Marathon Season Thus Far

I’ve been a bit lax on my usual rate of posting. This is because I actually have a real job, and September and October are the busiest times of the year for a teacher who also coaches cross country. So here’s a rundown of the top action of the fall marathon season.

1. Patrick Makau wins Berlin, sets new World Record 2:03:38
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There are world records and there are World Records. The former is the fastest time ever run for a particular distance, and the second is whatever the IAAF says it is. Makau’s winning time is the official record, but only the third fastest of the year — Geoffrey Mutai and Moses Mosop ran faster at Boston in April, but the point-to-point and net downhill course is ineligible for records. The race itself wasn’t particularly competitive, with more than four minutes between Makau and second place. Regardless, Makau’s remarkable run is the highlight of the fall season, and he now leads the World Marathon Majors series.

2. Liliya Shobukhova wins third straight Chicago Marathon with 2:18:20

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Few of the fall marathons have been actual races to the finish, and so the rundown is more about the times run. Shobukhova is now #2 on the all-time list (more about that later). She is also the first person, man or woman, to have won this race three times in a row. She had the World Marathon Majors series wrapped up even before the race began.

3. Moses Mosop wins Chicago Marathon in course record time

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It’s been an eventful early fall when a man breaking a record held by the late Sammy Wanjiru only rates third on the list. It’s been a good year for Mosop; a runner-up finish in Boston in a stunning 2:03:06, a 30k world record on the track (plus 25k en route), and now this. As unbelievable as it is to consider, he might only be Kenya’s third best marathoner right now. Makau just set the (official) World Record, and Geoffrey Mutai, the man who outlasted Mosop in Boston, is slated to run New York next month.

4. Jafred Kipchumba wins Eindhoven Marathon in 2:05:48

Who? And where? Yes, that’s how mind-numbingly common these kids of fast times have become. This morning, Kipchumba won this marathon in Holland that doesn’t even rate as an IAAF gold, silver, or bronze level road race. His previous PR was 2:08:10 (in Toronto in 2010), and records of his performances in shorter races aren’t known to either or Eindhoven was his third straight victory, so he’s hardly a nobody. But a win this fast was totally unexpected.

5. Ejegayehu Dibaba runs debut marathon in 2:22:09
Much ignored behind Shobukova’s tremendous run this morning, Dibaba ran the third-fastest debut marathon in history for second place. A late entrant, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist at 10k did little to nothing on the track this year; her 10k split this morning was her best 10k of 2011. While the current favorites for next year’s Olympic gold are Shobukhova and Mary Keitany, the London champ and half-marathon world record holder, Dibaba is a very serious contender as well.


In the spirit of SportsCenter’s Not Top Ten, here are the lowlights of the fall marathon season.

3. No U.S. runners of any note in New York
The New York City Marathon is going to be an awesome race, for both men and women. But all the top Americans will be prepping for January’s Olympic Trials. In the USA’s most international city, a lack of U.S. runners anywhere near the front isn’t going to bother the locals. But on national TV it isn’t going to look good, and NYC is the only nationally-broadcast marathon besides the Olympics.

Don’t get me wrong; I think the timing of the Olympic Trials is perfect, allowing athletes ample time to recover before the big race. It even allows many track specialists a chance to take a chance, knowing that they’ll have all spring to regroup and try again at the track trials if they don’t make it. But it is in some small way a buzzkill in New York.

Yes, I know that Meb Keflezighi is running New York. I said all the top Americans will be skipping that race. Meb’s two greatest accomplishments in marathoning are two and seven years in the rearview mirror, and in marathon years that makes him something akin to a 45-year-old Phil Niekro. Still good enough to make a living, but does not inspire fear in anyone. He is the USA’s most accomplished marathoner of the last decade, but in the twilight of his career.

2. Ryan Hall gets snippy

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There’s two ways to look at this, where Phil Hersh says to Hall that “just being the best in the US doesn’t mean much anymore” and Hall more or less tells him to shove it. One, Hersh is being a jerk and not appreciating how difficult it is to compete at marathoning’s highest level. Two, Hersh is doing his job and pointing out that, with one or two exceptions, Hall has consistently underperformed in marathons.

Here’s the thing: professional sports are not easy for many reasons, but primarily because people expect a lot for their money. No one buys a ticket to watch Hall run, but anyone who buys a Nissan or a pair of Asics shoes is paying his salary. Hersh doesn’t get paid to report on sports if he only kisses butt; when any other athlete is perceived to have underperformed, he better ask tough questions or he doesn’t get paid either. So when road running’s equivalent of sports talk radio gets tough on Hall, it’s a sign of respect for him and his profession, because his fans are taking it just as seriously as other fans do in Fenway Park, Soldier Field, the Molson Center, or anywhere else that the hard-core supporters expect wins.

1. IAAF sets new record for stupidity
Large bureaucracies are noted for decisions that seemed good in the meeting, but then became obviously stupid when told to actual, you know, people. The classic example is New Coke. The IAAF may have beaten it.

The IAAF’s new rule is that world records in women’s races cannot be set in mixed-gender races. That was already the rule on the track, but it was ignored on the roads because virtually all road races (besides the Olympics, Worlds, Euros, etc.) put men and women on the same starting line. But now they’ve decided to say that there are women’s world record (the fastest time a woman has ever run for a particular distance) and then there are Women’s World Records (the fastest time a women has ever run without a Y chromosome on the course).

The idea is that women could get too much aid from a male pacemaker. OK, I get it. But you realize that the Berlin Marathon had twenty-six paid pacemakers this year. Twenty-six. And of the very few big-city races that have a separate start for the women, basically none have female pacemakers.

The Chicago Tribune’s Phil Hersh gets right to it.

The same IAAF that throws up its hands over the issue of all the track and field records set in the anything-goes doping era before Ben Johnson’s 1988 bust at the Seoul Olympics and the mockery of the sport’s records by Chinese women runners in the mid-1990s, before the extent of their doping became clear.

Nineteen such records still stand. Most will outlive those who set them. (Sadly, Florence Griffith Joyner’s in the 100 and 200 meters alrready have.)

The rationale for leaving those records in place is, “We can’t rewrite history.”

So what is the IAAF doing with the marathon? Rewriting history.

At least the IAAF isn’t being one-sided with their stupidity. One of Patrick Makau’s pacemakers beat the official 30k road record in Berlin…but it cannot be ratified as a record because he didn’t finish the 42.2k race. So, once again, the best time ever for a particular distance doesn’t get recognized as a record.

Back in 2003, when the IAAF began ratifying world records for road racing, they had no idea what kind of can of worms they were opening. Ken Young, of the Association of Road Racing Statisticians, said back then that they had taken a giant step backwards. And they’ve kept walking backwards.

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2 Responses to Marathon Season Thus Far

  1. pjm says:

    I will keep saying this over and over until someone listens to me. Boston is not record-ineligible because it is point-to-point; both London and New York are point-to-point and record-eligible. Boston is record-ineligible because the points are too far apart. (Which is the road-race way of measuring the possibility of favoring winds. Notice that the only track events which care about wind readings are ones where the start and finish have a wide separation in terms of the total race distance; the 5000m and 1500m are “point to point” but the gap is small in terms of race distance, whereas for the 100m…)

    • admin says:

      Forgive me for oversimplifying the idea.

      From the linked ARRS page:
      The definition of a “record-quality” course includes, “The start and finish points on a course, measured along a straight line between them, shall not be further apart than 50% of the race distance.” This has been discussed at some length in the previous issue of ADR and again in this issue. The real question is “Why has the IAAF adopted this 50% S/F rule?”

      Apparently one member of the committee (council) that made this decision insisted that courses with up to a 50% separation between the start and finish be allowed. It turns out that two of the performances on the list proposed for acceptance as “world records” were set in this person’s country by nationals of his country. If a 30% rule were adopted, neither of these marks would have qualified. This serves to demonstrate that the basis for the IAAF road record criteria is political rather than technical.

      Do you think it’s at all possible that the decision to cut Radcliffe’s official WR from 2:15 to 2:17 was put forward by federations who have a shot at that record–Russia, Kenya and/or Ethiopia? It would be about as shocking as Captain Renault finding that gambling is going on in his establishment.