IAAF performs marathon u-turn

In my experience of running marathons, if you are going in the right direction then performing a u-turn is generally a bad idea – you will find yourself running against the tide of people. However if you find yourself running the wrong way then a u-turn might be the best course of action. In the case of the IAAF they made a decision that Paula Radcliffe’s world record for the marathon of 2 hours 15.25 minutes achieved at the London Marathon in 2003 would be down-graded to a ‘world best’ (you can read all about that here) and found themselves running head-on against the tide of public opinion. Now it appears that they have performed a tactical u-turn and might now be able to focus on tackling all the more important issues that affect our sport.

This is how ESPN reported the news released by Associated Press:

The IAAF has decided to let Paula Radcliffe keep her marathon world record from 2003, after previously saying it would reduce one of athletics’ outstanding performances to a world best because the English runner set the mark in a race with men.

IAAF Council member Helmut Digel told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the governing body will keep the mark in the books, despite an August decision to only recognize records achieved in all-women races from now on.

You can read the full text here.

No news is good news?

On Thursday last week I was invited to the official opening of the Nike store in Westfield Stratford, on the Olympic park being built for the Games in 2012. The added draw was that Paula Radcliffe would be there, talking about running and giving tips and discussing her training and of course, discussing her meeting with IAAF president Lamine Diack to discuss the recent ruling that means that as of January 2012 Paula’s world record of 2:15:35 will be down-graded to a ‘worlds best’ from it’s current world record, because the race was a mixed race.

History stands

On arriving at the new store, everyone there was given a ‘History Stands’ t-shirt and we were able to nose around the very impressive new retail space, while a DJ played. But it was clear to me, that everyone was there to hear Paula being interviewed by Charlie Webster. And we didn’t have to wait long.

As I would expect, the message that Paula delivered from the IAAF was that they are sympathetic to the points she made and that they would look into the issue. Bodies like the IAAF rarely reverse decisions quickly or publicly, but my thoughts about this ruling are pretty clear;

  • if pacers are not allowed in women’s races then surely they have to be banned in men’s races too?
  • there doesn’t seem to be much compelling evidence that being in a mixed race actually provides assistance
  • the vast majority of big marathons have mixed fields which makes them ineligible for a world record attempt, so this limits women’s opportunities to run a world record
  • Paula didn’t use pace-makers. She did race men in the field, but at no time was she running behind a shield of pacers or anything like that
  • the ruling affects many more women than just Paula Radcliffe – for example the US women’s record is currently 2:19:36 by Deena Kastor at the London Marathon (not in a women’s-only race) and if the ruling were applied across the board, the record would suddenly belong to Joan Benoit Samuelson who ran 2:24:52 at the 1984 Olympic Games.

Paula Radcliffe on running in a group

I think that like many of the people at the event, I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t more positive news from the meeting with the IAAF, but when you have a super-star like Paula Radcliffe on stage being interviewed by a knowledgeable interviewer and runner like Charlie Webster, who was sporting trainers with ‘Break 3:30’ embroidered on the tongues, to remind her of her next target, there is always going to be some good stuff to take away.

Charlie asked Paula for any advice that she had for marathon runners who are starting out on training for the marathon and I was really pleased that Paula raised the subject of finding a training group, whether that is an athletics club or a group of friends. I have written about the value of running in a group which you can read about here and Radcliffe also talked about the importance of running in a group as the nights draw in from a safety point of view. Indeed after the talking was done there was an opportunity for the assembled crowd to go for a NikeTownRunners blast lead by a team from the store, which happens every Monday and Thursday and includes women-only groups, which I think is likely to be quite popular.

Paula’s focus on the Olympic Games 2012

Moreover I was delighted that Paula talked so positively about her experience in Berlin and the surgery that she had just afterwards. It was really great to see the fire in Paula’s eyes when she talked about the decision she had to make mid-race to back-off from challenging the eventual winner Florence Kiplagat who finished in 2:19:44. Paula has her eyes on the gold medal in London and I am delighted to see that she is prepared to do whatever it takes to make sure she is on the start line in the best shape possible. Can you imagine if she runs a world record that day… what would the IAAF say to that?