What is racing but an endless series of questions? Should I be here, should I be there, should I be going up there, or should I stay back here? And the person with the best answers tends to win.
At an event like the Olympic Trials Marathon, racing is psychological surfing on a big wave. You never settle, you’re totally on edge with an enormous amount of unspoken communication being exchanged in the pack. One twitch here, another twitch there can change the entire dynamic.
By comparison, in a rabbitted race, the only question is, “Can you do that pace?”
I saw where Runners World mag founder Bob Anderson asked on his Facebook account yesterday: “Can anyone tell me why the US Olympic Marathon trials course was so tough?
“We need more fast courses in the United States. We have been left behind. Of the top 50 winning times (50th is 2:09:20) of marathons followed by My Best Runs over the last 12 months only four were run on US soil. Chicago, Boston, New York and Houston.”
Well, Bob, I’d say there are at least two reasons.
One, the trials were staged in Atlanta, Georgia and the course was originally intended to conform to the Tokyo Olympic course. Then they moved the Olympic Marathon to Sapporo. Oops.
So once in Atlanta, no way to avoid hills. And the trials course was described as “Atlanta Flat”. So because the Atlanta TC wanted to host the Trials and could foot the bill, hills were in.
Another reason for hills, though, no matter where the trials were/are staged, is because the Olympic Marathon is an unpaced competition. We need to find the best racers, not the top time-trialers. Besides, the route from Marathon to Athens was hilly. When did we get so caught up with times that competition somehow became an afterthought?
What we found in Atlanta was a true marathon with hills, chills, and wind. Real racing. Not this endless series of paced sling shots, record attempts, and barrier breakers.
One reason interest in the outcome of marathons has turned to the Every man/woman rather than the Exceptional man/woman is because races aren’t touted as individual confrontations anymore.
Like with most sports, it has to be that guy against the other guy. Not everyone against the clock or measuring stick. Ok, every once in a while, sure. But now we’ve had two marathon exhibitions in recent years – one in Monza, Italy 2017, the other in Vienna, Austria 2019. Regular paced races have become the industry norm. But that format doesn’t engage the public. Actual competition should be the focus of fan interest.
Unless it’s a very serious attempt, like those two exhibitions, the human factor is paramount. Root for Him! Cheer for Her! Don’t just be focused on an abstract time that doesn’t happen 99 times out of 100. The time is what it took, but the race is what it is.
More hills, I say.