Ten Things You Need to Know About the Marathon - Herald Sun

Melbourne Marathon is the event that gets the city up and running, The Herald Sun, 10 October 2016

It’s six days till the Melbourne Marathon, also known as the race that stops a city’s traffic. Whether you’re running, cheering or jeering, here’s ten things you need to know about the marathon.

  1. The name of the event comes from Philippides’ run from Marathon to Athens in 490BC, to report the defeat of the Persians. Legend has it that upon reporting the victory, Philippides died. It’s as if Australia’s most famous walking event was named the ‘Burke and Wills Bushwalk’. The first marathon race was held at the Athens Olympics in 1896, and won in a time of 2:58. A time of 3:06 would have gotten you a bronze medal.
  2. At first, the marathon was about 40 kilometres long. Then at the 1908 Olympics in London, it was extended so as to finish in front of the Royal Box. That distance stuck, and today’s marathons are 42.195 kilometres long. If you find yourself struggling in the final few hundred metres, blame the British royal family.
  3. That said, there’s something almost spiritual about the final few kilometres of a marathon. As novelist Haruki Murakami once put it, ‘Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life.’ If you make it to the end of your first marathon, you’ll look back with pride.
  4. An analysis of nearly 10 million marathon times found that the median finishing time was 4:17. A surprising share of runners target round numbers. For example, there are 40 percent more runners with a time of 3:59 than 4:01.
  5. The women’s world record is 2:15, set by Briton Paula Radcliffe. Radcliffe’s time is one of the great records in sport, putting her a full three minutes clear of the next closest woman, Kenyan Mary Keitany. Australia’s Rob De Castella held the men’s world record in the 1980s. The current record-holder is Kenyan Dennis Kimetto, who ran 2:02 in 2014. This year’s Rio Olympic marathon was won by Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge. What was striking about his performance was the pace of his late-race surge. At the 30 kilometre mark, Kipchoge accelerated like he’d just heard the start gun. He covered the 30 kilometre to 40 kilometre segment so blisteringly fast that his time would have beaten the 10 kilometre world record up until 1950.
  6. One of the mysteries of the modern marathon has been why Kenyans, mostly from the Kalenjin tribe, are so dominant. They have slender limbs, which help with heat dissipation, and are born at altitude, which makes their lungs more efficient. It probably also helps that Kalenjin Kenyans run barefoot in childhood and endure painful initiation rituals.
  7. The world marathon record will probably fall below 2 hours at some point in the next generation. That person will be moving at 21 kilometres per hour, or 2 minutes and 50 seconds per kilometre. A few years ago, Asics set up a treadmill at a marathon event, and challenged runners to see how long they could stay on at that pace. Most people came off within a few seconds. The Melbourne Marathon records are 2:10 for men, and 2:26 for women, both set in 2013.
  8. If you want to know how fast you will run a marathon, running writer Bart Yasso suggests that you run 10 repetitions of 800 metres, with an equally timed break. Your average time in minutes will be approximately your marathon time in hours. Alternatively, you can use Greg McMillan’s tables, which allow you to plug in your time for any distance event and get a projected time for another event.
  9. Economist Ray Fair has calculated how fast runners slow down by age. On average, you should expect your times to increase by 5 percent per decade from your mid-30s to your mid-50s. If you’re a serious runner, Fair argues that you should compare your times not against your lifetime personal best, but against your age-adjusted personal best. For example, you should be 20 percent slower at age 55 than you were at age 35. Any better than that, and you’re actually speeding up.
  10. The politician who has run the most Melbourne Marathons is my colleague Darren Chester, lining up this year for his 11th race. The fastest ever marathon by a sitting Australian politician is 2:44, run in 1983 by the late John Bannon, while he was South Australian Premier. Bannon liked to say that when your body wants to stop, you should run a bit further – and you’ll be glad you did. His record is unlikely to be beaten anytime soon.

Andrew Leigh is a federal member of parliament, and a supporter of the Indigenous Marathon Project. He is a member of the ACT team in the Melbourne Marathon.

This opinion piece was first published in the Herald Sun on Monday, 10 October 2016.


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