NYRR hosted a good debate about whether the Boston Marathon course should be legal for world-record purposes. As it stands the course is not legal because it’s point-to-point and its net elevation loss exceeds the IAAF’s limits. We asked some of our coaches to weigh in and it looks like they all agree with the current rule. Jack thinks without last year’s extreme tailwind, times would have been up to 5 minutes slower.
Jack Daniels: Some years ago I calculated the benefit of the overall downhills of Boston and it was published in Runners World. I went as far as to calculate the time loss during various uphill segments and the gain of various downhill segments. I have a copy of that publication somewhere and will try to find it. Obviously when you see a picture of someone with long hair running Boston and their hair is being blown out in front of their face, they have a pretty good tailwind. I actually have data on the benefits of tailwinds of different velocities and headwinds of various velocities and no question headwinds hurt more than tailwinds help. Something I have always felt might be a good question to ask is what time do you think they would have run last year on Boston if the course had been run in the reverse direction — any guesses here? I would certainly think more than 5 minutes slower.
Mike Smith: I feel very strongly about this because I am a big fan of this sport and want to hold it to sound standards. The downhill isn’t my problem. It’s the point to point. Amby nailed it when he said “every 20 years”, that’s it: plenty of years you’ll have a cross wind, a head wind even, or no wind. But in April, 2011 you had 25-30 mpw SW winds on a point to point and the rest is history. And that isn’t even mentioning net elevation drop. Anyone who says “they still had to cover the distance” better be prepared to stand by any argument of what that means. You’re saying all that matters is you cover the distance, it doesn’t matter how. With aid of any kind it immediately negates time.
Thus I believe Boston is the greatest marathon on earth, with the richest history, with the most incredible crowds, it’s home to my Mass. Heroes Rodgers and Salazar, it’s home to some legendary battles. But it is not eligible for records. People want to so badly to say “I’ve run Boston and that shit is TOUGH!” because it certainly doesn’t feel aided. Any marathon is tough, especially throw in some decent hills from 16-18 miles. BUT, what we’re talking about is protecting the standards from which we derive records and all time lists. And those standards should be rock solid.
Alicia Shay: If there is a net downhill and the possibility for the majority of the race to be wind aided, it shouldn’t qualify for record. Anyone who lives in Flagstaff through the spring knows what a good tailwind can do for a workout! It’s crazy, you feel like your are floating even with 15-20 mph so I would imagine that you could maintain a lower percentage of VO2 max throughout the race, have less oxygen requirements and hold a faster pace at a lower level of effort.
Ann Alyanak: Boston is a challenging course and I don’t think the net drop in elevation is really that big of a benefit due to the other uphills. I don’t think it should be legal for record setting purposes though because it is point to point. I agree with Mike’s statements. If you have a tailwind for the majority of the race, it is going to be a huge advantage and we did see this last year. Boston is an amazing marathon but due to the nature of the course it should not be eligible for records.
Where do you stand?