British Distance Running

I heard recently that the strength in depth of British distance running (Mrs Radcliffe aside) has dropped dramatically. I was told that in the very early days of the London Marathon over 100 British male runners finished in under 2.20, in 2002 this had dropped to 4. Indeed in my local races the vets seem to claim a disproportianate share of the top placings (congrats of course).
Yet every year we hear of record entries into London and the Great North run. Is running enjoying a renewed boom? Or are we seeing a shift away from elite competition and towards "trendy" races with loads of c-list celebrities and a "lets get on the TV and brag at work" attitude.


  • There is plenty of empirical and anecdotal evidence which shows that the standard of distance running in this country has dropped massively. For example in 1969 33 men ran under 2:25 for the marathon. This figure increased year on year till 1983, peaking at 229, then declining annually. The 2001 figure was 25. I'm sure the stats for 2002 will be just as low.

    From 800m up, from club level to elite level the standard is nowhere near what it was 20 years ago.

    The reasons are many...
  • Very little time in British schools is spent on P.E. lessons, and what bit of time there is, is spent playing football.
    Also, the media are partly to blame. They print page upon page about the game in the national press every day, but athletics gets very little press coverage.
    Athletics is often seen as elitest and unsexy. It's the job of every single runner to try to do their best to change this misconception.
  • Running has become an older person's sport, with fewer young people becoming involved (especially youths/young men). It's an unavoidable fact that your running potential diminishes with age - even marathon runners peak in their late 20s and early 30s.

    Even amongst older runners, training hard isn't very popular, nor is serious competition - most runners seem to be content with recreational racing, rather than seriously trying to win or place in their age group.
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