2007 was a wild year for marathon running. It will be a year that will be remembered for incredible performances, freakish weather and bad race management. In fact, as I looked across the year there were so many things that stood out this year, that I’ve titled this series: The good, the bad and the ugly. Today we start, as we should, with the good.
2007 Marathon Year in Review
Part I: The good
It was the good news in 2007 that shows that marathon running is a lively and vibrant sport. When the final tally comes in, more people will have completed marathons this year than ever before. And at the front of the pack, elite runners kept turning our heads, reminding us both of how competitive the sport and how quickly the landscape can change in elite running. Let’s start with someone wild this year: the debutants.
A trio of debut marathoners leaves us breathless
Runners that debut do amazing things in their debut marathons come along once in awhile, but this year there were three debut marathon runners that did feats so amazing that it’s almost hard to believe them.
Let’s start with 31 year-old Abderrahim Goumri. Goumri burst onto the stage this year as a real contender by finishing second in both the first and second marathons in his career. And we’re not talking about your local home-town marathons. We’re talking the Flora London Marathon and the ING New York City Marathon, two of the most important races in the world. Goumri lost both races to Martin Lel, as the more seasoned marathon runner was able to out-kick him in the closing steps of both races. Starting out a career with a 2:07:44 and 2:09:16 (on a more difficult course) is not a bad way to start things off. Watch for him back at London next spring.
Next up is American Ryan Hall. Hall started out the year at the Flora London Marathon as well. In his debut race, he finished seventh in 2:08:24, making him the second fastest American ever at the marathon distance and the fastest ever born in the United States. Not a bad start. How did he follow this up? Well, how about breaking the record at the US Olympic Marathon Trials and winning the race by almost two minutes in a time nearly just a second off of the winning time of the New York City Marathon. His 2:09:02 in the US Olympic Marathon Trials could have been even faster, as he waved and enjoyed the crowd in the closing mile. Next summer he will compete in the Olympic Marathon in Beijing.
And our last incredible debutant is the very young Kenyan Sammy Wanjiru, who broke the half-marathon world record, not once but twice, this year. He then made his debut at the Fukuoka Marathon in December, winning the race convincingly. In running a 2:06:39 marathon, Wanjiru sets the 27th fastest time in history, only 16 other men have run times faster. He is now only 21 years-old, and at age 19 he was named Kenya’s Most Promising Sportsmen of the Year. I think we’ll see a lot more of this young runner.
A new world record
Haile Gebrselassie is arguably the greatest distance runner in history. In his career he has continually crushed world records at distances short and long. When he sets his sights on a new goal, he does whatever it takes to achieve it. He is strategically strong, picking the correct races, and has the athletic work-ethic and talent to back up his conquests.
Gebrselassie told the world that he planned to set “the big one”: a new marathon world-record. And in his trademark fashion, he didn’t just imply or hint at it. He literally told us that he was setting out to break the record in the Berlin Marathon. His game-plan unfolded flawlessly on September 30th, 2007, when he set out into the morning with his squad of elite pace-runners, leaving them behind at 35KM to run alone in the closing miles. When he crossed the line, he had cut a whopping 29 seconds off of the world record, setting a new mark at 2:04:26.
Where will Gebrselassie go next? Never to leave a doubt in our heads, Haile has sketched out his plans for us. He wants to win the Olympic Marathon in Beijing. And he hopes to run a sub-2:04 marathon at some point as well. Perhaps not in hot and humid Beijing, but maybe in Dubai in January. He’s certainly got the credentials to make those claims and it will be fun to watch him do it.
Return of a champion
Perhaps one of the greatest moments of the year for me was watching the return of Paula Radcliffe to the sport of marathon running. Paula is simply astonishing at the marathon distance. Having taken off almost two years from competitive running, the question would be not IF she would return, but how long it would take her to get back to her former form.
The answer came in the ING New York City Marathon, where Paula almost turned the race into a solo time-trial. She had the company of Gete Wami every step of the race, but make no mistake: Paula led from the starting line to the finish. Wami was just hanging on, perhaps hoping that the returning champion might have some chinks in her late marathon armor. She didn’t.
In the closing miles of the race, Paula seemed to back off the pace a little bit. She explained later that she was being conservative, so that she would have something to counter a last-ditch attack by Wami. Wami most likely thought that Paula was fading, so she made a break for it just after the 800M-to-go banners. Radcliffe answered by pounding her foot onto the gas and leaving Wami in her dust. It was perhaps the most electrifying moment of the year. As the great champion made her comeback, we are reminded that in her eight marathon starts, she has won seven of them.
Great running at the Ironman
One more piece of amazing marathon running came in the Ironman World Championships this past October. It was an exceptionally hot year for the race and two strong runners left the field in their dust: Chris McCormack and Chrissie Wellington.
McCormack has long been known for his running prowess, but it was Wellington that really stood out for me. After running a 3:21:00 marathon in 122 degree heat at Ironman Korea, she was able to pull out a 2:59:58 marathon in Kona to take the women’s victory. As a newcomer to the sport, she shows amazing promise, being able to run a marathon that quickly, at the end of an Ironman, in those kind of temperatures. Watch out for her next year.
Lots of good
So 2007 was a year of amazing performances from debutants and veterans. This year had everything that we could ask for in the “good” camp. These were the moments that made us stand up and cheer and put smiles on our faces.
But there were some not-so-good moments as well. Tomorrow we look back at the bad moments of the year, and then we look at the truly ugly moments – the ones that we wish we could forget.
Right now, let’s just savor the good and leave it at that.
Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon, USA
for Running Advice and News (www.running-advice.com)
Copyright 2007 Joe English
2007 London Marathon