Japan has one of the most extraordinary running cultures on the planet, unlike anything I’ve ever come across. Thousands of professional runners compete for corporate teams in some of the most competitive races in the world. The 135-mile Ekiden Relay Race is the nation’s premier sporting event. The legendary ‘Marathon Monks’ run a thousand marathons in a thousand days in their quest for spiritual enlightenment.
A recently published report from the website RunRepeat.com found that American road race results are slower than ever before. The report looked at more than 34 million U.S. road race results between 1996 and 2016, the largest analysis of its kind. The only ones not getting slower are the top elite runners.
“Average times are slowing because more and more races are emphasizing their social aspects,” says revered race statistician, Ken Young. “They seek to attract recreational runners and walkers. Look at the race websites. You can find all sorts of social media links, party details and merchandise for sale, but it’s hard to find the race results.”
The RunRepeat researchers ultimately wanted to see if the trend in deteriorating American health is reflected in running race finish times. The analytics successfully disproved several frequently used arguments including presumptions that increased race popularity, age/gender demographics or the invasion of more walking enthusiasts were culpable for the massive backslide in performance.
The question remains however; with the influx of more and more scientific training, wearable technology, modern lifestyles and dietary habits, why exactly have average marathon times declined so drastically in this millennium?
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