Rand: Marathon isn't equal test in kilometers

  • Updated: October 17, 2012 - 6:57 AM

2DAY'S 2 CENTS Miles vs. kilometers

A simple conversion tells us that 26.2 miles is equal to roughly 42.2 kilometers.

In terms of the physical realm, those are the exact same distances. You could stretch out a tape measure and prove it.

In the mental realm, they are not the same distances. To prove this, you need to do two things: run a marathon in the United States and then run one in Canada.

Or, you could take our word for it. After running Grandma's Marathon in June and the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon this past weekend, it is painfully obvious there is a major difference.

Strange? Yes. True? Absolutely.

Here's what happens (or at least what happened in those two marathons): Once you reach a certain distance, it becomes less about the miles and more about the milestones. Marathoners tend to hit some sort of physical "wall" at a certain point, often around mile 20. From that point on, finishing is very much a head game.

In a marathon measured in miles, such as Grandma's, there are typically only a handful of milestones left once the physical pain sets in. As long as you are accustomed to miles being your distance markers, the will can take over and push you to the finish.

Strangely, we thought kilometers would actually be a boon in the late stages of the race. Sure, there would be more milestones -- but they would be closer together, making the sense of accomplishment that much greater and pushing the legs toward a big finish.

Wrong. When you see kilometer marker "27," a foreign number unless you have done a race longer than a marathon, this realization kicks in: there are FIFTEEN marks left to hit before the blessed 42.2 are complete. And as you run those final 15K, with legs getting heavy, there really isn't much of a mental difference between a mile and a kilometer.

This doesn't entirely explain why our marathon time was almost a full hour slower in Toronto as opposed to Duluth. The goal in Toronto was "fun," as much as that is possible. We ran the whole way with a friend who didn't exactly adhere to a rigorous training program. And, at around kilometer 37, we stopped and bought cheeseburgers at McDonald's.

But the weather was pretty much the same. The training was mostly the same. The in-race mental grind, though, was not even close.

A marathon measured in kilometers wins that by a mile.


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