Lemi Hayle & Lelisa Desisa battling in Boston

Boston, MA. – Modern day conventional wisdom held that professional runners could optimally race only two marathons per year, one in the spring, one in the fall. With a full marathon training cycle taking 12 weeks or so, and a proper marathon recovery requiring one month, it was felt that two per year was the way to best schedule a marathoner’s career for both excellence and length.

But as the popularity of the marathon continues to spread around the world, and opportunities crop up in parts of the world outside the U.S. and Europe where the weather is conducive to marathon running in non-traditional months, we’ve begun to see more and more top athletes stretch their wings and open their calendars.

With the money that now attends these newer events, and with youthful runners who might once have gone to the ovals in Europe now running marathons as a primary profession, the two-per-year order has evolved.

Racing is not simply a trophy collection exercise, but a business opportunity. And youthful legs like those of Lemi Hayle, 21, who just won the Boston Marathon after taking second place in Dubai in January in a PR 2:04:33, don’t seem to experience a perceivable drop-off even with a shortened training regime and following recovery.

In 2015 Hayle won Dubai in 2:05:28 then came back in April to win in Warsaw in 2:07:57. And we can be fairly certain that if he is selected for the Ethiopian Olympic team for Rio (and why wouldn’t he be?) there’s even a chance he might run in the fall again, as well. Young legs and hungry hearts bounce back quicker.

Whether there are any other factors involved we will set aside for the moment. Though the cynicism that might have been decried in the past is hard to dismiss out of hand anymore.

But returning to the gist of the post: Last year two-time Boston champion Lelisa Desisa ran four marathons, taking second in Dubai (2:05:52), first in Boston, then seventh at the Beijing World Championships and finally third in New York City.  Yemane Tsegay ran three majors, second at Boston and the World Champs before fifth in NYC.

Those results didn’t appreciably slow them on Monday in Boston where they went second and third in slow conditions. And their countrywoman Titfi Tsegaye finished second at Boston in the women’s race coming off a 2:19:41 PR winning Dubai in January, which was get 19th career marathon.

What jumps out from this list is that it’s all Ethiopian.

“Most Kenyans still listen to us,” said athlete manager Federico Rosa, whose Kenyan, Paul Lonyangata, finished fifth yesterday. “It is in Ethiopia they want to run more. They want to keep rolling in races, but we don’t want to kill the body. We want the athletes to be 100% ready for their next race, and to have a long career.”

Exuberance and indestructibility are hallmarks of youth. Perhaps the old marathon isn’t such an endurance event anymore, but a speed test over a long distance.  Then again maybe it’s just luring youthful prey into its less than tender trap.  It will take a few more years to determine how sharp the old distance’s teeth still are.

Good recoveries and congrats to all the Boston finishers.  Let’s see what London has in store next week.



  1. Marathon careers at the very peak of excellence still seem to be surprisingly short – one Olympic cycle, tops (for 95%)

  2. I’m not sure it has “always been conventional wisdom that two marathons per year is the max. I seem to recall — but do not have evidence to back it up — that runners often ran more marathons in the 1960s-1970s. I agree that Kenyan and Ethiopian runners’ listed ages are often suspect. I also suspect that earning as much money as possible while a runner is in his/her peak years plays a critical role. Finally, i think the implied argument — from a manager of Kenyan runners — that Ethiopians will burn themselves out by running too much, whereas Kenyan runners will last longer by following the two-a-year advice goes against what I see as a history of Ethiopian distance runners lasting longer at the top with Kenyan runners often disappearing after a brief period of excellence (e.g., the respective careers of Haile Gebreselassie and. Daniel Komen),

  3. Sorry, but after rereading what you wrote…and what I wrote… above… I also will state that once the IAAF and the Marathon Majors…. figure out how to implement the proper out of competition PED testing in both Kenya and Ethiopia…. then I think you will see far less marathoners doing 3-4 marathons successfully per year. After all, one of the most attractive attributes of many steroidal PED’s (EPO included) is the fact they shorten recovery time and recovery processes between workouts AND races! It all makes common sense. The demonstrated abilities of these young runners recently to do so many marathons in a year…and do them all well…. should also be looked at as symptomatic of PED usage in East Africa among distance runners….along with the other positive tests and investigative journalism stories that are now coming out of that region. Just sayin’…..

  4. Toni, I was not able to attend Boston this year. I looked closely at the photos of Lemi Hayle following the race on and then at the article that described him as 21 years of age. Let me congratulate him on his hard fought victory yesterday. Slow time but tough conditions! Beating other competitors is still the name of the game, not record setting!

    Just for the sake of conversation, though…. after looking at his times in the last couple years….and looking at his photos…. I do not believe that his listed age is accurate. It is no secret that there are very few official birth records kept over in eastern Africa…. especially in either Kenya or Ethiopia where most of these distance runners are coming from. The passport officials do not require a birth certificate from anyone applying for a passport in those countries as a result. They just put down whatever the applicant tells them on the “honor system.”

    So, what difference does it make in this case? Probably none! He won the race over some very good talent (just not any of our top Americans, sadly.) He ran a great race…and has run several great races in the last couple years…. at age 19-21. As long as they aren’t trying to list a World Age Group record… or he isn’t trying to be an official competitive HS or college student … in the USA….then I guess that the age question really is moot. But, I bring it up for the sake of anyone trying to make an agree group comparison to themselves or someone they root for. Many people have questioned the same thing about Oregon’s Edward Cheserek.

    After all the recent revelations about the lack of PED testing and other NGB official activities that are supposed to be happening over in both Kenya and Ethiopia…..I don’t trust them any farther than I can throw them….. and look at things like age accuracy with a jaundiced eye every bit as much as I believe that they are all “clean” , at least on the international level.

    And, yes, I agree with your observation of the relative recent trend of so many of the “young guns” of talented distance runners from both Kenya and Ethiopia…. that are now skipping their track race apprenticeship… and going straight to the marathon…. for the pay day possibilities! After all, they would never ever have a chance at a pay day of $150,000 from any track race! Even after an agent’s cut from that…. they are almost financially set for life after just one good race! Any wonder why there is incentive for PED usage under these conditions?

    But, I digress….. my main point was that I really don’t believe his listed age but I don’t think race commentators/analysts like yourself probably are in any position to do more than just report what the official press release tells you. What we need is a blood/DNA test that tells us what someone’s true age is (within a couple months time) as well as whether they have used PED’s in the last six months or so. Both are relative values that do impact how we analyze race results although the age problem is less detrimental to the “open” sport than HS or college.

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