Much of what push back there’s been against the three Sub-2 Hour marathon projects concerns their focus on time rather than competition. Now comes word came that Ethiopian superstar Kenenisa Bekele has signed on to the April 23rd Virgin London Marathon, just days after being announced to run the Standard Charter Dubai Marathon on January 20th in what is likely a world record attempt. Hmmm.
Now a cynic might conclude that with defending London and Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, along with former Boston champ Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia signed on to this spring’s Nike Project Breaking2 (at an as yet undisclosed location), London’s major name (if not two) has been stripped from the event marquee. So, notwithstanding Bekele’s Dubai appearance 13 weeks earlier, London needed a big name to build its 2017 race around. You can bet this isn’t the scenario the Abbott World Marathons Majors had in mind when they put together their series ten years ago.
But as the paydays of the marathon have continued to spread (if not actually grow), and the World Marathon Majors series title now paying off as a five-year $100,000 annuity rather than a one-fell-swoop $500,000 (because of Rita Jeptoo and Lilya Shobokhova stealing three Majors’ titles via drug disqualifications), we’ve begun to see more and more top athletes stretch their wings and challenge the old assumptions and the old-line events. Not only are the old warhorses like Bekele willing to squeeze more into less in terms of rest and recovery, youthful runners who might once have gone to the track ovals in Europe are now running marathons like they were halves.
With a marathon training cycle of 12 weeks, give or take, and a full recovery assigned one month, conventional wisdom has long held that two per year was the way to best schedule a top marathon career — with exceptions made for an Olympic year, where athletes were willing to compromise their fall effort for a shot at Olympic glory (World Championship not so much). The original five Abbott World Marathon Majors built their series upon this convention. But racing is not simply an exercise in trophy collection, it’s a business opportunity with only so many years available to stake your claims. Athletes like 22 year-old Lemi Berhanu Hayle is a prime example. Continue reading