First of all, the athletes out-trained the distance years ago. In that sense, the mighty marathon has been brought to heel. No longer a spirit draining test of endurance, today the marathon has been reduced to just another speed event contested over a longish distance. It’s no longer, runner beware. It’s distance be damned!
We saw a reflection of that again this weekend when Ethiopia’s Yomif Kejelcha won the Valencia Half Marathon In 59:05. A generation ago you would never have seen an athlete who set an indoor world record in the mile in March (3:47.01) transfer so fluidly to a sub-60 half-marathon in October of the same year (see list below).
Attitudes about the challenges in distance running have simply changed along with many other factors that continue to make headlines in and out of courtrooms.
These days for the marathon to grow its fangs back requires severe weather. And even then – as we saw in Doha at the World Championships in September – the very top echelon of runners are merely slowed rather than halted.
This coming weekend in New York City, the marathon will once again be finished by 95+% of its 50,000 starters, while up front a handful of contenders will race the entire distance and seem ready for more if the necessity arose.
To all of that, we now add a better mouse trap, the Nike Vaporfly shoes. This past weekend in Frankfurt, we witnessed a final four of identically garbed and footed runners battling into the final kilometer before a champion was decided.
1. Fikre Tefera ETH 2:07:08
2. Dawit Wolde ETH 2:07:10
3. Aweke Yimer BRN 2:07:12
4. Martin Kosgey KEN 2:07:20
As long as all wore the same gear, then what ensued was indeed a test to determine who amongst them was the better athlete. But for those employing any other footwear than Vaporflys, the route was not level. The ones wearing the better energy transfer mechanisms were in another class. A different metabolic cost per stride was in play.
During its 1994 season, NASCAR was involved in a tire war after years during which every team used the same manufacturer’s rubber. The skirmish line in that war fell along the safety-speed continuum as one manufacturer’s tires allowed faster speeds, but proved less safe as they wore out more quickly at the higher speeds.
And since in auto racing the specter of death is always a lurking presence, the choice of which tires to run on at 180 mph carried a gravity well beyond the concerns of foot racers and their choice in shoes at 13 mph.
But beyond the issue of safety, people in the NASCAR community in 1994 were unified in their understanding that which was the better tire wasn’t the conversation they wanted their fans to be having. As one team manager stated it, “We don’t want tires to be our stars.”
In the ongoing discussion of the Nike Vaporfly revolution in running shoe design currently embroiling athletics, the running community might want to keep that 1994 NASCAR admonition in mind, “we don’t want shoes to be our stars.” Because the simple corollary will be, if they are, then it won’t be the men or women wearing them that glitter.
TOP 10 Indoor Milers and Their Longest Races in the same calendar year
Yomif Kejelcha (ETH) – 3:47.01, Boston 3/03/19 – Longest race – 59:05 Half-Marathon, Valencia, ESP 10/27/19
Hicham El Guerrouj (MAR) – 3:48.45, Flanders 2/12/1997 – Longest – 1 mile
Edward Cheserek (KEN) – 3:49.44, Boston 2/09/18 – Longest – 21:16 4.748 mi., Manchester, Ct 11/22/18
Eamonn Coghlan (IRL) – 3:59.78, N.J. 2/27/83 – Longest – 5000m, Helsinki World Championships
Bernard Lagat (USA) – 3:49.89, Fayetteville 2/11/05 – Longest – 12:59.29 5000m, Berlin 9/04/05
Johnny Gregorek (USA) – 3:49.98, Boston 3/03/19 – Longest – 1 mile
Matthew Centrowitz (USA) – 3:50.63, NYC 2/20/16 – Longest – 7:40.71 3000m, Portland 2/05/16
Noureddine Morceli (ALG) – 3:50.70, Birmingham 2/20/93 – Longest – 14:93.85 5000m, Zurich 8/17/
Galen Rupp (USA) – 3:50.92, Boston 1/26/13. Longest – 27:24 10,000m, Moscow 8/10/13
Marcus O’Sullivan (IRL) – 3:50.94, N.J. 2/13/1988. Longest – 13:39.63 5000m, 7/05/1988