FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Only a Marathon is a Marathon
Is the "Marathon" in the sense of a running event 42,195 metres in length
or merely 38 kilometres? The answer is: it depends on the sport you're
doing. In running there is exact measurement of courses throughout the
world. Triathlon, on the other hand, allows deviations from the rules of up
to ten per cent. That represents a shortening of the marathon distance of
up to 4.2 kilometres! "Triathlon courses cannot be counted as officially
measured distances unless the same procedures are carried out as for road
races," says Hugh Jones of AIMS, the Association of International Marathons
and Distance Races. The Vienna City Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race,
points out that running performances in triathlons must accordingly be
viewed relatively and the name "Marathon" should be positioned in the sport
of running as a brand name.
For years the same accurate and practical regulations for the course
measurement of marathons and road races have been in place throughout the
world. The Association of International Marathons and Distance Races (AIMS)
has been a pioneer in this respect and created a binding apparatus for such
work. It means that it can be guaranteed that a marathon really is 42,195
metres in length. To be more exact: it is certain that a marathon is at
least 42,195 metres long. This is because one thousandth of the distance is
added to the measured course to ensure that there is no possibility that
the prescribed distance falls short. In the case of a marathon, that is
A Marathon is a Marathon, wherever it may be
Everyone in running is aware of this and every serious event organiser
keeps to this rule. That's how comparisons of performances and recognition
of records are possible. This is a very good situation for the millions of
runners, the organisers and the public. A marathon is a marathon, anywhere
in the world. If an organiser departs from these rules, they are beyond the
But couldn't it be just a little shorter?
"Marathons", "Half Marathons" and other running competitions are, however,
part of triathlon events. These running distances are not measured
according to AIMS criteria. The rules of the International Triathlon Union
(ITU) permit considerable reductions: "Minor deviations in the individual
disciplines for reasons of local conditions and/or the difficulty of the
course are perfectly acceptable. However, at championships the deviations
are only permitted to account for a maximum ± 10%, as the German Triathlon
Union states on page 7 of their regulations (2011/13 edition). Reference:
If the 10% rule is applied to a privately licensed IRONMAN competition, the
"Marathon Distance" of 38 kilometres can be "short" and yet still be
considered as conforming to the rules. Which organiser would not use the
ruling to their advantage?
For example, in the competition arrangements for the Ironman Austria, the
length of the running section is given as 42.195 kilometres. There then
follows an addition which allows room for a great deal of interpretation:
the distance should be understood having "slight variations depending on
geographic course length" – Compare:
In principle it matters very little what distance a triathlon includes. If
an organiser wants to have the run around a particular curve of a lake and
the running distance only comes to 40 kilometres, they're at liberty to do
so. However, as soon as competition distances such as Marathons or Half
Marathons as well as records are up for discussion, which are precisely
regulated in running, the same criteria must be applied.
Recognition for Sporting Achievements!
In no way should the sporting achievements of triathlon and Ironman
finishers be belittled and they deserve every respect. The triathletes
themselves are among those who suffer in this situation, since their
running times are not given in the lists for marathon best performances. A
"Marathon" or "Half Marathon" in the context of a triathlon cannot be
compared with a Marathon or Half Marathon conducted according to IAAF
rules. There have been attempts in Britain to measure running distances at
triathlons according to the same rules as in running. Unfortunately nothing
has come of this, as the AIMS expert Hugh Jones reports.
...but under the same Criteria
To present a 38 km run as a course over the marathon distance is a gross
deception to participants and public. Any spectator at a long distance
triathlon who doesn't know better, thinks that the participants are running
the same distance as at the London, New York or Berlin Marathon. But that
is not the case.
To sportsmen and women who contest a marathon over 42,195 metres and are
delighted if they achieve a hard earned personal best it must seem like a
smack in the face to be compared with triathlon performances where the
participants may only have covered 38 kilometres. Even the specialist media
report enthusiastically about new Ironman World Records such as recently at
the IRONMAN Austria in Klagenfurt or the long distance triathlon in Roth
(Germany), although the criteria were lacking. The performances were also
set on a par with times in marathon races achieved under IAAF rules. As
long as different standards are applied in triathlon compared to athletics,
this must be taken into account for running performances in triathlon.
IAAF Rules, but correct!
It is also incomprehensible that the International Triathlon Union ITU
refers in its statutes in general to the guidelines of the world governing
body of athletics, the IAAF (See:
0331b.pdf - Run course measurement manual (Chapter 9, P. 113) - "This
document is based on the content of the International Association of
Athletics Federation (www.iaaf.org) and the Royal Spanish Federation of
Athletics (www.rfea.es)..."), but when it comes to reality contravenes the
regulations for course measurement to a startling degree.
There are several notable examples of the need for consistency and accuracy
in course measurement in running:
-In 1981 the American Alberto Salazar achieved a time of 2:08:13 at the New
York City Marathon – a world record at the time which was later annulled
because the course was shown to be 148 metres short which is
three-thousandths of the marathon distance.
-The Kenyan Paul Tergat ran 58:51 at the 1996 Stramilano Half Marathon in
Milan which appeared to be the first time under 59 minutes. It later
emerged that the course was 49 metres short, which meant that the world
best was not officially recognised. 49 metres represents something over
two-thousandths of a Half Marathon.
-In 2010 the Linz Marathon was correctly measured and then a 201 metre bend
was removed. This led to none of the times subsequently achieved in that
race being recorded in the list of best performances.
-The most recent example for the rightly high standard set for recognising
records came in the 2011 Boston Marathon. Two runners went under the then
valid world record of 2:03:59 which Haile Gebrselassie achieved in Berlin
in 2008. Geoffrey Mutai (2:03:02) and Moses Mosop (2:03:06) were not able
to celebrate a world record. Apart from the course being the correct
length, which was, of course, the case in Boston, the criteria concerning
the drop (max. one thousandth of the distance run, therefore 42 metres) and
the distance between start and finish, which is permitted to be a maximum
50 per cent of the distance run, which in the case of a marathon is 21.1
kilometres, still had to be observed. The ruling on distance between start
and finish is to prevent too much assistance from a tailwind. Both criteria
– drop and distance between start and finish – are not met by the Boston
Marathon. These criteria are set out in Paragraph 10, Note 28 of the
International Competition Rules (IWR) of the World Federation of Athletics,
This would not have been a problem in triathlon. A Marathon can be 4.2
kilometres short, a Half Marathon 2.1 kilometres. We therefore make this
direct appeal: rules which have long been recognised in running, should
also be valid in Triathlon and Duathlon.
Marathon, a Brand Name worth protecting!
It should be in the interest of the IAAF and AIMS that the name "Marathon"
in the sport of running, ie a running competition over 42,195 metres,
should have its own position as a brand name. In terms of marketing rights
this is probably no longer possible, but certainly possible in the rules of
the sports federations. Likewise, a swimming competition, a cycle race and
a running competition which are held as a triathlon, are not automatically
be allowed to call itself IRONMAN.
The first Marathon under Two Hours?
If athletes like Haile Gebrselassie, the new Marathon world record holder
Patrick Makau or 30,000m track world record holder Moses Mosop were to be
persuaded to run the "third leg" in an IRONMAN relay competition, the
winning time would certainly be under two hours. Would the IAAF recognise
that as a world record? No, because they would not have run a marathon.