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Why the fastest marathon ever won’t be considered a world record

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mutai BM

Kenya's Geoffrey Mutai ran the fastest marathon ever on Monday, finishing the Boston Marathon in 2 hours, 3 minutes, 2 seconds. Despite the blistering time, Mutai's mark isn't being recognized as a world record.

Why not?

Even though it's considered one of the most challenging marathon courses in the world, the Boston Marathon is run on a net downhill, making it ineligible for world records. USA Track and Field only recognizes courses that meet specific criteria about elevation changes as record-eligible. Those courses must drop less than one meter per kilometer to fit the standard. For a 26.2-mile race, that's about 137 feet.

The Boston Marathon begins at 475 feet above sea level and drops all the way to 16 feet by the end. The total drop of 459 feet is well past the record-eligible specifications. That means Haile Gebrselassie's time of 2:03:59, set in Berlin in 2008, will remain the world record.

It's an understandable rule, given that no two marathons are exactly alike. Racing records set on tracks are largely interchangeable whether they occur in Atlanta or Beijing or Rome. Marathon courses vary greatly and don't provide apples-to-apples comparison.

[Related: Marathoner Grete Waitz dead at 57]

A tailwind accompanied the race and doubtlessly aided in Mutai's time, but the wind was irrelevant given the start-to-finish elevation decrease. Even if Mutai had run the course in a hurricane headwind, the world record still wouldn't have counted.

World record or not, Mutai's performance is one of the greatest in recent memory. He broke the course record by more than three minutes and was one of four men to come in under 2:05, a time which had seemed unconquerable before it was accomplished last year.

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