Competitive athletics has been knocked on its ass in 2020 due to this horrific Coronavirus pandemic. Even the mighty Olympic Games buckled to its contagion. Hard to imagine, too, because here’s this sport/exercise which promotes so much physical and psychological well-being, and raises so much moolah for charities it has allowed us to periodically close city streets without pissing off too many non-runners. And now it’s all gone kablooey because of this bug in the lungs that jumped species in a wet-market in China at the end of last year has spread faster than a salacious rumor on a LetsRun.com forum chat thread while political leaders (in some countries) argue over who is at fault or is a bigger threat to democracy.
The dissolution has been amazing. In an age when spirits are flagging and religious leaders watch their wives get shagged by pool boys, we have these annual events that lift people out of the prosaic and into the realm of spiritual fulfillment. Yet now they have turned into virtual races, which are no races at all. Races pit people against other people over a given distance with a clock running to determine how that particular competition compares with previous competitions over the same distance.
But in this time of a highly contagious pandemic, grouping people together in mass participation events turn into super-spreader biospheres that will advance the virus faster than Visigoths descending on Rome in the third century A.D. But what can you do?
Well, in this annus horribilis, the folks at RunCzech, long known for their world-class and mass participation events, have announced they aren’t sitting around munching on Mint Milano cookies. Instead, they are going to showcase how an adult country got on top of the disease by being socially responsible and are now putting on an actual competition on the streets of Prague’s Letna Park this coming weekend. It’s called The Prague 21.1 Km, Ready For the Restart, an invitation-only world record attempt scheduled for September 5 in the Czech capital.
As president of the RunCzech organizing committee, Carlo Capalbo, tells us in the press release, “The pandemic has deprived these great athletes of the chance to participate in races all across the world. It has deprived us of witnessing some of the great performances that we’re accustomed to seeing. We wanted to find a way of doing something spectacular for everyone.”
As mentioned, the event will take place at Letna Park where 35 athletes will compete on an oval course, running 16.5 laps to make up the 21.0975 km half-marathon distance. The flat course and top competition are designed to mount an assault on current world records and best times. For the men, that means dipping under 58:30, a mark only breached twice in history – last September by Kenya’s Geoffrey Kamworor, 58:01, in Copenhagen, which broke the 58:23 mark set in Lisbon 2010 by Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadese. And for the women, the current world record in a women’s-only race stands at 1:06:11 by Netsanet Gudeta of Ethiopia in Valencia, Spain 2018, with the all-formats record dropping this past February at the RAK Half in the UAE by Ethiopia’s Ababel YESHANEH at 1:04:31.
Men and women will compete in separate races. The men’s race will begin at 06:20 local time. The women will start at 08:00. Weather permitting. Both performances will be broadcast live on Czech Television and spread to the rest of the world.
This race will also be a proving ground for another of the sport’s new super shoes, in this case, RunCzech partner and sponsor, adidas, whose adizero adios Pro will make its debut in a competitive setting in Prague.
“While this race is coming at what would normally be the end of the season,” Mr. Capalbo said, “we hope in a way that it will be the start, a spark that gets race organizers all over the world thinking creatively about how to keep the sport alive.”
As was shown in Prague, leadership and shared sacrifice are the keys. The Czech Republic was among the first countries to close down in March and institute mask-wearing and social-distancing protocols. Because it was quick off the line, it was also one of the first able to reopen safely, as well. Today, businesses all over the country have reopened and the Czechs experience just 200 – 400 new coronavirus cases per day in a population of 10.7 million while the U.S. continues to discover 40,000 – 50,000 new cases per diem.
RunCzech organizers believe an event like the Run Prague 21.1K will send a message that the Czech Republic is well on its way to recovering from the shutdowns, and is poised to restart economically, socially, and athletically. It’s a way of reminding people that we are capable of defeating this pandemic once and for all, given we don’t act like children who don’t do their homework or listen to responsible authorities.
STEPHEN KIPROP / KENYA
Half marathon PB: 58:42, Ras Al Khaimah 2019
KIBIWOTT KANDIE / KENYA
Half marathon PB: 58:58, Ras Al Khaimah 2020
BENARD KIMELI / KENYA
Half marathon PB: 59:07, Prague 2019
ANDAMLAK BELIHU BERTA / ETHIOPIA
Half marathon PB: 59:10, Delhi 2019
PHILEMON KIPLIMO KIMAIYO / KENYA
Half marathon PB: 59:28, Houston, TX 2020
JOAN CHELIMO MELLY / KENYA
Half marathon PB: 1:05:04, Prague 2018
NETSANET GUDETA KEBEDE / ETHIOPIA
Half marathon PB: 1:05:45, Ras Al Khaimah 2019
VIBIAN CHEPKIRUI / KENYA
Half marathon PB: 1:09:28, Santa Pola 2020
PERES JEPCHIRCHIR / KENYA
Half marathon PB: 1:05:06, Ras Al Khaimah 2017
SHEILA CHEPKIRUI / KENYA
Half marathon PB: debut