Sydney Running Festival: Why the marathon starts so late

heatThe Sydney Running Festival is on again this weekend, and again the  Marathon will start a good hour or so after the half marathon. I’ve often pondered why.  In recent years we’ve had a 31 degree day (2011) and a 26 degree day (2009) for the race. This year, we have a forecast of 24 degrees, so not too hot (unless you happen to be finishing a marathon at midday). Add to this the fact that it is only early spring in Sydney and most runners will not have had a chance to acclimatise to the warmer temperatures, you have to ask the question, “why start the marathon at 7:20am, yet the half at 6:15?”


So, I did ask the question of race organisers (who I might add are always really helpful with any queries I’ve had over the years). This was the answer I received from Erin Jeffries, teams organiser.


“We start the Half Marathon at 6.15am which allows the entire field to flow onto the second half of the course (where the Marathon course meets it) before the Marathon even starts. This method then allows the Half Marathon field to almost completely finish before the lead Marathon runners get back to the 31km point (Phillip Street, Sydney) where they meet the Half Marathon course.

 If we set the marathon off at 6.15am, the main pack of runners will be back into the city from about 8am – 10am with a solid and steady stream of runners. If we then start the half at 7.15am, the lead runners will hit Phillip Street where the marathon and half meet and continue on the same course at nearly the exact same time. This would be followed by a very large pack that would run right into each other and cause serious safety problems.

Not to mention not having a clear run for the leaders, lead vehicles, and general confusion for our entrants etc. Unless we ran the half on a completely different course this timing unfortunately wouldn’t work.

 I hope this makes sense. It is a really complex strategy and to date we haven’t been able to find an alternative. Of course we understand the runners perspective but safety is at our utmost concern.”


Is it just me, or can you see the irony in sending people out running for hours and hours in very hot conditions to keep them safe?

Just for the record, over the last four years, of the runners who have finished the marathon, 30% have taken longer than 4 hrs 30 mins.

That is 30% of the field are still running at close to midday and beyond.


How many marathoners will still be at it come midday?

  • In 2009 32% were still running 4hrs 30mins into the race,
  • 2010 25%,
  • 2011 39%
  • and 2012 26%

Like many things, it probably comes down to cost as much as anything else. I’m guessing the more road closures, the greater the cost, so sharing parts of the course between the half and full marathon on the same course is a cost effective answer.

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