The importance of length… of races. Obviously.

Never make the mistake of asking me what my fastest 10k race time is. Because the answer isn’t quite as simple as you’d think.

Since you didn’t ask… if you look at the results sheet, the fastest I’ve run a 10k race in is 40m 57s. Which I’d be very happy with. Except there’s a catch. Because according to my Garmin watch, the fastest I’ve run 10k in is 40m 16s. The catch? I set both times in the same event. Eh?

Here’s the thing: the course for the 10k race I did – and I know it was a 10k race, because it had 10k in the title, and the race instructions said the route was 10k – wasn’t actually 10k long. According to my Garmin, it was 10.18k. And that extra 180 metres explains the 41s difference between the 10k personal record time on my Garmin from that event and my official race time.

Does that matter? At one level, not really. Everyone who did that course ran that extra 180 metres, so everyone faced the same challenge. And because I was wearing a GPS watch, I also know how fast I ran a 10k chunk in.

On the other hand, it is a bit annoying that my fastest 10k time isn’t recorded for posterity on an official results sheet. And yes, that is silly, because it’s not like anyone other than me is scouring race results and analysing my finish times.

Mostly though, it’s just a bit annoying. When you enter a race labelled as a 10k you expect it to last 10k. It allows you, broadly at least, to compare your time to other races of the same length.

And this isn’t just me complaining about having to run an extra 180 metres: it’s probably more annoying when a race is too short. For a start, you have the same sense that your ‘official’ time isn’t strictly comparable to other events, but it also gives rise to the ‘phantom PB’. An example: I’ve done a 10k race at one venue four or five times. On two occasions, road works meant that organisers had to re-route the race at late notice, and that inadvertently cut about 50 metres from the route. Needless to say, I was faster on the 9.5k course than the 10k one – something I need to remember when I look at the results of those races in one list.

I do have sympathy with race organisers: it can’t be easy making sure a route lasts exactly as long as it should do. And perhaps the lesson is to only enter the events that have certificates of length from official athletics bodies. Or to just be satisfied with running the course presented, however long it is.

Then again, if you’re putting a race distance in the title of your race, you really should make it last pretty much that long. I imagine Mo Farah wouldn’t be best pleased if someone stuck an extra laps of the race on the end of the 10,000 metres in this year’s Olympic Games.

That said, it could be worse. An extra 180 metres or so isn’t much in the grand scheme of things. It’s not like adding three km onto the course of a 10k due to a marshalling error. Or accidentally adding four miles onto the route of a half-marathon, thereby not making it a half-marathon at all.

Yeah, an extra 180 metres? Nothing to moan about.

And, for the record, if anyone asks, my fastest 10k race time is 40m 16s…

I’m running the 2016 London Marathon (which I’m pretty sure will last exactly 26.2 miles…) in support of the South West Children’s Heart Circle. Please sponsor me: click the Just Giving button below for more details
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