Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Tue, 8 Aug 2000 09:15:23 -0400

A Better Half

(from RC 316)

The half-marathon is a fine race with a terrible name. It is demeaning (the only race known as a fraction of the real thing) and misleading (some runners think they can predict their marathon by doubling their "half" time).

I've long thought the shorter race needed a better name. But what?

David Martin and Roger Gynn's new book, The Olympic Marathon, supplies a possibility. They map each of the Games courses, starting with the original.

The race took its name from the town where the 1896 race started, Marathon. So why not rename the half-marathon for the town at that point on that course. I propose calling the 13.1-mile race the "Pikerni," knowing that the idea won't catch fire.

Blame the British for confusing a perfectly logical event. The first Olympic marathon race was 40 kilometers in length, or slightly less than 25 miles -- four times 10-K, eight times 5-K.

Then in 1908, to please the royals, the course was extended to 42.2-K or 26.2 miles. Odd as the distance is by metric and English measurements, it eventually stuck as the standard distance.

We can't reverse almost a century of history and return to the original 40. But we could honor the past by racing more often at half that distance.

Running 20-K's in place of halves would erase unrealistic comparisons with the marathon. The only risk in a switch to the slightly shorter race is that it might be called a "double 10-K."

AFTER READING the suggestions above, published in my newsletter, Des O'Neill correctly asked, "So why Pikerni? If that was halfway on the original Marathon to Athens 40-K course, wouldn't it have been at 20-K?

"Better you should get a map of the English countryside and pick a point halfway between Windsor Great Park and the 1908 finish line in Wembley Stadium. You'll probably find some formerly rustic little hamlet with a typically English name. How about that old favorite of the music hall comedians, Much Buggering in the Marsh?"

Cathy Troisi wrote that the replacement 20-K would be no improvement. " 'Double 10-K' sounds like the name of a dude ranch. That could easily be interchanged with 'Quad-5'."


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