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July 13, 2014

Runners relate to distance in miles; will that last for long?

I was looking at the race schedule in Texas Runner & Triathlete magazine this month; and the schedule was filled with races every weekend somewhere in Texas.

For runners in the central Texas area there are races almost every weekend for local and area runners to enter, with only a few open dates up until September. I am not sure why the thought popped into my head regarding the number of 5K and 10K races on the schedule.

It might be that during my track days in high school and college, I ran the 440-yard race as well as the 220-yard hurdles. We had long-distance team members who ran one mile; and in college, there was a two-mile race on occasion.

I guess that when athletes in the United States started to compete internationally against other countries that functioned on the metric system, things changed. Now we run the 400 meters, 800 meters, 1600 meters, etc. I can see the reason for this in track and field competition - to set times that can be compared with international runners.

How about a local 5K race, or a 10K distance?

I measure race courses; and when we send in the measurements for certification, we include the kilometer marks for the distance. But when we measure the course, we also include the mile marks for runners. Most runners probably do not know how far a kilometer is, and can only relate to the old standard mile distance.

Talking with runners after the race, the conversation on how fast they ran is always the pace per mile. They do not mention that “At the two-kilometer mark my time was 7:15, and by three kilometers it was 10:20.”

Even though the kilometer marks are measured and recorded for certification, I very seldom see kilometer signs put out on the course for these distances. Looking over the schedule this month, I noticed a few four-mile races in the area and an occasional 10-mile race listed.

I started to wonder why - when runners can relate to mile distances - that area races don’t stop at three miles instead of adding an additional 0.1068560 miles to make it a 5K?

The same can be said for the 10K distance. Why not make it only six miles, and forget the 0.2137119 miles that need to be added to the distance to make it a 10K?

Buddy Albro has a series of races in Seguin that include distances of one mile and three miles on Tuesday evenings. They are becoming more popular each week for runners.

For race organizers looking for something different in putting on a race to attract runners against all the competition of 5K and 10K races, why not try a race that most runners can relate to? How about trying a distance of three miles, or four miles, or five miles, or go longer for eight miles?

If the race is an “odd” number of miles in length, instead of the more common kilometer distances, every runner will set a PR for that distance since they have never run that distance before.

I guess that while reading over the race schedule, and seeing all of the 5K and 10K races, I started to wonder how it all got started in road races since races on the track were measured in yards.

For instance, the marathon is supposed to be the distance run by the ancient warrior Phidippides to tell the king that they had won the battle. It was not the distance he ran from the plains of Marathon to Athens (closer to 24 miles) that is run today.

As history has recorded how the distance was established, it seems that during the 1908 London Olympics, the British organizers wanted the runners to finish in front of King Edward VII’s royal box where Queen Alexandra could see them. The distance was close to 26.2 miles. The next couple of marathons varied from 25.8 to 26.52 miles in distance before the now standard 26.21876 miles was established.

The only explanation for why we changed from measuring in miles to kilometers is that it is just a carryover from track. It makes you wonder how long it will be before when driving to Austin, you will be going a distance of 48.28 kilometers instead of 30 miles?

And the speedometer on your car will be in kilometers per hour instead of miles per hour. If these changes happened to runners, they might happen to drivers as well.

Moe Johnson
Dr. Maurice Johnson - better known around San Marcos as “Moe” - is a professor in the Department of Health, P.E., Recreation and Dance at Texas State University - San Marcos. Moe has been a fixture in the San Marcos running community - both as a runner and race organizer - since way back when Moby Dick was a minnow. His column on running and fitness appears each Sunday in the Sports section of the San Marcos Daily Record.

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