SUB 2:10 BONANZA IN 2019

Kahana, Maui – The 2019 marathon year is all but complete, and it has been historic, to say the least. While the men’s world record withstood a strong challenge by 37 year-old Kenenisa Bekele in Berlin where the Ethiopian superstar seemed to finally get serious about the distance, coming within two seconds of Kenyan rival Eliud Kipchoge’s 2018 mark of 2:01:39,  the once seemingly untouchable 2:15:25 women’s record by England Paula Radcliffe set in London 2003 came crashing down in Chicago beneath the weight of Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei’s mind-numbing 2:14:04.

And for his part, 34 year-old Kipchoge kept adding to his own ne plus ultra career by winning again in London in the spring before delivering history’s first sub-2  hour 26.2 miler at the INEOS Challenge exhibition in Vienna in October.

But those three weren’t alone.  In 2019 it seemed like everyone and their kid brother took the once proud marathon distance to the woodshed, as technology, talent, youth, and God knows what else delivered the following comparative numbers.

Year               Sub-2:10s    Primary Nations

2016                  150             Ken 98;  Eth 39

2017                   186             Ken 113; Eth 41

2018                   164             Ken  76;  Eth 41

2019                   293             Ken 123; Eth 98

As the data suggests, Ethiopia is on the rise, while their Kenyan neighbors to the south have seen their once wide margin in depth whittled down considerably.  As to why, I will leave to you, dear readers. That’s a stone for us to turn over on another day.

But the number that stands out like an outrigger bunion is the 293 men’s sub-2:10s, a staggering 129 more than in 2018, with Ethiopians improving by 57 year over year, while the Kenyans added 47 more in 2019 than in 2018.

As the latest New York Times story on the role of shoe technology says, Nike’s Fastest Shoes May Give Runner’s a Bigger Advantage Than We Thought.  Yes, we have crossed the Rubicon and entered a whole new territory where new judgements and new expectations will make old marks seem as quaint as hoop skirts by comparison.

The top American time of the year came in Amsterdam where Leonard Korir finished 11th in 2:07:56. His time represented the 124th best of 2019 worldwide.  Scott Fauble’s 2:09:09 seventh place (#220 globally) and Jared Ward’s 2:09:25 eighth in Boston (#240) showed again that Americans tend to be better pure racers than paced time trialers.

To round out the ledger, Morocco posted 11 sub-2:10s; Bahrain, Japan, and Eritrea notched 8 each; Uganda 7; USA, France and Turkey 3; Great Britain, Switzerland, Belgium, Netherlands, China, and Israel 2; with Canada, Peru, South Africa, Italy, Spain, New Zealand, Tanzania, South Korea, and Norway 1 each.

I will do a women’s breakdown in the coming days.

END

 

NEW YORK 2019 PREVIEW – WELL TUNED

The marathon world is in the middle of a technological revolution these days, witnessing a new era of high performance. It will be interesting see if that revolution continues on the streets of New York City on November 3, 2019.

The revolution isn’t just coming from the ground up via the stacked midsole, carbon-plated shoes that have tongues wagging and federations investigating. Another developing change in the marathon world has been in the athletes’ total focus. Many men like world record holder Eliud Kipchoge and second all-time Kenenisa Bekele no longer do a tune up race at all before their marathons, while those that do are running them much faster than their predecessors.

For instance, last year Shura Kitata ran 59:16 in Philadelphia as part of his NYC buildup. That prepped him for a second place finish in NYC in 2:06:01 behind training partner Lelisa Desisa’s 2:05:59 win.

Back in the day it was rare for anyone to even break 61 in their half tune up for fear they would find themselves too sharp for the more conservative pace required in the double distance. Now that theory is another that seems to have been tossed into the dust bin of history. Continue reading

FUTURE THOUGHTS

In this month of October 2019, the marathon world seemed to have turned a corner, or broken a barrier – however you want to put it – with the first sub-2 hour marathon for men in Vienna, Austria and an 81-second world record for the women in Chicago, Illinois.

The first performance was somewhat expected having come on the heels of a very close, but eventually unsuccessful attempt two years ago in Monza, Italy.  The successful second assault in Vienna was conducted like clockwork in a tightly controlled setting with pacers behind lasers that didn’t vary by more than four seconds per 5Km split on the repeatable route.

The second headline in Chicago came as something of a shock, considering the record it topped was already thought of as an outlier. But unlike the men’s sub-2 in Austria, the new women’s record in Illinois was run in a competitive setting (though without actual competition) led by two male pacers who went out way too hard yet managed to salvage the record at the end. Which leads one to believe there is more time to scrub from Brigid Kosgei’s 2:14:04 with more consistent pacing, much less other tweaks, official or otherwise.  And Kosgei herself has already posited a women’s 2:10 in the future, though for herself she set the limit at 2:12 – 2:13.

What both these performances had in common were the nationality of the two athletes, Kenyan, and the brand and model of shoes that were worn, Nike Vaporfly Next%, or prototypes built specifically for each.

And so after this seismic month of miraculous running, what’s next?  Already the IAAF is looking into the legality of the shoes based on a protest lodged by several elite runners accusing the Nike Vaporflys of producing an unfair competitive advantage. Though there is an initial belief that the shoes will be found to be within proscribed limits.

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In 1989, American Greg LeMond won the Tour de France by eight seconds over Frenchman Laurent Fignon, the previous two-time Tour winner.

The eight-second margin made it the closest finish in TDF history, as LeMond was trailing Fignon by fifty seconds at the start of the final stage into Paris, and was not expected to be able to make up this deficit. But he completed the 24.5 km time trial at an average speed of 54.545 km/h (33.893 mph), at the time the fastest individual time trial ever ridden in the Tour. Fignon’s time was fifty-eight seconds slower, costing him the victory and giving LeMond his second Tour title by that scant eight second margin.

Greg LeMond in 1989 Tour de France

In that famous time trial, Lemond used aero bars clamped onto his traditional handlebars. The ‘89 TDF marked the first time such aero bars were used in competition. The aerodynamic advance proved to be the difference between first and second place. Now everyone uses aero bars, while overall bike technology has continued to evolve and improve ever since.

In sport, as in society, change remains the only constant. Trying to stem it is an exercise in futility. Continue reading

SUB TWO-HOUR MAN

(Set to Don McLean’s tune Vincent)

 

Sub Two-Hour Man,

With your pacers in their split array,

Gazing out upon a misty day,

As they lead you toward a time beyond the pale,

*

Lasers on the road,

Markers for your rhythmic skills,

While wearing Vaporflys not espadrilles,

With soles that flex the carbon beneath your stride,

How easily you glide,

*

Before crowds along the tree-lined way,

An addition from that Monza day,

Stand anxious in Vienna’s autumn chill,

*

Now I think I know,

What you tried to do for me,

And how you were ridiculed for your audacity,

And how you tried to just let it be,

Skeptics would not listen, we did not know how,

Perhaps we’ll listen now. Continue reading

WHO KNOWS WHAT’S A RECORD ANYMORE?

My old Runner’s World friend and long-time chronicler of the sport Peter Gambaccini wrote on my FB page in response to “WHAT A WORLD!” (RECORD) about the first sub-two hour marathon this past weekend in Vienna: “I am much more impressed by the 2:01s Kipchoge and Kenenisa Bekele ran in “real” marathons (in Berlin 2018 and 2019) than I am by what transpired in Vienna (INEOS 1:59 Challenge).

“Marathon racing is supposed to involve decisions, and Kipchoge had very few to make last weekend. I was glad to see Kipchoge finish hard on his own, and I suppose we should be grateful that elite running got more coverage from the general interest media than it had since the days of Bolt.  But there’s no point in any more extravaganzas like Vienna, is there?”

I thought Peter’s question was worth sharing and answering. So here goes. Continue reading

1:59 VIENNA REDUX

Early on Vienna’s Prater Park looked like a scene out of the Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary, light fog clinging to the trees half expecting a skirmish line to emerge with percussion cap rifles clattering with bayonets affixed.

Emerging from the mist

Instead, Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge came charging out of that mist tucked neatly into the cockpit of his squadron of low-flying reverse-V pacers following green laser lines projected on the road soft-treading headlong into history.

However he did it – pacers, lasers, drinks, and shoes – he still did it! Eliud Kipchoge ran the marathon distance in 1:59:40.2 in Vienna, Austria at the INEOS 1:59 Challenge to become the first man ever to accomplish the feat of finishing 26.2 miles in under 2:00:00. And the world watched in rapt attention.

From Letsrun.com’s Jonathan Gault, concurrent livestream viewers peaked at 779,000 on Youtube while 4.8 million total views have been seen since. (The Red Bull Stratos space skydive in 2012 holds the concurrent livestream YouTube record at nearly 9 million viewers).

It was a simple goal but a monumental achievement, considering that it took over three years to accomplish when you add up the Nike Breaking2 Project that preceded the INEOS 1:59 Challenge. But in the end, the actual running in Vienna proved to be less of a challenge than it had been in Monza. Continue reading

“WHAT A WORLD!” (RECORD)

I mean, what can you say at this point? There’s no winning here. If you embrace this weekend’s marathon performances in Vienna and Chicago at face value, you have to be wearing pretty tight blinders because of what history has shown us in recent times shenanigans-wise. And if you poo-poo them, then you’re just a cynic and a hater and nobody wants to hear it.

Yesterday in Vienna, the wondrous Eliud Kipchoge became the first person to go sub-two hours over the classic marathon distance in a staged exhibition sponsored by the petro-chemical company INEOS.  In it, organizers shaved every impediment as close to the bone as possible, and then went into the marrow in several others like replacement pacers, so that Kipchoge’s 1:59:40.2 time was ineligible for record purposes. Not that they ever said they were going for a legit record.

Eliud Kipchoge goes sub-2 in Vienna!

Immediately after crossing the line, the Olympic champion celebrated by hugging his wife and friends before sprinting back up the course to high-five fans like he just finished the Carlsbad 5000 (which he actually did in 2010). No problemo.

And today (October 13, 2019) fellow Kenyan Brigid Kosgei tucked in behind her two male pacers at the BofA Chicago Marathon out on the ragged edge of 2:10 pace through 5K heading toward an unwavering 2:14:04 world record, even when one of the oldest adages in the sport says you can easily lose your marathon in the first 15 minutes by making an error in pacing. Evidently that rule no longer applies. Continue reading