Japan’s “Citizen Runner” Yuki Kawauchi is notably famous for his relentless marathon schedule. Since his humble start in February 2009 when he finished 20th at the Beppu-Oita Manichi Marathon in 2:19:26, the now 30 year-old school custodian has run 67 marathons, 22 of which have ended in victory. Twice, 2014 and 2015, he has started 12, and generally his time range has been from 2:09 to 2:18.
Kawauchi, however, is the outlier. The conventional wisdom has long held that at the very highest level professional marathoners optimized at two per year, one in the spring, one in the fall. The original cast of five Abbott World Marathon Majors was built on that assumption.
With a marathon training cycle of roughly 12 weeks, and a proper recovery requiring one month, it was felt that two per year was the way to best schedule a marathon career, with exceptions made for an Olympic or (possibly) a World Championships year, where athletes were willing to compromise their fall effort for a shot at Olympic or WC glory.
The perfect illustration of this is the current world number one marathoner Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya. Since the ’03 5000m world champion began with a win in Hamburg in April of 2013 (2:05:30), he has run two per year like clockwork, one in the spring, one in the fall, winning each and every race except his second career start in Berlin in September 2013 where he took second place (2:04:05) to Wilson Kipsang‘s then world record 2:03:23.
Even last year when Eliud won in London in April in a near-world record 2:03:05, then came back in Rio in August to claim Olympic gold, he didn’t force a fall start, saving himself instead for the mighty effort in Monza, Italy this past May in the Nike Breaking2 Project.
So, too, with rival Wilson Kipsang. His marathon career has stretched from Paris 2010 (3rd, 2:07:13) to Tokyo in late February 2017 (1st, 2:03:58). Only twice in that span has he added a third marathon, 2012 when he took bronze at the London Games, and 2015 when he DNF’d at the Beijing World Championships.
Ethiopia’s Keninisa Bekele, too, has generally stuck to the two-per-year model since he began in Paris 2014 (1st, 2:05:04). However in 2015 he only made one start, DNF’g in Dubai in January as he worked through an injury.
But as the paydays continued to spread around the world and opportunities began to crop up where the weather was conducive to marathon running in what previously might have been off season, we have begun to see more and more athletes stretch their wings and challenge old assumptions. (more…)