Steve Smythe

Steve Smythe

Runner's World 1993-2003

British Masters M45 Marathon champion 2003

Sub 2:47 marathon in 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s, 10s

Running has changed significantly since 1993 when Runner's World first came to the UK though many of those changes were beginning to take effect.

The first London Marathon in 1981, help aid the beginnings of a running boom. The initial effect was a big rise in number of participants but also endurance standards as a mixture of track runners turning to the marathon, newcomers and a thriving running club scene and the quality actually peaked in the mid 80s.

By 1993, standards were just starting to fall as those peaking in the eighties went past their best even though numbers were continuing to rise. Those coming into the sport in the 90s and into this century have generally been more concerned with fitness than running fast. Even those who raced, probably also have flirted with triathlon, go the gym and do long bike rides. Back in 1993, the running scene was still a club-based sport and most did road races. Now apart from multi-sport options, many runners are doing trail and adventure races and the number of road races has dropped off with many police forces and health and safety issues forcing more races off the road.

Parkruns are also a new exciting phenomena that didn't exist back then. The idea that there would be hundreds of free runs every Saturday morning throughout the UK, and that runners would get their result e-mailed the same day just couldn't have been envisaged.

Kit and shoes really hasn't changed that much but maybe the lightest racing shoes are even lighter and better designed. Nutrition has improved though and gels and sports drinks are far more plentiful.

The biggest change may well be in the likes of Garmin that can pinpoint how far you run and you can have a mile by mile breakdown of your run, downloading as you come up the stairs and ready to look at when you sit down at your computer.

Personally, for me there's one area that hasn't changed for the better. My own running. In 1993, I note I ran a 2:46 marathon. I was still able to match that or go faster all the way until 2010 when I ran 2:46. However, the last three years, injuries have become more frequent, and the recovery has taken longer and the times have got slower and I have only done four runs in the last two months.

I'm not sure how much things would have changed by 2033 and I guess if I'm still around, I will be pleased to still be moving, let alone run!


 

Geoff Wightman

Geoff Wightman 

Geoff was a 2.13 marathon runner, finishing sixth in the European Championships and eighth in the Commonwealth Games in 1990.

He has worked as a lawyer, sports agent, Puma marketing manager, CEO of scottishathletics and is currently the MD of runbritain, the road running arm of British Athletics.

He also announces at major road races, including the London Marathon since 1991 and at the Olympics. 

 

In 1993, when RW was born, the road running landscape in the UK was quite different to the one we recognise today. The original running boom that began in the early 1980s had peaked and many of the first wave of city marathons had already faded away. The typical road race remained a half marathon with more than 80% of the participants being male. Race for Life, the project that has helped create 50:50 male:female race fields of today had barely got under way and parkrun had yet to be invented. This meant that a much higher proportion of racers belonged to clubs.

At the elite end of the sport, Eamonn Martin won that year’s London Marathon, a feat that has not been repeated by a British male in the two decades subsequently. Also a 19 year old British athlete made her major Championship debut at senior in the 3000m at the World Championships in Stuttgart. Her name was Paula Radcliffe. Whatever became of her?

On the governance of the sport, the new combined body – the British Athletics Federation – succeeding the AAA, was created in the preceding 18 months, only to go bust in 1998. There were probably around 1,000 road races a year that were licensed and insured under the governing body’s master insurance policy. Today that cover is worth £50.0m and we expect to license somewhere close to 2,400 road and multi-terrain races plus 200 parkruns every weekend. And those major marathons are now back on the domestic racing calendar. Every UK city has a marathon or half marathon to its name. In 1993, the second biggest British Marathon, behind London, in terms of the number of UK runners taking part, would actually have been the New York Marathon with 4,000 Brits jetting in each November. In 2012, more than 1.9 million racing performances were recorded in licensed road races plus 900,000 in parkruns. These are both record numbers and look set to be surpassed this year.

All in all, it is a great time to be associated with UK road running but not everything is inherently ‘better’ than 1993. As an example, where are the next Eamonn and Paula coming from? The depth of British athletes at sub 2.20 for men and sub 2.40 for women is much lower than it was in the 80s and 90s although top 250 standards at 10k and half marathon are now slowly beginning to rise again. Also, medical, police, local authority and traffic issues threaten the sustainability of the routes and costs of many long-standing races, especially those of our ‘average’ size of 400 runners. The sport needs to be adaptable and pro-active in finding solutions to these challenges in order to be raising a glass to the 40th anniversary of RW in 2033. Happy Birthday.

For more insight into the world of running from Geoff, check out his books "Diary Of An Also-Ran”.