Why Marathons but No Sprinting Competitions?

RIO DE JANERIO, BRAZIL (Photo of Usain Bolt by Salih Zeki Fazlolu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

This is a completely random thought that occurred to me recently.

As adults, we have a few different ways to stay in shape. We can join a gym or yoga center, play a sport (league, pickup, or with friends), exercise or stay active at home or in the great outdoors, or participate in obstacle course competitions.

The other big category is to train for and run in a race. 5ks, half-marathons, and full marathons.

That’s fine if you enjoy running long distances. But, judging from the people with whom I ran track in high school, there are just as many people who like to run very short distances. So why aren’t there any adult competitions for them? Can’t sprinters relive their glory days in 10-60 second chunks instead of putting themselves through the agony of a long-distance race?

Also, wouldn’t sprints be easier for people to watch? If you want to support a friend or family member who is running a marathon, you have camp out for hours and come prepared with all sorts of gels, lotions, and liquids. Cities close off streets for half the day. But for a 100-meter relay, it’s over in a few minutes (counting warmup, victory laps, etc).

Of course, this is partially self-serving, as I’m a sprinter. I haven’t a had a good footrace in a while.

Are there sprinting competitions for adults? If not, why do you think that is?

14 thoughts on “Why Marathons but No Sprinting Competitions?”

  1. There are probably some sort of sprinting competitions held, and there are the Golden Games in St Louis for those 50 and over. Fleet Feet in St Louis/St Charles hosts speed workouts in the summer at area high school tracks. They have had end of season ‘races’, but I think the shortest race they do is a 400M. You should check out the speed workouts though – they are well organized.

    There are some shorter than 5K races (in the STL area The Macklind Mile comes to mind) but the biggest reason I can think of is logistics. You’d need heat after heat of 8 or 10 participants at a time. False starts? What do you do then? Do you have winners advance to run against other winners? How many 100M heats can someone run in a day effectively? I do not know. A 5K or longer is more of a social thing – for 95%+ of the participants, you’re battling against yourself, not others.

    For myself – I don’t think I’ve ran a 400M (or shorter) all out since high school, and I have a feeling if I tried now I would pull every muscle in both legs, and probably my back as well just for good measure. When I started running back in 2006, I never thought I would like long distance running – but 50+ marathons later… I’m not sure if I like running, but I do like how it makes me feel overall (for the most part).

    • Thanks Todd! I have a few years to go before I’m 50, but that sounds like something to look forward to.

      I’m glad that a fellow sprinter found a home with long-distance running later in life. 🙂

      • I realize I’m years behind on this conversation 😎Did you ever find a sprint competition for adults Jamey? I’ve been looking for one wth no luck. I would love to compete again

        • I think someone mentioned one in the comments, but I never pursued it. I just played a lot of pickup soccer for a while to get my sprints in, and now I just walk around playing disc golf and occasionally go indoor rock climbing. 🙂

  2. Id say its more difficult for spectators, because everything focusses on a small part – unlike a marathon where you can stand anywhere near the track.
    A marathon also caters for more persons – You could easily start a marathon with thousands of runners. A short track – not so much. Either everyone just run once and is timed (which would lack transparency for the audience and is unsatisfying for the runners) or you would do an tournament with always 10 runners or so competing directly. But that will get quite long if you have too many runners.

    Id say another factor might be that long-distance-running is something that caters more to the 30+ while sprinters are usually younger.

  3. My sister has kept up with running, and I bet she’d race you! I might even get in on the action too.
    As a side note, I would have liked to see your 40 yard dash time at it’s peak. I wonder how you’d have stacked up against top athletes.

    • I’d be curious about my best 40 time as well. I ran the 55 in indoor track, and I was good, but there were lots of people who were better.

  4. One thing that is really cool about distance races – the back of the pack and the elites run the exact same course – and on some courses (Bix7 in Quad Cities, IA – for example) that are an out and back you get to see the elites *flying* along as they head to the finish (the winner last year ran the 7 miles in 32:37). At one of my first half marathons in Austin TX, which has the same start/finish for marathon/half marathon, I was coming into the finish and the crowd just started cheering really loud. I was excited… until a guy flew past me… the marathon winner was about to finish (:

  5. This is a great thought. I would guess it is because sprinting is a lot closer to a 1 rep max in weightlifting. Injuries tend to happen when people exert themselves as hard as possible. There is a lot of exertion in long distances, but it usually happens at a slow drip.

  6. not sure if you pay attention to old blog posts (or get notifications about replies) but I recently learned about the USA Track and Field Masters Championships, which might be the type of thing you’re looking for. No entry time requirements. As long as you pay your money, you can show up and run. Age groups 30 and up, distances from 100M to 10K, and all sorts of field events too. This year it’s in Ames, Iowa, but it moves around, so not sure where it might be next year (I only just heard about this – too late to register and such). https://www.usatf.org/Events—Calendar/2019/USATF-Masters-Outdoor-Championships.aspx While some very speedy people show up, like I said, there is no qualifying times, so if you ever want to enter such a thing, they’ll gladly take your money (:


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