How does one assess the greatness of America’s distance runners? Each generation has pushed beyond the one before with better training, better tracks and better equipment. If we are going to compare these people we must have some way to measure the environment of when they ran. Maybe that is impossible but we know that the modern all-weather tracks are much faster than the old cinder tracks. How much faster? Hard to say, but obviously the difference must be close to two seconds per lap. Why is this so? First there was no rebound from the cinder tracks. In effect you had to work much harder to achieve the same stride length. Stride length is important as the stronger push off you have off the back foot the more time you will spend in the air with both feet off the ground and therefore your stride length will be longer without any additional effort.
If we would theoretically give four inches more per stride for the rebound of the all-weather track and the length for a stride is five feet, then we take approximately (88) strides per lap. In a five thousand meter race that means you would take 1100 strides. With the four (4) inches (gained) you would have a difference of 258 feet or 86 yards. That means on an all-weather track, where you gain at least four inches, that 86 yards is worth 13 to 14 seconds. That alone is a major difference. Secondly, we must account for the condition of the track. Obviously an all-weather track is always the same, stride after stride. The runner does not have to worry about stepping in a hole. On the cinder track the runners, with each push off, create a small hole that causes the runners foot to shift each time he hits a hole. It must also be true that the runner is slipping backward each time they push off on a cinder track since they create a hole. This happens constantly as the meet continues. This means that each athlete is constantly fighting to use his energy to stay in a straight line as he is being thrown from side to side as his foot lands. In other words the athletes energy is not all going forward but some is used to keep the body from shifting. Runners on all-weather tracks do not have this problem. The difference is easily one second per lap and possibly more. For those of us who ran on both type of tracks the difference was tremendous. Those two differences would mean the cinder tracks were 25 to 38 seconds slower in a 5K race than if that same race was run on an all-weather track.