Half Marathons- now and then

The Dartford Half Marathon (held yesterday) is , I believe, the oldest continuously run race in Kent, having started in 1977. As such, it is fascinating to compare the results of the 2011 race with past years, for example the 1981 race held 30 years ago this Summer.

The first surprise is that the number of runners is virtually the same (I thought the field would have grown considerably). In 2011, there were 693 finishers; in 1981 there were 715.

As expected, the composition of the field has changed markedly; female and veteran runners make up a far greater percentage of the finishers in 2011 than they did 30 years ago.

However, the really astonishing contrast is in the times at the front end of the field. In 2011, no runner finished in under 70 minutes, whereas in 1981 there were 19.

When you compare the numbers of runners who finished in under 80 minutes, the respective figures are even more extraordinary. 6 runners in 2011... compared with an incredible 166 in 1981.

I know it's only one race, but it does seem like another world.


  • I think you've found yourself a reason to start a new spreadsheet!
  • What might have an impact might be the number of races held. If the information is avaliable, I'd look at the geographical spread of the fast runners. More races might dilute the field, a known faster course might cause a change in the distribution of fast runners across the avaliable races.

    Ok, the 2 years you chose are different, but is that a greadual trend, or are there breaks in the data? A 2 point analyses can be easy to do, but not tell the entire tale.

  • they completely changed the route in 1986   image

    I dont know if standards have dropped massively but fields are diluted by the incredible choice of races runners now have.  Who focuses on the half these days anyonw? With cheap flights people have access to full marathon nearly every week of the year. Id be interested to see if theres evidence of standards dropping in full marathon and 10k

  • Curly45Curly45 ✭✭✭

    Standards have declined massively - the hump on the bell curve has moved much further along the tiime axis. The number of races is actually decreasing (particpants increasing due to very massive events like GNR).

    Even in 10 years standards have droppped hugely, you can measure this by anlysing the London Marathon results for championship runners and what placing a specific time would have got you in the championship.

    The reasons for this are much more complex though. The number of women at a decent standard is very low indeed (hence why the women's ranking times aren't equivalent to mens), so therefore if there are more women does it mean that they are dragging the standards down? Not entirley, because mens results have got worse too as well as numbers of men remaining roughly constant. 

    Could it be because runners are now starting much later in life in general so dont have the time to get decent? Again, how does this explain all of the very very good V35 and overs?

    Could it be because the level of general distraction in life is quite high now so runners dont have time to put in the training volumes? Or that magazines promoting running saying you only need to run 3 times a week to be amazing are causing runners to not train enough?

    So many possible reason (and its likely to be a combination of all of them), but basically training volumes are lower so times are slower. Fixing this and analysing why training volumes have dropped is a huge study. Have fun!

  • I agree that you should be wary of drawing conclusions from just one race. Having run the race on Sunday, I was curious to compare this year's results with past years (Dartford is unusual in still having results from the late 70's/early 80's available online).

    Agree with Curly- the reasons are likely to be many and complex. However, the general reduction in the number of runners setting fast times at the front of the field seems to be undeniable.

    As the vast majority of those capable of sub-80 (and certainly sub-70) are likely to be male and in the 20 to 35 age group, there does seem to have been a steep decline in the number of runners in that category prepared to treat running as a serious, competitive sport rather than running for fitness or as part of a general, healthy lifestyle.
  • Interesting analysis David - and as Curley45 pointed out it is also applicable to the LM and any other long established races.

    Being an ol' timer whose middle/long racing days cover the period from 1980 - 1988 (and I was old then!!) and more recently from 2005 on I was struck on my return to racing how much the age profile in fields had changed.  

    I think you have hit the nail on the head in your last paragraph - there does seem to have been a steep decline in the number of runners in that category prepared to treat running as a serious, competitive sport rather than running for fitness or as part of a general, healthy lifestyle.

    I also believe that there are much fewer HM around now than in the '80's - the focus is more on 10K's which fit into your statement as people can get round a 10K on a training regime that fits in with a general, healthy lifestyle rather than the greater effort needed for a HM.  The much greater participation of women ( a good thing!!) of all ages but particularly in the younger age categories in such events tends to reinforce that observation.

  • Thanks Torque Steer. Agree, it's great that there are far more female and veteran runners entering races nowadays- the (admittedly limited) results from the Dartford Half do suggest that it was mainly young, male, committed club runners who raced in those days.

    On another point, it does make you wonder whether all the advances in shoe technology, Garmins, training plans etc etc have actually made a blind bit of difference in helping us run faster !

Sign In or Register to comment.