Metric and English Race Distance Time Interpretation

We are forever stuck  with metric versus English measurement discrepancies. Here are some handy rules of thumb for translating times. Of course, you can go online and find any number of calculators to do many of these. However, some handy rules of thumb while you’re out at the track away from your computer can be handy to know.

First, so we are all on the same page, I will be talking about hand timing. The rule of thumb for translating hand-timing to fully automatic timing (FAT) is to add .24 seconds. Hand-timing is artificially faster then FAT due to human error, no matter how good you think you are… you aren’t as good as FAT. After years of officiating and timing track races I’ll just tell you – this is conservative. Most timers lack the skills and techniques to do it well. But, I digress. 

400 meters/440 yards (quarter mile) – The metric distance is 2.34m shorter so you add .3 seconds to your metric time. Most tracks are 400 meters nowadays.

800 meters/880 yards (half-mile) – Add .7 seconds to your metric time to give you your true half-mile time. The 800 is 4.67m shorter.

1500/1600/mile – The 1500 and mile are the most common international race distances. The 1600 is run as a relay or is the U.S. high school “mile” event. Again, since tracks are 400 meters our high schoolers do not run the “mile”. The mile is 9.36m longer than the 1600. The mile is 109.3m longer than the 1500. 1500 times convert to mile times by adding 8% (mulitply by 1.08). Conversely, you subtract 7.4% (multiply by .926) from your mile time to get your 1500 time. Add 1.1 seconds to your 1600 time to get your mile time.

For a quick reference look at it this way. For the mile, elite runners will run approximately 17 seconds slower on the mile than the 1500. 3:42.2 is the accepted 1500 time for a 4:00 mile. Of course, age group runners (you and I) will add 22 seconds if you run in the 5:00 mile range and 30 seconds in the 8:00 mile pace range.

3000/3200/2-mile – Ok, it’s the same story as the mile. The international event is 3000. We used to run the 2-mile in the US (and rarely still is). But, our U.S. high schoolers run the 3200. The 3000 is 218.7m shorter than the 2-mile. It is 7 and a half laps on a conventional track. Add 7.9% to your 3000 time to get your 2 mile equivalent (multiply by 1.079) or subtract 7.3% (multiply by .927) from your 2-mile time to get your 3000 time. Your 3200 time is approximately 2.5-3 seconds slower than your 2 mile time (18.72m longer).

5000/3-mile – The 3-mile is no longer run to my knowledge, if so, it is rare. However, I include it because so many of us run on tracks (400 meters) and of course 12 laps is not 3 miles. It is 28.08 meters shorter. The 5000 is the internationally accepted distance and of course is run in numerous road races as well as on the track. The 5000 is 172m longer than 3 miles. It is also 12 and a half laps on a standard track. Add 3% (multiply by 1.03) to your 3-mile time to get your 5000 time. Or, subtract 3.5% (multiply by .965) from your 5000 time to get your 3 mile time.

Much of the above information and calculations are from Bert Nelson’s Little Red Book.


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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2 Responses to Metric and English Race Distance Time Interpretation

  1. Steve says:

    Here in Australia we’ve been on the metric system for years (30-40 yrs) and it’s now a non issue for us, converting back to imperial. 400 metres is 400 metres. The marathon is 42.195 km, obviously converted from the 26 point something miles. Personally, I’d prefer the marathon to be an even 40 km but I can’t see that happening.

    Having said all that when people ask for my height in the first instance I say “5 9 and a bit” which is 176 cm.

    The US tried taht back in the late 70s and the populace rebelled! It failed miserably. So, we live with the two systems and it will most likely never be remedied. I’m with you on the marathon. 26.2 is not even in metric OR English!!! Besides, it was always the last “.2” that got me anyways.
    Coach Dean

  2. Matthew McCarthy says:

    Great article on the metric/English distances – very informative. (And humbling: I’m 1.1 seconds slower in the mile than I thought I was.) There is one typo, in this line:
    “The 3000 is 218.7m longer than the 2-mile.” It should be “shorter”.

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