What slows the marathoners?

At the Marathon des deux rives, in the first half of the 2000s, the average time was 4:02. So, if the popularity of jogging has literally exploded for 15 years and people are in better shape, how long does it take now for the average runner to cover the 42 km of the SSQ Marathon (the new name of the Quebec City Marathon)? Under 4 hours, for sure, you say? Maybe even under 3h50?
This seems the most logical at first glance. But the opposite happens: from 2012 to 2017, the average time was 4:12, 10 minutes longer than 15 years ago. More and more people are running, but, surprisingly, marathoners are getting slower …

And it’s not just a local aberration: the RunRepeat.com website has analyzed the results of more than 28,000 races (5km, 10km, half marathons and marathons) that have been held in the United States since 20 years, and their conclusions are very clear. “The average American runner is getting slower and slower in the four major distances.” In 1996, marathons in the United States finished their run in about 4:15 on average; in 2016, they took between 25 and 30 minutes more.

Same thing in Australia, according to RunRepeat, where the average marathon stretched more than half an hour between 2000 and 2016.

So what’s going on? This is debatable in the small world of cross-country running, but it seems that several different planets have aligned themselves. “Every explanation has its merits, but what I see in the middle is that there are fewer sub-elite runners, that is, people who were on university circuits, example, and who do not continue competitions once their studies are completed. It happens more than in the 80s that the rider will decide to put the training aside to focus on his career or his family. Before, people continued longer to put the number of hours it takes to continue to perform, “said Felix-Antoine Lapointe, head coach of the Rouge et Or Athletics Club.

In short, life has accelerated, both parents work more often than not and there is not enough time to “perform” in competitions. Moreover, the sacrifices that the brave few must impose to marry work, family and marathon-under-2:30 testify (see following text).

And at the same time that the long distance race was losing high caliber athletes, Mr. and Mrs. Everybody started to run massively, without necessarily having the same talents and the same motivations.

Recreational runners

“It’s really super positive that the race is so popular,” says Lapointe. [… But this brings in] more and more recreational runners who do not necessarily train with performance goals. Often, the goal of these riders is not to finish the race with a specific time, but simply to complete the race. ”

The same goes for Jacques Mainguy, a pioneer in cross-country running in the region – he is 68 years old and 65 marathons to his credit, in addition to having co-founded the club La Foulée and organized races – which has saw the small world of long distance change over time.

“In my early years, what was striking was that the majority of people running were doing it to break records for performance. And the average age was about 25-30 years old. […] So obviously, at the time, there was no time to qualify for the Boston marathon, and there was no chip to follow you step by step. But if you finished your race in over three hours, there was no one left to take your time, everyone was gone! ”

By comparison, the SSQ Marathon has a time limit that varies between six and seven hours, we are told by Gestev, who organizes the event.

In addition, the age and sex of participants may slow down the average. Riders who register in distance races are older than before, on average, and have many more women than before. “Before, on distances like 5 and 10 km, we had around 10 to 15% of women. Now it’s the majority, “says Mainguy.

RunRepeat researchers believe that it is the general physical condition of Western populations that is at stake, including the fact that a growing proportion of adults are obese.



Anthony Larouche is a teacher and new dad. Like many parents, he finds that his life often resembles an endurance race. Except that his is both literally and figuratively …

Former rider of the Rouge et Or, Mr. Larouche is one of the rare among his former teammates who maintained a training pace as rigorous as before: he runs the marathon in 2:24, which still places him among the Quebec elite . But the sacrifices to be made are considerable.

“For two or three years, we continued to train together, but there were some who were injured, another who became a dad and decided to stop. Often it’s because of lack of motivation because it requires too much sacrifice, “he says.

Training for a marathon involves booking blocks of three hours to run forty kilometers. And doing it on a competitive basis involves doing it multiple times.

“In terms of race, we talk about 12 to 13 hours a week. But in terms of preparation and recovery, it’s more than that, but you have to take the time to do it, otherwise you get hurt, “says Larouche. Sometimes, he illustrates, it is his wife who goes to get their daughter in her place at the daycare. At other times, he will take her to his mother’s house for a nap and run away.

“Whenever I have a hole, I have to put in a workout and it’s very tiring. When things are going well and you are doing well, the motivation is there, but when things are not going well, it’s more difficult to motivate yourself. In my case, as I am always more or less at the limit of what I am able to give, the taste for letting go quickly.

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