An explanation for the IAAF’s new no-male-pacer rule is that it was instigated by a new record in the HM (from The Salem News):

    The IAAF said it became concerned after Mary Keitany of Kenya set the women’s half-marathon world record in 1:05:50 in February; Keitany was paced by a man and beat the previous record by 35 seconds, according to the Times. An IAAF spokesman said the governing body feels there is too much of a difference in the times set in races paced by men and those set in women-only events

In the end, though, as a number of commmentators here said, Paula Radcliffe (and Mary Keitany in her half) ran the race. If women don’t have a problem with what I posted last time, why should I?

For the marathon, the reality is that there are six majors for women, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, New York. [Edited: I got Amsterdam and Rotterdam confused. Amsterdam, though, is pretty quick so it probably belongs in this group as well.] That is, the five World Marathon Majors and Rotterdam Amsterdam. (Tokyo may be added to this list.) These, in turn, break down into two categories. Races (Boston and New York). Time trials (the rest). Boston and New York have separate starts for elite women. No pacers (male or female). They are easily more interesting than the others. In Boston the last 3 years we’ve had a slow strategic race, a race in which Kim Smith tried to Benoit the field, and a three women cat-and-mouse game. Great stuff. (And also good quality on the men’s side.) Indeed, is there anything more exciting in sport than what happens when the elites hit First Avenue?

The other races can be memorable. What happens when the pacers fade away? You have racing and you have a fast, possible world-record challenging pace. The pacers, though, detract from the excitement. Smith, or Hall, off the front at Boston.

The reality is that anyone on a list of candidates for a world record will be running one of these six races (or maybe Paris or Tokyo). To me this tempers the reality that most marathons are mixed, i.e., they don’t have a women’s only race. Those of the six that don’t have women’s only races, such as Chicago, could add them. That 95% or even more of all marathons don’t have all-women sections is not a major objection. You’re not getting a world record at Marine Corps, excellent as that race may be. It would, though, be more of an issue for HMs and shorter road races.

The reality is also, though, that there are not many women who can run through a HM at marathon world-record pace while there are plenty of men who can do that for men. “Plenty” may be too much, but there are enough. Witness Chicago and Berlin. So while in theory it shouldn’t matter, in reality it does. What those in my line of work refer to as de facto versus de jure. To say it would have been fine for Paula Radcliffe or Mary Keitany to have had a woman pacing her is to ignore this reality.

Do away with pacers? Putting aside the difficulty of having entrants who “happen to take the lead” and who “happen to drop out” at 25K or whatever, like it or not pacers have a long history in the sport. Roger Bannister had two when he broke four minutes. When Radcliffe ran her 2:15 in a women’s elite race Dave Bedford put male pacers in. Elite women in Chicago have their personal (male) pacers.

Unlike some, I don’t think the IAAF rule has no rationale basis. I think it is meant to force the hands of races like Chicago and London to do what New York and Boston do. As New York and especially Boston have shown, you can have very fast races with women racing against women. But Chicago and London and Berlin and Rotterdam Amsterdam exist for speed and they’re not going to take the chance of a slow tactical race. The number’s the thing.

If you’re going to allow pacers for men, in the end I think you have to allow pacers for women and if you have pacers for women they have to be men.

Was anyone uncomfortable with 2:15:25 being the women’s world record? I wasn’t. I’m not. Let it stand.

And this allows me to avoid the issues of the retroactive application of the rule and to the what-about-age-group-records? question.

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