Illustration: Shyam G Menon

The study based on results from 72 marathons overseas and focused on recreational runners “ is the largest of its kind ever produced.’’

The IAAF Global Running Conference scheduled over May 31-June 1 at Lanzhou in China will have among key themes for discussion: the economic, social and environmental impact of road races.

More than 600 attendees representing much of the international road race industry are expected to take part. China is the world’s fastest growing market for recreational running. Against 22 sanctioned road races in China in 2011, there were 1100 in 2017. During the same period, participation grew from 400,000 to more than five million, a statement on the conference available on the website of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), said.

According to it, the conference will discuss subjects including the growth of the marathon tourism industry, creation of running cultures in cities, economic benefits of organizing events and best practices for organizing them in environmentally sustainable ways. Jen Jakob Andersen, founder and CEO of RunRepeat.com, will deliver the opening address at the conference. He will present a report on the current state of running drawn largely from a research comparing marathon performances across nations. “ The study by Andersen and his team is the largest of its kind ever produced,’’ the IAAF noted, providing alongside a link to RunRepeat.com and abstracts from the study.

The study centered on recreational runners’ performance from 72 marathons over 2009-2014 – basically six editions of 12 events. The data base analyzed spanned 2,195,588 results; the study had Andersen as lead researcher and was funded by RunRepeat.com. “ On average marathon runners are being slower,’’ RunRepeat noted on its page hosting this study focused on recreational runners and restricted to multiple editions of a pool of select races.

The project looked into results from six editions of the following marathons: Chicago, Marine, Boston, London, Paris, Berlin, Frankfurt, Athens, Amsterdam, Budapest, Warszawa and Madrid. Results of elite athletes were not studied; the focus was on recreational runners. Results of nations with less than 100 results were not considered. Also omitted were results from countries having less than 10 men and 10 women in each of the years studied. Only events with results for all the six years and mention of athletes’ gender alongside were accepted for study.

Over 2009-2014, within the database analyzed, the average time taken to complete a full marathon was four hours, 22 minutes and five seconds. For 2014 alone, the figure was four hours, 21 minutes and 21 seconds. Over the six years (2009-2014), the average time for men was 4:13:23 and that for women, 4:42:33 (29.10 minutes slower), RunRepeat said on its website. At 3:55:35, Spain had the fastest average time. Looked annually, Spain was fastest in 2011, 2012 and 2013. In 2014, runners from Iceland topped. Out of 47 countries listed so India was ranked 46 with average time at 5:03:41. Interestingly at number 45 was Japan (4:40:14), a country strongly associated with the marathon and ultramarathon. The US (4:29:31) was placed 30, while the UK (4:32:24) was ranked 41.

Among men, the fastest average time was from Iceland (3:52:01); the slowest was from India (5:00:34). At 5:27:04, Indian women were slowest in their gender category topped again by Iceland (4:18:29). Over the six years studied Iceland, Philippines and Singapore showed the greatest improvement in average finish time in the men’s category. In the women’s category, India, Germany and Finland were the nations improving the most. With an improvement of two minutes 39 seconds overall, India was ranked 18 in the improvement list topped by Iceland (23 minutes 47 seconds). The country registering least improvement was China; the average time of recreational runners from China at these events got slower by 33 minutes 38 seconds. On the other hand, if you judge growth in popularity of marathon running from the database studied, then China was placed second with a growth of 259.47 per cent; it followed Russia at 300 per cent. Corresponding growth from India was 154.78 per cent. Participation from Asia grew by 92.43 per cent; that of men therein at 90.40 per cent and women, 97.80 per cent. Europe grew slower than the rest of the world with a growth of only 10.30 per cent.

In the database studied, it was observed that participation overall had increased by 13.25 per cent with enrollment of women up by 26.90 per cent compared to 7.8 per cent for men. The average distribution of women marathon runners in the numbers was 29.76 per cent; North America had the highest representation of women in running at 44.67 per cent followed by Asia (27.86 per cent), South America (26.26 per cent) and Europe (21.99 per cent). USA was the most gender equal marathon nation. Of 47 countries featured in the study, India ranked 43 as regards gender parity with its women participants at the races studied estimated at 11.76 per cent.

The overview of the study can be accessed on this link: https://runrepeat.com/research-marathon-performance-across-nations

This blog would like to point out that 2014 is now almost five years in the past. Additionally, while one definitely needs to qualify for some of the marathons overseas, participation is dependent on ability to fund and in developing economies like India, talent for sports and deep pockets (to travel and run) don’t always manifest in the same individual. Not all recreational runners who make the cut in terms of performance reach the start line abroad. On the other hand, those who can afford will, including by means other than qualifying like availing charity bibs.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.) 

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