06 Apr Manchester Marathon holds the key to a British marathon revival
Much has been written about the decline of British marathon running on this site and elsewhere in the media. The fact that this is being presented as ‘news’ today is quite baffling given the long road to mediocrity that the distance has taken in this country.
But we can stare at spreadsheets and write hand-wringing pieces about who is to blame all we want. That will not change the status quo and everyone will carry on feeling a little bit more depressed at the state of British running.
What needs to change? Nothing major, really. Our domestic spring focus just needs to get on a train at Euston and ride the West Coast Mainline up to Manchester (I suggest paying the extra for 1st Class – it makes all the difference). The Greater Manchester Marathon, now in its third year, is primed to revive the marathon in this country.
Having run the London Marathon myself (illegally – aged 17 in 2005, largely as a fun runner) I can testify to its phenomenal atmosphere and so can see the attraction. But the truth is that a Big City Marathon where the leaders are going through half-way close to 60 minutes has no relevance to the best Britain has to offer anymore (unless they’re pacing it). The winning Brit (this year excepted owing to Farah’s involvement) is usually lucky to be finishing inside the top-20 in the men’s race and is rarely challenging for a major placing in the women’s. Just as allowing Africans to run rough-shot over the AAAs 10,000m track races in the summer has made a mockery of that championship, the domestic marathon title is also totally devalued.
Meanwhile, up in Manchester, a cracking race is growing each year. The storylines develop as the race does. Dave Norman was denied his hat-trick of wins this year with twice runner-up Andi Jones taking the crown whilst Emily Wicks ran an impressive 2:38 to take the women’s title. Several others made impressive debuts at the distance.
Manchester is a major sporting city. A major contributor to the UK running scene – Tuesday nights at Stretford hold many a PB for athletes across the North of the UK. By all accounts, the course is fairly swift and the organisation akin to that of any other top race in the country.
Surely it is time to think about moving the AAAs Marathon Championship up to Manchester? Then British runners wouldn’t just be chasing times and a tin-pot (albeit quite a big one) crown. They’d be chasing a title that means something, that once again attracts the big names from across the country.
It is true that some would still opt for the glam and bigger money in London. Good luck to them. The key to success in the eighties was not money. It was the fact that guys and girls ran that little bit harder in pursuit of domestic rivals in a competitive race that wasn’t for 17th place. As the rivalry grows, so will the race and thus the standard of domestic British marathoners. And others will see the marathon as a genuinely competitive option post-track rather than a good ‘experience’ around the streets of London.
It is arguable that Manchester is organically growing into the biggest domestic marathon in the UK (I guess the Brighton Marathon organisers might have something to say about that) but surely the powers that be could help it along the way. No doubt the clubs would quickly alter their focus if they knew that a national title (a genuinely competitive one) was up for grabs too.
While we’re at it, the team competition can do with a revamp regardless. We can do away with this daft system of ‘total time’ and disqualifying athletes for wearing the incorrect shade of turquoise on the logo on their vest. Make it a simple; easy to understand and exciting to follow. You could even flog an ‘app’ where Team Managers can track their athletes throughout the race, complete with an ‘As It Stands’ table. And for goodness sake, award the medals on the day.
Want to breathe life into British marathon running? Make the races mean something again.