her to comment.

Despite New York’s quick switch to 40 kilometers, Chicago will not change, at least this year. A Chicago Marathon spokesperson, whose identity cannot be revealed because he is not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, says Chicago plans to wait until 2015. Chicago will deduct the number of minutes and seconds it would take competitors to cover the distance between 24.5 and 26.2 miles from their official times. “We want to give every runner a chance to set a record on our flat and fast course,” said the spokesperson.

For 2015, the Boston Marathon also will revert to its original starting line, moving from Hopkinton to a side road in the town of Ashland. A Boston Athletic Association spokesperson, whose identity cannot be revealed because he is not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, dismissed the suggestion that the field will be limited to the same number of runners (15) who ran the first Boston Marathon in 1897. No truth either to the rumor that the 15 starters would be those donating the most to charity.

In a rare bipartisan move, the US House and Senate voted to require runners to remove 26.2 and 13.1 stickers from cars and replace them with 24.5 and 12.25 stickers (or 40 and 20 stickers for those who understand the metric system). Those failing to comply by January 1, 2016 will be ticketed by Federal officers and fined, although the President indicated that runners will be allowed several extra weeks to remove the stickers if they can come up with a plausible excuse.

Nevertheless, for at least two reasons, marathoners should welcome the change from 26.2 to 24.5 miles: 1), runners no longer will need to explain 26.2 to their non-runner friends, and 2) everybody will be happy to quit a couple of miles early.


 

Hal Higdon is a Contributing Editor for Runner’s World and author of 4:09:43: Boston 2013 Through the Eyes of the Runners. .

 
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