5 Apr

Are we marathon obsessed?

Greek statue

Marathons, half marathons and 10k distance…the foundations of any endurance runner’s CV. They are the distances on which nearly every road runner will benchmark themselves against.

And if they don’t, then everyone who knows them, does. “Oh, you’re a runner? Have you run a marathon?” Friends and family are almost guaranteed to ask. “What time have you done it in?”

In contrast, that unfashionable other family consisting of 20 miles, 10 miles and 5 miles distances all go on largely unnoticed and unloved. Why? When you think about it, the marathon and its smaller siblings the half marathon and 10k (essentially a quarter marathon rounded down…after all, who would run a 10.55k?) are completely arbitrary.

Was it not for its historical significance and quirk, would we really have chosen to obsess over 26.2 miles? Even as a metric measurement, it is a similarly uneven 42.2k. That Pheidippides has a lot to answer for.

I don’t know about you, but the 20-mile, 10 mile and 5-mile distances are real cornerstone distances in training. Pre-marathon, the 20-mile distance is set in stone as a landmark to be ticked off. Similarly, 10 miles marks a long run in my book and holds way more satisfaction that it probably should over a 9 miler.

Yet races over these distances are relatively few and far between. Early Spring is the high tide of 20-mile events as runners build up to peak marathon season. I have taken part in some of these events in the past and really enjoyed the events and the distance.

20 miles is a fair old yomp and yet, mentally, I don’t really give these runs the same status as I do my marathons, half marathons and 10ks. On paper, my best-ever performance is probably a 28-minute clocking in a 5-mile race, comparing very favourably with my marathon, half marathon and 10k bests.

And yet, it seems almost an irrelevance. Nice, but not over a distance that matters. Perhaps in some way, we are all willing victims of the running culture, putting those classic distances on granite pedestals to the detriment of all else?

Image: statue of Pheidippides at Marathon in Greece