What is it about the marathon that so captivates communities? Not just those who run, but also those who follow and support the event. Whatever it is, I am glad it exists. How else would you be able to see the street closures the last two weekends in London and Boston and the millions of people who line the courses to watch. Or New York City in November, the biggest marathon of all. Or the reaction to the bombings in Boston in 2013.
In London, on Sunday, a record 40,382 runners crossed the starting line. An estimated 800,000 people cheered runners along the route. The winner of the women’s competition, Mary Keitany, blew away her competition and the world record by finishing in 2:17:01. The next woman, Tirunesh Dibaba ran a terrific time of 2:17:56. The world record for women is a bit confusing. Keitany’s time replaced Paula Radcliffe’s time of 2:17:42 run in 2005, as the record in a race with women only. Radcliff also ran a 2:15:23 in 2003 which remains a world record, but has an asterisk because men ran in the same race and she followed a couple of men to the finish line or some would say used them as pacers. Once again, the race was a unifying force and a source of great pride in the City of London.
On the men’s side, it was a rough battle as second place runner, Kenenisa Bekele, world record holder in the 5,000 and 10,000-meter track distance, was closing the gap on Daniel Wanjiru. Wanjiru held on however and won in a time of 2:05:48, while Bekele, who has the world’s second fastest marathon time (2:03:03) finished only 9 seconds behind in 2:05:57. And while Bekele was exhausted after crossing the line, the two men had not only battled each other for the win, but were doing so at world record pace. Bekele had asked race organizer for pacers to run world record time and then around 8 miles into the race Bekele urged them to go faster. (It is, I guess ok for men to pace men, but not women.) But the move backfired and after 25 minutes or so he was at the back of the lead pack. Wanjiru told reporters after the race that he was comfortable running at world record pace for portions of the run. He has served notice he will run to break the world record again soon. And who knows, maybe that magic 2-hour barrier one day.
I would have expected by now that participation in the big city marathons would have slowed down. Instead, as they learn to process crowds more efficiently the numbers are still growing, despite the need for most of the biggest races to establish caps for entry. Certainly, the average times for runners finishing marathons has gone down from the early days (Running USA reports 4:20:13 for males and 4:45:39 for women are slowest of all times), but there is a greatly expanded base of people running marathons. It is not just your “hard core” runner participating.
When the stats for the number of finishers in 2015 became available, they showed a drop in the number of marathon finishers in the USA for the first time in Running in the USA’s record keeping time. The 2015 drop to 509,000 runners followed a record high number of finishers in 2014 (550,600). There was one exception to the statement that the number of finishers increased every year but one. In 2012 when the New York City Marathon was cancelled because of storms the total number of finishers was 487,000. So far, it looks like total numbers for 2016 will top 2015 and get the streak going again.
Forbes published some interesting numbers a few days before the 2016 New York City Marathon last fall. The race set a new record for finishers with 51,338. In 2013, the race inked a deal with Tata Consultancy Services for 8 years for $100,000,000. And there is a lot more. New Balance signed an 11-year deal to replace Asics as shoe sponsor for $90,000,000. And the numbers go on…I guess it makes sense to shut those streets down.
This year’s Boston Marathon also had a record turnout. But it also had something more. Like New York and London and so many other marathons, the Boston Athletic Association gives back a lot to its community. Most of us watched in horror as the bombs blew out walls and windows and knocked runners off their feet near the finish line in 2013. We watched and wondered if this would be the end of big city marathons? I made a promise right then I would do my best to run in 2014. And things came together for me and I was able to run it. I wish I could bottle what Boston had that year. It became known as “Boston Strong.” And it truly challenged the perpetrators of the terror in a way that left them unable to respond. What the people of Boston said after that day was that those terrible acts would not change who they were or how they lived their lives. There would be another marathon. And there was in 2014, in 2015, in 2016 and now, in 2017. And on Monday, April 24, 2017, the Boston Athletic Association, the organizers of the Boston Marathon, issued a release announcing a $20,000 donation to help complete the construction of Martin’s Park at Children’s Wharf a universally accessible park and playground along the Fort Point Channel in South Boston. The park will honor the memory of Martin W. Richard.
“Martin’s Park will be a new Boston landmark symbolizing what is special about this city: unity, resilience, and strength.
Each year, One Boston Day serves as an opportunity to recognize the resiliency, generosity, and strength demonstrated by the people of Boston and those around the world in response to the tragedy of April 15, 2013.
Wow, that sounds a lot like my city, Tallahassee. For what it is worth, I am going to keep working hard with my community and running club on keeping our marathon one we can all be proud to support.