Tuesday, October 14, 2014

5th of the Big 5?

If the world big marathons are Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, and New York I fear Chicago is becoming the fifth place finisher particularly among the elite runners.  Boston and London are in the spring so the elite have to choose between those two.  Berlin, New York and Chicago are too close in the fall to each other to do more than one.  This year at least almost everyone has chosen not Chicago.  The winner Sunday was Eliud Kipchoge in a respectable 2:04:11 and Rita Jeptoo to clinch the world marathon series championship but not a lot of other well known names.  Bekele of Ethiopia was highly touted but was dropped like a bad habit by the winner at mile 20 and is still learning how to marathon after an amazing track career.  Korir of Kenya is now a member of Parliament and can't train year round and it showed.  Listening to the announcement of the elite field before the start was actually kind of a bummer.  Winning the Paris or Warsaw marathon a couple of years ago is a big deal for sure but hardly makes you a household name.

So what is going on?  The records are being increasingly set in Berlin year after year.  So it looks like Berlin is where you go for records and New York is where you for celebrities and the big apple but a hard course with too many hills to contend for records. Boston has its own cachet and London is also a contender for those trying for records.  Hard to compare prize and appearance fees without more data.

So what is Chicago missing and should anyone care given that it is becoming everyone's site for their first marathon, is usually in the running for the largest marathon depending on the year, and a great place to qualify for Boston?

My best guess is that fear of erratic weather, misapprehension of the reputation of the Windy City (The Windy is from political hot air in the 19th century political conventions but not the weather), and an unfortunate year where the finishing area was slippery from rain and the winner concussed himself leaning in for the win and then falling feet up head down immediately afterwards are all factors. 

In addition, they could better with optimizing the course.  It's flat as a pancake with 20 foot elevations at most from the bridges across the rivers and highways but has a fair amount of zig zags.  It wouldn't take that much effort to straighten out the kinks where you go right and then left within a 1/4 block at mile 5 and 9.5.  Couple of seemingly unnecessary turns in the 20s as well.  And who really wants a hill, even a mini one, at mile 26?  Doesn't matter to me, but might to someone for whom half seconds matter. 

Still a great race and great course which attracts 45,000 runners, 1.5 million spectators, many more thousands of applicants closed out in the new lottery system, more than 10,000 runners from all over the world, and jammed hotels, restaurants, and stores for the weekend.  Its a great boon for the city and its reputation but seemingly starting  to fall behind the rest of the big 5. 

By the way, just 'cause you run a Michelin starred restaurant, used to play for the Bears, or used to be from here before you got a series on cable doesn't make you a celebrity. 


My final thoughts:

1) best sign I saw was "All Toenails Go to Heaven!"

2) Worst sign, the dozen or so where people thought they were original with "May the Course be With You" and

 3) Happy not to see many Bible quotes for a change.


  1. I consider Boston and New York to be due generis because they are just races put on by big, wealthy clubs that can pay millions for talent to come race.

    London, Chicago, and Berlin are the athletes' races, and as you say, Berlin is to that ranking what Harvard is to US News. This site (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marathon_world_record_progression) reports the last six men's records in Berlin; Khannouchi's 2002 record was in London, and Chicago last saw a record in 1999. For women, it is London and Chicago, although there were a couple of women's records in Berlin >10 years ago.

    I count 25 sharp turns in the Berlin Marathon from the map at this link: http://www.bmw-berlin-marathon.com/en/race-day/course.html. I count 31 in Chicago (map here: http://assets.chicagomarathon.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/2013-Course-Map.pdf). I count about 28 in London. In the original vanity marathon course, Fukuoka (which last saw a world record in 1981), I count only 13 hard turns.

  2. Max is right that Boston and NY are different animals, but I'm not so cynical about the reason. They both play a huge role in the history of the event, with Boston as the grandparent and NY as the second oldest, and the first to ride the running boom of the 70s. They survive only because of their distinctiveness, as nobody in their right mind would try to set a world record in either race. In the 1990s, it felt like Chicago was going to supplant NYC. All the fast times were being set there, and NYC seemed like an afterthought. Two years ago, NYC's franchise was in danger in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. If Chicago retools a bit, it might give Berlin a run for its money on speed. A couple of good dramatic finishes at world or near record time will raise the race's profile again. But who's counting anyway? They are all great races with unshakable claims to MAJOR status. Think of how Paris must feel . . . So who cares about the ordinal ranking? Chicago, of course, with it's "second city" obsession, but if anything, I fear NYC should worry, with its horrible logistics, hilly course, and not being Boston . . .