Are standard Olympic distances relevant to trail racing? Should we be trying to emulate the classic road/track distances of 5k, 10k, half or full marathon?
THE CASES AGAINST SET DISTANCE RACES
- POOR ROUTE CHOICE – How often have we seen differences in start/finish location OR superfluous out-and-back loops in order to try and make a race a set distance. The most important aspect of a trail race is the quality of the route NOT the distance.
- INABILITY TO COMPARE TIMES – The reason behind the set race distance is that a runner on a track in New York can rightly compare his/her time with a runner in Berlin or Sydney, hence world or Olympic records can be set and subsequently broken, you are comparing like-for-like. This however does NOT apply to racing off-road, no two courses will cover the same terrain with the same elevation gain/loss in the same conditions. In fact, even if you were to run the same course on two different days then weather/ground conditions may make times incomparable. You cannot compare trail race times by distance, so why try and pigeonhole them in this way?
- LIMITING WHAT IS POSSIBLE – The first time you run an ultra marathon people will ask you whether you are ‘right in the head’ but why should this be? An ultra-marathon is defined as anything over marathon distance, life does not stop at 26.2 miles but conventional running wisdom dictates that we should take our shoes off and sit down when we do.
So next time you see a trail race advertised as 13k or 28 miles then assume the organisers have put route selection at the top of their priority lists!