Not too long ago I was singing the praises of the American Olympic marathon trials for having 4 guys dip under 2:10. Amazing, I thought. And I was so proud when we had two Canadian guys go under 2:11:30 at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon.
And then the Dubai Marathon happened this past weekend.
To crack the top 10 in that one, you had to run under 2:07. There were four guys under 2:05 – many of whom came out of nowhere. In fact, the guy who won it hadn’t even done the distance before.
This is getting ridiculous. If the Olympics were about lining up the top 50 guys on the planet regardless of country, I’m not sure you’d see a North American in there. It’s starting to feel like you could just take any Ethiopian or Kenyan kid and turn him into 2:05 guy. As if 2:05 were run-of-the-mill.
Of course, this is not the case. I imagine there are plenty of Ethiopians and Kenyans who are broken in the quest for marathon greatness. But there must be so many guys trying. And it’s all driven by bucks: appearance fees, prize money, sponsorships. I don’t have any research on this, but I bet it wouldn’t be that hard to set up a kind of running factory in east Africa. If you were an agent, you could put up the bucks to create a training group. It wouldn’t take much to entice a slew of promising runners – you wouldn’t even have to have a great training facility – to a guy looking to drag his way out of poverty, three meals a day is probably a no-lose situation.
And then you run them 3 times a day, keeping them fed and watered. All you’d need is one or two guys to come out of the group. With the kind of money American, European, Middle Eastern, and Asian Marathons are paying out – bam – you take your cut, some of it goes back to feeding the other horses, and the guys who make it build big houses and dig wells for their villages. Everybody wins!
Except for the majority of guys who break themselves along the way.
Now, I’m just making this scenario up – but I wonder if this kind of thing is what keeps feeding the system with 2:05 guys. And, hey, why not? It’s an opportunity for them (and enterprising agents) – and we get to sit up in the stands and watch these guys redefine what we thought human running potential was.
But let’s not fool ourselves: it’s not love that drives a guy to 2:05.