Would a Marathon on a Track Be Faster Than a Marathon on the Roads?

by LetsRun.com
November 28, 2016

The “marathon on a track” has been a LetsRun.com meme for a while. While marathons on the track have been held in the past, The Armory in New York this past April attempted to make the marathon on the track more mainstream by holding an indoor marathon and indoor marathon relay. The event saw two world records set and even got some coverage in the NY Times.

One thing we at LetsRun.com never contemplated was 1) the possibility a marathon on a track might be faster than a marathon on the roads because of the surface and b) that recovery from a marathon on a track might be quicker because the surface is much more forgiving than the roads.

Jonathan Schindel, The Armory Executive Vice-President/CFO, who worked with LetsRun.com when The Armory advertised the indoor marathon on LetsRun.com this past winter, emailed us some tidbits and quotes from some participants of the 2016 indoor marathon that support the idea it’s more forgiving than a traditional marathon and possibly even faster. It’s not a huge sample size, and obviously Jonathan wants people to sign up and run the indoor marathon, but you’ve got the two race winners, Allie Kieffer and Malcolm Richards, plus the 2015 50k world champ Tony Migliozzi, saying they recovered much quicker from the indoor marathon than a traditional marathon. That is believable to us, because the pounding on the legs is going to be much less on a track than on the road. The stress of the indoor marathon is going to come more from all the turns and the track’s bank.

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The surface matters right? The surface we run on matters right?

The more interesting question to us is how much faster, if at all, can a marathon be on a track than on the roads? Track races, at least through the 10,000m, are faster than road races because of the surface.

Does this apply to the marathon as well? A track surface is going to have a lot less pounding on the legs and thus fewer microtears in the muscles, etc. Shouldn’t that make it faster? Our inclination is yes if the only variable changed was the surface. If someone could lay down a track on the streets of Berlin we think it would be faster to race the Berlin track surface marathon than the Berlin road surface marathon.

Now once you take the marathon onto a conventional track, you are adding a lot more turns which slow people down, and once you take it indoors, you are doubling the turns and adding a bank. So we’re not totally convinced a marathon on a track is faster than a road marathon, but the possibility is definitely big enough for us to start this thread:

Marathon on a Track (Surface)- How Much Faster if Any Do You Think it Would Be? (If you’ve got an opinion please chime in).

Below are the quotes from Jonathan Schindel on the 2016 Armory Indoor Marathon.

Round and Round Turns Conventional Marathon Wisdom Upside Down

Convention #1:  “Almost everyone said that [running an indoor marathon] “would not only be a guaranteed injury but something that would cause life-long, career ending issues.” – Calum Neff, Canadian marathoner, Guinness Book Record Holder of Half-Marathon with a stroller

In fact:

  • “The next day after the [Armory NYC Indoor] marathon I was able to run over 10 miles.  I have never been able to do that before after an outdoor marathon, usually I am taking the day off.  I felt much better after the indoor marathon than outdoor marathons.  Probably because the surface was much softer.” – Tony Migliozzi, 2015 World Champion 50K
  • “The day after the race I was tired, but felt no pain.  It was a fairy tale.  I was able to do repeat miles 5 days later.  The [indoor] marathon definitely did not beat me up more than an outdoor marathon.  My recovery was great, [the track] hastened my recovery.” – Allie Kieffer, 2016 Armory NYC Indoor Marathon Champion and World Record Holder
  • “I did recover pretty quickly from [the Armory NYC Indoor] Marathon.  The Mondo surface definitely helped with how sore I was after.  A week after the marathon I was back to doing pretty intense workouts.  Usually after an outdoor marathon I need a good month to get back to intense workouts.  It’s better than I’ve felt after other marathons.” – Malcolm Richards, 2016 Armory NYC Indoor Marathon Champion and World Record Holder
  • “I was most surprised by how well I felt afterwards.  I’ve never woke up the next morning and run 10 miles like Tony [Migliozzi] and I did.  I think due to the softness of the track my body was completely fine.  I was back racing [4 days later] that Wednesday night in Houston’s oldest race…I won the event…” – Calum Neff

Convention #2:  An indoor marathon is inherently slower than an outdoor marathon, including tight cornering on a banked surface for 2.5 hours.

In fact:

  • “I think the track was much faster than an outdoor marathon.  The world record is slower indoors than outdoors because the prize money isn’t comparable to interest the same quality of participants.  I do not believe that a flat, windless [indoor] course has any reason to be slower than an outdoor marathon.” – Allie Kieffer
  • “The only trouble I had with the banked corners was almost being dropped into the inside rail a couple times and tripping up, but otherwise the surface and track design is built for performance and healthy racing.” – Calum Neff

Convention #3:  The dry indoor air will present breathing problems over the course of a marathon.

In fact:

  • “One thing I always remember from racing indoors is the infamous ‘indoor cough’ from the dry air, but with a few windows open at the Armory my lungs were fine.” – Calum Neff
  • “Before the race I was worried about the dryness of the facility.  Each indoor track race I’ve competed in I’ve won the black lung – a term I’ve coined for the congestion and cough you feel afterwards.  I expected to feel that way post marathon, but luckily did not!” – Allie Kieffer

Convention #4:  An indoor marathon is BORING to run

In fact:

  • “I was kind of surprised, in that overall I didn’t find it too be too painful or boring.  I was able to get in a good rhythm, and found the right balance between focus and tuning out.  I even found myself kind of having fun at some points!  The music did help a lot.  I was actually taking splits…every 400 or 800 [meters].  I also overheard the announcer giving some of my splits.  It was a boost to know I was being consistent and even getting faster for a while there.  It exceeded my expectations in most ways, from having Ian’s engaging announcing to the music, to tracking of laps up on the big [score]board.”– Malcolm Richards
  • “Beforehand I thought it’d be an arduous and tedious task, but the announcer, Ian Brooks, kept it exciting.  Announcing my splits and projected time kept be focused and excited…the announcing of each 200 meter split helped me stay focused and not slow down.” – Allie Kieffer
  • “The mental aspect wasn’t bad at all.  I still have people telling me they couldn’t even watch the online streaming out of anguish on my behalf, but I was enjoying myself out there.  Not [boring] at all, I loved the atmosphere…being able to micro-control the pace was also great, I didn’t check splits every single lap but I was always amazed when they were within 0.1 of a second each time.  The music and commentating kept us entertained.  We were like metronomes out there (except for when AC/DC’s Thunderstruck came on and I got a little excited!” – Calum Neff
  • “The positives during the [indoor] marathon were definitely the music, the temperature getting cooler, solf surface, banked turns, easy to see how many laps you did, videos on the big screen.  I liked looking at all the 200m splits.  The experience was absolutely great.  I loved the whole event.” – Tony Migliozzi

Convention #5:  An indoor marathon is BORING to watch

In fact

  • “I actually think it is already more exciting to watch an indoor marathon…as you know where everyone is in the race and its [see all the] competition.  Easy to see all the action when it is happening in one place.” – Tony Migliozzi
  • “This is a rare opportunity to see elite athletes in an intimate setting, more people should take advantage of it and pack [the Armory] to capacity!  With a bigger environment everyone is bound to have more fun and I guarantee the athletes will perform better.  Witnessing the guys and Allie break the records (you could always see everyone) was awesome.  I think with some good promotion and buildup, pitting athletes against each other like prize fighters, the indoor marathon has its place in this sport and could gain a good following.” – Calum Neff
  • “…just having some people there shouting out encouragement, and having the announcer and music really helped a lot.  I was surprised that some of my friends back in the Bay Area were actually pretty engaged with watching the live feed of the race.  I could imagine that at least the last portion of an indoor marathon, especially if it was close, could be interesting to watch.”” – Malcolm Richards

Update: Jonathan Schindel has emailed us and the Armory has issued a press release announcing their 2017 Indoor Marathon is March 25th and will have a $5000 world record bonus.

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