40 years of AIMS – „Distance Running“ | 2022 Edition 1 – AIMS mission: To foster and promote running throughout the world
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40 YEARS AIMS in Distance Running 2022 Nr. 1 - Photo: AIMS

40 years of AIMS – „Distance Running“ | 2022 Edition 1 – AIMS mission: To foster and promote running throughout the world

By GRR 0

The ‘Association of International  Marathons’ was officially founded at a  meeting held in London on 6–7 May 1982  but the idea of such an association had  been gathering momentum for some time.

Mass participation marathons run on the streets  of the World’s major capitals were a recent innovation. They had previously been confined to  laps of public parks or quiet country back-roads which could easily accommodate the modest  fields of 100–200 committed enthusiasts.

Only Boston, the grandfather of Marathons, had exceeded 1000 runners before the New  York Marathon was run through the city’s five  boroughs for the American Bicentennial in  1976. This was what broke the mould. In a startling  transformation space was made available for  thousands of runners to flood the city centre on  Marathon day, bringing a celebratory atmosphere with them. As New York’s numbers grew rapidly in the next few years other races sprang up explicitly modelled on the example that had been set. By 1980 there was a growing band of organisers widely scattered throughout the world.

                     List of founding members (r.) – Photo: Horst Milde

The Honolulu Marathon had been started as  a small event in 1973 with 150 runners but it  was so successful that by 1976 there were 1400  finishers – close behind New York. Many organisers were already travelling to observe and learn  from each other’s events. At a meeting in Honolulu in December 1980 a group calling itself the  ‘International Marathon Race Directors’ (IMRD) was established which met again at the New  York Marathon in October 1981.

The subject of discussion at the time centred  around a ‘World Circuit’ of races advocated by  Serge Arsenault of the Montreal Marathon incorporating an individual marathon championship  for elite runners. The arrangements discussed  had close similarities with what was eventually  adopted by the ‘World Marathon Majors’ 25  years later. At a second meeting in Honolulu on  11 December 1981 the IMRD additionally laid  plans to formally constitute the group as the Association of International Marathons which is  what was done at the meeting in London.

There were 29 founding members who were  paid up at the meeting* and 19 of them are still members today – although in some cases they  have radically transformed (for example, the two  elite races in Tokyo, Tokyo Women’s Marathon  and Tokyo Men’s Marathon have since been in effect absorbed by the Tokyo Marathon). Those present approved a constitution and  elected Will Cloney of the BAA Boston  Marathon as the first AIMS President. Members attending this ‘Establishing Congress’ also laid  down a succinct list of three main objectives:

(i) to foster and promote running throughout  the world; (ii) to work with IAAF (now World  Athletics) on all matters relating to international Marathons; and (iii) to exchange information,  knowledge and expertise among members of  the Association.

„Running History – the three legends“: Chris Brasher (l.)  from London Marathon, Horst Milde (m.) from Berlin Marathon and Fred Lebow from New York City Marathon at a reception in Berlin 1990 – Photo: private

Immediately after enacting the business essential to setting up the Association there followed a technical discussion on the organisation and  measurement of international marathons. This emphasised the central importance of ensuring  that Marathons were the correct distance.


First start of the London Marathon 1981 in Greenwich Parc – Photo: Gerhard Kopp, Berlin

At the time there was already a reliable and affordable method of measurement being used but under objectives (i) and (iii) it became AIMS’  primary mission to spread the word so that the ‘calibrated bicycle’ method of measurement  eventually became universally accepted and  applied.

This was just as well, as the world governing body responsible for enforcement of rules, the International Amateur Athletics Federation  (IAAF, later to become World Athletics) was slow  in seeing the potential of big-city mass-participation races. Their purpose was geared towards the elite competitive end of the sport and the new races were often seen as potentially damaging to traditional championship races.

The first Berlin Marathon 1974 with 286 participants – 244 finisher –  Photo: private

The arbitrary but ‘magical’ distance of the Marathon had been formalised as 42195m  as far back as 1921. In championship races position counted for more than time in and there had never been a concerted effort to  ensure courses were accurate enough to bear comparison between different locations. The ‘calibrated bicycle’ method of measurement was  enshrined in the IAAF rule book in the 1980s but it was not until 1995, at a meeting with IAAF instigated by AIMS, that an administrative  system was set up by which measurements  could be policed. Since that time AIMS has  maintained its measurement mission in  co-operation with IAAF. IAAF resisted the recognition of world records  at the marathon distance on the grounds that  courses were not comparable. AIMS proposed a maximum allowable overall ’drop’ of the course  and straight-line separation of start and finish  so that possible assistance afforded by gravity  or a potential tailwind was limited. From 2003 this became the basis on which what had been called ‘World Bests’ have since then been  credited as World Records.

AIMS’ original membership remained stable,  with only slight growth in the early years, but with the publication of the first AIMS yearbook in 1985 the dynamic had begun to change. The yearbook featured a race calendar. This in  itself was a recognition that AIMS’ reach had to extend beyond its member race organisations to  connect with the runners themselves. To this end  the A5-format booklet also carried advertisements for member races and a total of 200,000  copies were circulated by member events to  their runners.

With the publication of the first AIMS yearbook in 1985 the dynamic had begun to change – Photo: Horst Milde

Mass participation marathons were already becoming a significant market within the sports tourism sector. In 1986 AIMS membership, now  approaching 50 races, was extended to include  races over distances other than the marathon.

The New York City Marathon in particular was attracting over 10,000 foreign runners each year – often accompanied by supporters and staying a for a full week. With runners bringing so much money in it was no wonder that more and more cities became interested in setting  up races, often promoting them through their  national or regional tourist offices.

AIMS Yearbook 1990 with the start of the Berlin Marathon – in the background the Berlin WALL and the Brandenburg Gate – Photo: Horst Milde

More recently races like French Riviera Nice-Cannes, Athens and Valencia all experienced very strong growth spurts when they tapped
into the running travel market. In many places, before the travel restrictions brought about  through the covid-19 pandemic damped it down, it was the main driver of growth in the running  market as runners were in continuous pursuit  of new challenges in more distant and exotic  locations.

The AIMS Yearbook kept track with this trend,  as membership neared 100 races, by increasing  frequency of publication to two editions a year  in 1992. It was then re-launched as Distance  Running and progressed through three editions to become (by 2003) a quarterly magazine of  84 pages in A4 format and full colour. Each  edition showcased a selection of the (by then) 170 AIMS member races.

No other publication could offer such a wide range of races with  such a vast geographical spread. It proved an effective platform from which member races could promote themselves – and increasingly so as AIMS membership grew steadily to reach a pre-Covid peak of 470 in 2019. The steady progress in membership numbers, in technological application and in economic impact has wrought dramatic changes to what  was, within living memory, a sport for a small  minority of eccentrics.

But some of the greatest  moments in the last 40 years since AIMS was  founded were when in the words of Chris  Brasher, one of the founding fathers of AIMS,  the marathon could “show to mankind that, on  occasions, they can be united”.

Distance  Running progressed through three editions to become (by 2003) a quarterly magazine of  84 pages in A4 format and full colour – Cover: Symbolphoto from 2018 – Photo: Horst Milde

These moments may have been in celebration – after the fall of the Berlin Wall, of the Boston  Marathon centenary race or the 2500th anniversary of the Battle of Marathon. More tellingly perhaps it was when such solidarity lent morale  and support to the victims of tragedy. After the  atrocities perpetrated in New York and Washington in 2001, in Madrid in 2004 and in Mumbai  in 2008 the Marathons which followed in those cities proved cathartic and helped people to find their voice again.

When the Boston Marathon  itself became a target for bombing in 2013 the race proved an effective means of rallying the entire city to become “Boston Strong”.

Source: Distance Running 2022 – Nr. 1

Will Cloney of the BAA Boston Marathon (USA)  the first AIMS President – Photo: AIMS

Andy Galloway – of Rotorua Marathon – (NZL) first General Secretary of AIMS – Photo: AIMS


Paco Borao of Valencia Marathon (ESP) – the actual President of AIMS – Photo: Horst Milde


Hugh Jones, (London) General Secretary of AIMS since 1996 – Photo: Horst Milde

Please read the original story on the actual page of Distance Running 2022, Nr 1:

AIMS – Distance Running 40 YEARS  2022 – pdf




author: GRR