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Posted: April 12, 2021:  

(RRW) Athletics: The 50-K Should Be A World Athletics Record Distance

From David Monti, @d9monti
© 2021 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved.

(12-Apr) -- Tomorrow at an undisclosed location in Oregon, 2018 Boston Marathon champion Des Linden will attempt to run the fastest-ever time for 50 kilometers on the road by a woman at the Brooks Running 50-K and Marathon. The mark she hopes to beat is 3:07:20 set by Britain's Aly Dixon at the IAU World 50-K Championships in Brasov, Romania, on September 1, 2019. Linden is widely expected to better Dixon's mark which, by one popular conversion formula, is equivalent to a 2:36:13 marathon, nearly 14 minutes slower than Linden's best time of 2:22:38.

PHOTO: Des Linden winning the 2018 Boston Marathon (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)

"I'm fully expecting her to smash my time to pieces," said Dixon speaking to Yiannis Christodoulou on a YouTube interview yesterday. "She's a 2:22 runner, so it could be quite a soft challenge for her, really."

Of course, as in any long distance race anything can happen, from bad blisters to stomach cramps. Nothing is assured.

But wait.

One thing IS assured, actually. Linden won't be setting a World Athletics record no matter what her time. That's because the 50-kilometer distance is not recognized by the world governing body for athletics and road running as a world record distance. Instead, it's one of 18 disciplines relegated to the second-tier "world best" category like the 150-meter dash, 300-meter hurdles, and 35-kilometer race walk. In fact, the only ultramarathon distance which is part of the World Athletics records list is the 100-K.

"I'm surprised that there aren't more marathoners that do this," said American ultrarunner Camille Herron who has won world titles at 50-K, 100-K and 24 hours. "It's not that much farther. "There are so many 2:20-something marathoners who could try for this."

It's time for that to change, and World Athletics should consider elevating the 50-K to the official world records list. Here's why.

First, it's less than five miles longer than the marathon (7.805 kilometers to be exact). It's a very achievable ultra distance, a great next goal for those looking for another challenge beyond the marathon. Making it a world record distance could generate more interest in trying the distance by runners of all abilities, perhaps opening the door for more event organizers to offer the distance. Yesterday's Canberra Marathon had a 50-K, and other marathon organizers could add it to their race festivals which usually include several distances anyway.

Second, the world's best marathon runners have no incentive to move up to the 50-K because the financial incentives decline, precipitously, from the marathon to the 50-K. There is no 50-K race in the world with a big prize money purse or an appearance fee budget, never mind one that is even as rich as a second tier marathon (the 56-kilometer Two Oceans Marathon in South Africa comes closest). If the distance was elevated to world record status, there would be a greater incentive for race organizers to stage elite 50-K's on certified courses and offer bonuses for world records. Such events would hold greater interest for media and fans if a bonafide world record was possible.

"There's not much money to be made in ultrarunning," Herron admitted, at least from race organizers. "Most of the money comes from (personal) sponsors."

Third, by making the 50-K a world record distance there would be a greater incentive for race organizers to hold their events at a higher technical level, meeting all of the requirements for course certification, sanctioning, officiating, drug testing and other conditions that are met by major marathons and other high level road races. Those quality improvements would also be beneficial for runners at all levels who participate.

Fourth, the 50-K distance is already recognized as a national record distance by most countries. In the United States, the USATF-ratified women's record for 50-K dates all the way back to 1983 when Janis Klecker ran 3:13:51 in Tallahassee, Fla. While all USATF records must make it through a stiff ratification process, drug testing is not required right now for the 50-K because it is not a World Athletics record distance. That would change if the distance was elevated to world record status.

Fifth, if setting a world record were possible for 50-K there would be a greater incentive for race organizers to hold national championships at the distance. Holding national championships at a high level hinges on getting cash sponsorships, and that's more difficult when the 50-K is considered a less important distance because of it's lack of world record status.

Finally, the 50-K has a proud history. Athletes have been running it seriously since the 1970's. In 2019, the last full year of competition before the pandemic, Race Results Weekly tracked a dozen different 50-K races in seven different countries, including the International Association of Ultrarunners World 50-K Championships where Dixon set her best time. With runners always looking for a new challenge, there is plenty of room for that number to grow. There's no logistical reason why there can't be big-city 50-K's with thousands of runners like there are for the marathon.

I wish Des Linden the best of luck tomorrow, and I hope that the next athlete who tries to run the world's fastest 50-K on the road will be able to set an official World Athletics record. What a great thing that would be for the sport of athletics.

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