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Boston Marathon Course Yields Slower Elite Times

Date: 
09/13/2017 - 12:05

While the Boston Marathon course is considered advantageous — and ineligible for records — due to its net elevation loss and point-to-point format, researchers have found times there to be slower than those on other World Marathon Majors courses, including London, Berlin, Chicago and New York.

The study, led by researcher Philip Maffetone and published by PLOS One, cites race times of the top-10 male and top-10 female finishers of all races in the WMM for the years 2005-2014. London and Berlin were shown to be the first and second fastest courses, respectively, for both men and women, while the top finishing times of men and women at Boston were shown to be typically slower than all other venues.

In 2011, Geoffrey Mutai ran a 2:03:03 winning time at Boston. At the time it was the fastest marathon ever run, but not eligible as a world record. The Boston Marathon has been ineligible for records since 1990 due to the International Association of Athletics Federation’s rules.

The men’s world record time was broken three years later in Berlin by Dennis Kimetto who ran 2:02:57. Berlin is the second fastest WMM course and Kimetto enjoyed near perfect race-day weather.

Berlin, London and Chicago have a history of the most number of sub-2:05 finish times for men and sub-2:20 times for women, and the most number of world-record times, with Berlin having a much greater history of these finishes. Given this data, researchers concluded that any of these marathon venues could be considered more advantageous than Boston for faster times.

Researchers also established that weather could produce an unfair advantage on any given day on any course, and appears to be a more significant factor impacting marathon performancesthan course topography.

Excluding weather factors, the relationship between course elevations and finish times does not indicate the Boston route poses an unfair advantage, they said. In fact, times there are on average slower than other WMM venues, with a higher race-to-race variability than the other races.

With both the fastest times for men and women, and the most world record times, the courses in Berlin and London appear to provide the greatest advantage for faster times in WMM venues.

Authors of the study suggest rules which pertain to weather — rather than topography — would be better at eliminating “fast” courses from world-record eligibility, and that rules which pertain to course topography may exclude courses where these features have no significant impact on finish times.

The new PLOS One study is titled “The Boston Marathon versus the World Marathon Majors” by Philip B. Maffetone, Rita Malcata, Ivan Rivera and Paul B. Laursen.

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