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.

  • http://www.brightonmarathon.co.uk Tim Hutchings

    What an extraordinary headline! Yes, I’m the founder of the Brighton Marathon, so let me declare an interest and yes we are mentioned in this article. But because we’ve worked so hard to establish our marathon here on the south coast as a viable alternative to London and one that ticks as many boxes as possible, including those raised in this article, I felt compelled to write. We have pursued an agenda for five years now, of high delivery quality so that we can genuinely say we give our runners a great experience and I think it’s working; runners feedback is positive and the event is growing and developing, not just numerically.

    Putting to one side for a moment the disgraceful organisational farce of two years ago in Manchester (personally I felt that a license to the organiser that day should not have been renewed – and I can tell you it most definitely would not have been here in Brighton!) – I’m not sure that the implied strategy in this article, would work.

    Using none other than Richard Nerurkar, we have tried very hard at this race, to attract the top British athletes with financial incentives and offers of pacemakers. The attraction of finishing in say the top 6-8 here compared with 18th or lower in London (and spending most of the race alone), being paced, getting incredible support along the fast route we’ve devised, has not pulled many top Brits in. We feel like giving up on that policy sometimes, such is the extent of the rejection from the (approx) sub 2:25 men and sub 2:40 women that we’ve approached.

    We will persevere but it is a thankless task for Richard at times. Good luck Manchester (even though I was livid at the shambles two years ago).

    Tim Hutchings
    Brighton Marathon Founder

    • http://eightlane.org/members/hammurabi/ john bicourt

      Without looking at the relative merits between the organisation, course and “experience” offered by Manchester and Brighton, one thing is very clear. The next best Brits (of those not in London) almost all chose to run Manchester as witnessed by the results and a great race at the front end too. I wonder why? Could it be that most prefer to run a true British race against each other with the crowds and media focused on them rather than one with the inevitable Kenyans/Ethiopians stealing all the attention and taking the prize money? More than likely, I would suggest, and as the results prove, Manchester clearly is the place for a British marathon revival.
      I am also surprised at the contention that Brighton offers a viable alternative to London? That’s like saying a Ford Escort is a viable alternative to a Ferrari, or a holiday in Brighton is a viable alternative to one on the Cote d’Azur, good though both alternatives in themselves may be!
      Brighton’s error is to imagine that bringing in a few Africans to run fast somehow creates credibility and will attract other top runners? It might impress a few local sports writers and perhaps some of the Council dignitaries but the mass of the public and all those running in the event couldn’t care less. So why waste the money and the opportunity to attract more of the top British runners not doing London? Far better for the crowd to applaud and appreciate when British runners achieve wins rather than the usual itinerant Kenyans and Ethiopians seen cleaning up at every money marathon in the world. No criticism of them of course, they will take their opportunities like anyone else but this is about a British marathon revival and for that to happen any British marathon has to be worth it for the Brits to turn out.
      Manchester, have got it right at the moment and if they can gather sufficient funding/sponsorship to put up really attractive, British only, prize money and time bonuses then the revival can certainly happen from which perhaps we may see a few more 2.10’s and for the women perhaps a couple of sub 2.30’s?

  • EwenM

    The key point for me in the article is getting the UK national championships moved away from the London marathon. It’s the old story of getting us all to train and race each other rather than everyone running different races. To do that the governing body needs to get onside as well as the organisers of UK marathons. Maybe a home countries marathon race included in the program. Is there an inter-counties marathon championships? Of course, that sort of thing requires investment and given our governing body’s focus on medals, is unlikely to be easy to find.

  • runnery

    I ran Brighton a couple of years ago as an alternative to London under the impression that there would be several ‘paced’ groups to help British athletes trying to achieve reasonable standards, I think there was supposed to be help for athletes aiming to run 2.13/14, 2.17/18 and 2.20/21. I was also told I’d get accommodation and travel as I’d run under a certain time for a half.
    Closer to the date I was told I could get ‘reduced cost’ hotel accommodation. There was no help with pacing for anyone other than the leaders, so I ran a very lonely race as did all of the other Brits. Where the promised pace makers were I don’t know.
    Where Manchester is getting it right as by offering an opportunity to the better British runners to try and win a marathon on a fast course with good support. That can only be positive and I would imagine leads to better performances, running to win is very different to running for 12th or 13th place. Brighton seems to be following a very different route where the aim seems to be to get the winning time down to a comparable level with other major marathons in order to get ‘Bronze’, ‘Silver’ or ‘Gold’ status or suchlike. I can see that this offers the best opportunity for the organisers to move the event on with possible TV coverage, bigger sponsorship deals etc… but it doesn’t offer the best opportunity for Brits. The photograph of a big bunch of relatively unknown Africans steaming up the Lewes road painted a very different picture to Manchester. Manchester is fostering a very successful relationship between the lead runners (many of them local athletes), the local community and the media.
    As for safety and organisation, I was a spectator at the first Brighton Marathon and it was pretty chaotic, particularly along the lawns and at several cross over points.

  • Jooligan

    I’m sorry Tim you’re wasting money inviting relatively unknown Africans & focusing on improving the course record which is meaningless to most people. Your strategy wasn’t even successful in the women’s race. I’ve run Brighton for the last 2 years & London 3 times since 2007. Brighton is a great alternative to London for your club/fun runner but it is never going to be able to compete with it at the Elite level. I looked at the results in Manchester as a club mate was running & was pleased to see British names I recognised winning. Having occasionally won a local race or two I know the difference between that & a top 20 finish. There is no substitute for winning.
    Oh & organisation: no chip time for many of us elite starters (51 of the top 100 finishers) because you issued the 10K runners with the same numbers was not very professional; number pick-up at the Expo for the Elite start wasn’t signed at all & I could have helped myself to any envelope as they were readily accessible; goody bag for the first 2,000 when you know you’ll have 8,000+ runners?!

  • Justin

    Recently ran Brighton on the (local) Elite Start , having also done so in previous years at New York and London. I’ve never run Manchester so can’t(and don’t see the point in ) compare, but I will say that Brighton was superbly organised in all aspects, with pacemakers for several groups, and every bit as professional as the other 2 biggies in terms of catering to that vital sub elite level of runner.