The Planet Wave -- A Monthly Running Blog from the Mizuno Shoe Guy
by Bob "Wish" Wischnia on April 27, 2011
After getting back home last week from the Boston Marathon, the first thing I did was look at my old school, but still trusty New Universal World Atlas. Much to my surprise, Boston and the great Commonwealth of Massachusetts was still smack dab right there on the map.
But, not if you pay any attention to the roomful of International Association of Athletics Federation stats geeks who have ruled that the world’s greatest marathon—Boston—might as well not even exist. As you probably know by now, the pencil pushing stat guys who run these things have decided that the world best time of 2:03:02 set on the Boston course by Geoffrey Mutai doesn’t count. In other words: “No hoop.” Mutai's time doesn’t count as a world best or even merits an asterisk. Instead, it’s just another one of those pesky statistical anomalies that we should just as soon as forget ever happened. But I'm here to tell you it absolutely should count as a world best for one undeniable reason: Boston’s part of the world. It's called world best (or world record). Since Boston's on the planet, it should count. Simple as that. Since the marathon, I’ve listened to all the arguments against counting Mutai's time (or any Boston time for that matter) as a world best and none of them pass the smell test.
The two least convincing arguments why it shouldn’t count as a record are the two I’ve heard so often I’m on the point of gagging: Since Boston is one of those evil point-to-point course (rather than a loop), it’s much too advantageous. Add into the fact that’s it’s a downhill course which was made even faster by the ferocious tailwind that blew all day and it makes Boston a non-event.
The point-to-point argument carries no weight as it’s still 26.2 miles of running any way you slice it. Going from Hopkinton to downtown Boston isn’t any easier than if everyone had to run around in circles. (BTW: London and New York City, to name just two prominent marathons, are also point-to-point but within the IAAF's rule that mandates the start and finish lines can't be farther apart than 50 percent of the race distance. Got that?)
While it’s certainly true that Boston is technically a downhill course with a net elevation loss of 470 feet, there are plenty of tough uphills in the last 10 miles to balance things out. Plus, Boston is a deceptively difficult course, much slower than London, Berlin or Chicago. Also, Boston doesn’t allow pacers and the other majors do. Clearly, the tailwind pushed thousands to PRs and that same wind would not have been as a big deal if Boston had been a loop or out-and-back course. But so what? Typically, Boston Marathon weather sucks with all sorts of crosswinds, heat and glaring sun.
Boston used to count as a world best course, but in the mid-90s several top runners went to the Fontana Half Marathon in Southern California and ran sub-60 minute times on a course which plummeted almost entirely downhill. Good for them. But the times didn’t count and then the stats police got into the act and ruled that point-to-point and downhills courses and all the rest shouldn’t count for record purposes.
If you happened to PR in Boston, congrats. You earned it and you can go ahead and count it; the IAAF won't.
Which is part of a larger problem track and field and road racing has in this country where it rates somewhere in between roller derby and frisbee golf in the public consciousness. Here, at Boston was the perfect opportunity to generate gobs of attention from the American sports public with an eye-popping, record-setting time, but no sooner had Mutai crossed the finish line that the stat dorks threw a wet blanket on the entire race by trotting out their arcane formulas and reasons why it didn’t count. The following day, the IAAF stat corps once again demonstrated its total lack of reason by coming out with this scintillating news that all women's road records will now be split into two categories: Those set in mixed races (men and women running together) and women's-only race.
That's just great. And it’s precisely what’s wrong with running and why the entire sport is so screwed up that the general public can't relate to it or even bothers caring. For proof of that, all you need to do is go back into the history of the IAAF to see it has ruled all sprint and horizontal jump records set at altitude also won’t count because of less air resistance. (Mexico City is still on planet earth, just like Boston.) Left untouched by the IAAF are the women’s track world record. And that’s a joke as every single women's world track record is as tainted by performance drugs as Barry Bonds’ home run “record” is.
No wonder the public doesn't give a hoot about our sport of running which leads the world’s sports in one category: Esoterica. Only in running would the oldest, greatest marathon in the world have its tradition, history and records disparaged because of some absurd rulings.