It’s been another memorable year in the world of marathon running even as 2019 begins to rise with news that Chicago Marathon champion Mo Farah will once again run in London next spring, a race he finished third at in 2018. Though Cal International, Fukuoka, and Honolulu remain on the schedule for 2018, the bulk of the year’s work had been completed.
Once again, the two East African nations of Kenya and Ethiopia dominate the top 100 times run during the year, Kenya leading the men’s list to date with 56 performances, Ethiopia topping the women’s ranks with 51 of the top 100.
TOP 100 – Men
Kenya – 56; Ethiopia – 30; Japan – 6; USA (Galen Rupp) and GBR (Mo Farah) – 2; Turkey, New Zealand, Tanzania, Uganda – 1 each.
TOP 100 – Women
Ethiopia – 51; Kenya – 32; Japan – 6; Bahrain – 4; USA (Amy Cragg & Kellyn Taylor) – 2; So. Korea, Belarus, Morocco, Portugal, Australia- 1 each.
Individually, World No. 1 was once again undeniably taken by Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge. In 2018, he not only won London in the spring but then broke countryman Dennis Kimetto’s four-year-old world record in Berlin in September by a stunning 78 seconds, lowering the record to 2:01:39, a mark that some believe could stand up for quite a span. But who knows about such things, truly?In today’s running world, there is a growing belief that anything conceived is now possible to achieve. And while that might make a mockery of history, like the 54-51 shootout at the Los Angeles Coliseum last night between the winning L.A. Rams and the Kansas City Chiefs in American football, a new dimension in barrier-breaking road running also seems to have been reached.
But getting back to Mr. Kipchoge. He’s proven himself not just the ultimate time-trialist, but the ne plus ultra within the competitive arena, too, most notably with his convincing win at the Olympic Marathon in Rio 2016. And though he has embraced a “Berlin Forever” mentality that binds him to the German capital, don’t you think somewhere down deep that Kipchoge might want to test himself on one of the two grand non-paced marathons of the world, New York City and Boston?Or is the new era in running beginning to define itself strictly along the paced / non-paced continuum? Recall how after a three-year absence, Chicago returned to a paced format in 2018, and instantly returned to 2:05 status after three years at 2:09, 2:11, 2:09. (more…)
Watching the races in London last Sunday I couldn’t help contrast forms, because in the marathon more so than the track (until you get to the kick at the end) the question of form is also the matter of fuel management, especially on the quivering edge of world record pace. As Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba wrote on her Facebook account afterward: “Even though my training went very well, I misjudged the pace, and did not have the strength to finish.”
She didn’t misjudge the pace, she misjudged the conditions for the pace. Maybe if the day had dawned overcast at 43F (6C) with calm winds, talk of a world record would have been very much in order. But it was 59F (15C) at the start! And rising, going on to become the hottest day in London Marathon history.
Paula Radcliffe‘s 2003 world record 2:15:25 stood some 2:31 faster than Tirunesh had ever run (2:17:56 finishing second to Mary Keitany’s 2:17:01 last year, the second-fastest time in history). What did she think the odds were going out significantly faster than Paula Radcliffe had in 2003 in those conditions? I know that modern runners have out-trained the distance, at least on a benign day, but can they be so dismissive of the distance and the records that they think basic physiological norms no longer apply?
You could see right away that Mary Keitainy had a tighter, more efficient form than Tirunesh, both above and below the waist. She also showed less core rotation per stride. That difference in per-stride energy expenditure adds up. The fact that Mary staggered home at all in fifth place in 2:24:27 after falling off world record pace before 30K was a testament to her fitness and form. The fact that Tirunesh didn’t get past 30K after falling off Mary’s pace at 15K makes its own point. (more…)
What is it with money in this game? While purses and contracts in every other sport have continued to grow well into seven figures, in this fish market the scale has either remained stagnant or just gone down.
For their Series XI, which began in London last weekend, the Abbott World Marathon Majors announced a drop in its top prize from half a mill to a quarter mill, while thumping a new charity component that outstrips the top athletic prize by thirty grand, $280k to $250k. Yet can you blame them?
What would you do if international diversity completely disappeared from the top end of your sport, or if half your women’s series champions turned up doped – then didn’t give the money back, so you had to pay out twice? Not to mention all the negative PR that comes with the news. Not quite the idea you had in mind a decade ago when you began the series, then, is it?
“The World Marathon Majors Series was founded in 2006 to advance the sport of marathon running and to honor the world’s best male and female runners and wheelchair athletes,” read the press release. “Now, every year, more than 250,000 runners participate in the AbbottWMM races worldwide, raising nearly $150 million annually for good causes, and the Series celebrates its Six Star finishers, runners who have successfully completed all six races in the Series. Additionally, Abbott WMM is a world leader in anti-doping initiatives, financing the biggest private-funded drug testing program in sport.”
Notice the order of focus and intention. Sport is still involved, yes, but now it is last in line and focused on doping, no longer the centerpiece of the enterprise.
But that aside, why is the money in this sport still organized the way it is in the first place? Because for some odd reason we can’t shuck our amateur past where the illusion fostered was that there was no money at all, while the reality was there was no ‘visible’ money? (more…)
This is a strange game, isn’t it? Here we see the great Mary Keitany winning her third Virgin Money London Marathon in 2:17:01, and for the rest of the morning we try to figure out where her performance stands in the list of best-ever women’s marathons.
Now, forgetting all this mixed-gender, women’s-only, point-to-point, downhill or loop course qualifiers, Mary’s 2:17:01 is the second fastest women’s finishing time ever posted behind Paula Radcliffe’s 2:15:25, London 2003. But on the coverage shown in the USA by NBCSN her time was referred to as the fastest time ever in a women’s-only race, bettering Paula’s 2:17:42 from London 2005. But even that 2005 London time ranks behind Paula’s 2:17:18 from Chicago 2002. Confused?
When reading through the chattering class on LetsRun.com, and referring to my own 2002 journal when I covered the women’s race for NBC5 in Chicago, we remember LetsRun co-founder Weldon Johnson served as Paula’s “escort”, if not rabbit per se. But when Paula smashed that Chicago mark in London the following spring with her magical 2:15:25, she was also “escorted” by two Kenyan guys the entire way. (more…)
Happy birthday to Wilson Kipsang, the former marathon world record holder, who turns 34 today. Last year Wilson ran a strong second to fellow Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge in the London Marathon, 2:04:47 to Kipchoge’s 2:04:42. In today’s marathon world the two 30+ year olds are a bit of a throwback as youth (and drugs) has emerged as a dominant player.
We go through eras in sports, and unfortunately the current era in almost all sports will be linked to drugs (though institutional corruption is making a big play for attention, as well). The only good thing we might see ahead is that the era of drugs as the preferred method of performance enhancement is coming to an end as gene manipulation promises a strong future in the 21st century. (more…)
Hype can cut both ways. Too much and the promotion can fall flat. Too little and the tree can tumble unheard in the forest.
In 2015 the Virgin Money London Marathon did a great job promoting its men’s and women’s professional fields. With a month long boxing-like ramp up that focused on the last two men’s marathon world record holders, Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto, and a “Fantastic Four” of Kenyan women, consisting of past London champions Edna Kiplagat (2014),Priscah Jeptoo (2013), Mary Keitany (2011-2012) and 2014 TCS New York City Marathon winner Florence Kiplagat (2nd, London 2014), London stacked its packs then piqued our interest with their pre-race set up.
The one thing it couldn’t control, however, was the outcome as Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge (2:04:42) bested Kipsang (2nd place, 2:04:47) and Kimetto (3rd place, 2:05:50), while Ethiopia’s Tigist Tufa, a 2:21:52 winner in Shanghai last year, upset the women’s applecart in a race where the pacers were all but ignored as place took precedence over time. Tufa arrived at the finish in 2:23:22 while Mary Keitany followed 18 seconds later in 2:23:40. They were followed by two more Ethiopians, Tirfi Tsegay (2:23:41) and Aselefech Mergia (2:23:53). Florence Kiplagat arrived in fifth at 2:24:15, while defender Edna Kiplagat (no relation) struggled home in 11th in 2:27:16.
Just as in Chicago last October, Eliud Kipchoge’s lips split wide as he powered away from his final challenger today in the British capital. Last fall Sammy Kitwara fell victim. Today it was defending London champion Wilson Kipsang, the only man to defeat Kipchoge to date over the marathon distance (2013 Berlin when Kipsang ran a world record, since broken, 2:03:23, while Kipchoge finished second in a PR 2:04:05).
Often teeth baring betrays the rictus of effort, but for the 30 year-old father of three from the Central Highlands of Kenya, the softened crinkles around his eyes revealed his real mood. This, then, was the simple smile of satisfaction playing out over a face now used to such expressions of self-regard.
Less we forget, Eliud Kipchoge was just 18 when he upset world-beaters Hicham El Guerrouj and Keninise Bekele to take gold in the 5000 meters at the 2003 IAAF World Championships in Paris, the same year he won the IAAF World Cross Country Junior Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland. A year later he won bronze in the Athens Olympics over 5000m. Four years later he upgraded to silver in Beijing.
These days, after retooling his body for the longer road distances, Kipchoge once again took the measure of the best runners on offer with yet another flash of speed in the waning stages of a major competition.
The range of the man is remarkable. Only Ethiopia’s inestimable Haile Gebrselassie is in the same mile-to-marathon league with Kipchoge. What makes the two even more laudable is how each was able to sustain excellence over an extended period of time over a range of distances requiring very different training regimens.
KIPCHOGE PR LIST
Distance Time Venue Date
1500m 3:33.20 Hengelo (NED) 31 May 2004
Mile 3:50.40 London (GBR) 30 July 2004
3000m 7:27.66 Doha (QAT) 6 May 2011
5000m 12:46.53 Rome (ITA) 2 July 2004
10,000m 26:49.02 Hengelo (NED) 26 May 2007
10K Road 26:54 Madrid (ESP) 31 Dec. 2006
Half Marathon 59:25 Lille, (FRA) 01 Sep. 2012
Marathon 2:04:05 Berlin (GER) 29 Sep. 2013
GEBRSELASSIE PR LIST
Distance Time Venue Date
1500m 3:33.73 Stuggart (GER) 6 June 1999
Mile 3:52.39 Gatehead (GBR) 27 June 1999
3000m 7:25.09 Brussels (BEL) 28 Aug. 1998
5000m 12:39.36 Helsinki (FIN) 13 June 1998
10,000m 26:22.75 Hengelo (NED) 01 June 1998
10K Road 27:02 Doha (QAT) 13 Dec. 2002
Half-Marathon 58:55 Tempe (USA) 15 Jan. 2006
Marathon 2:03:59 Berlin (GER) 28 Sep. 2008
So just when we thought the marathon had traded out old track stars for fresh faced road warriors, Eliud Kipchoge proved the old ways still have their charms, even as both champions showed that the marathon remains one of the most challenging of all sporting events to predict.
And finally, any sport must be lucky in those who become its champions, as sport is pure meritocracy. In that light, distance running has been blessed by many a fine representative. But none better than three-time London and New York City Marathon champion Paula Ratcliffe who ran her swan song today.
The still standing women’s world record holder — 2:15:25 (London 2003) and nobody in shouting distance — hung up her marathon racing flats with a 2:36:55 effort. No hype would ever be too great to adequately measure Paula’s long run at the top. I can still recall her taking the IAAF World Cross Country junior title in snowy Boston in 1992 in her first of many international triumphs. Though snake bitten at the Olympics, whether in triumph or despair, Paula provided inspiration that will last for decades to come. Her contributions to the sport, already vast, one would hope have only just begun.
The Virgin Money London Marathon announced its 2015 professional men’s field today, and the gathering is already making salivary glands water among the faithful world-wide. But though it is already being dubbed “Greatest Field in History” – and how many times have we heard that before? – what I found most appealing about the roll-out was how binary the London organizers made it.
While former London Marathon champion and course record holder Emmanuel Mutai has also been signed, along with 2014 Chicago king Eliud Kipchoge, and the redoubtable Keninise Bekele of Ethiopia, any one of whom might well expect to see his name up on a race marquee, notwithstanding the presence of those other stars, it’s the current and former marathon world record holders who are primarily being touted. This is a welcome sign of marketing savvy, and takes a page from how boxing promotes it’s major fights. (more…)