What a year for the runner. One minute we had an overcrowded race calendar, and the next we were jogging circles around our gardens. Some used stairwells, others grabbed a skipping rope and joined global skipping challenges, and many of us found online programmes to maintain some kind of fitness and focus. The mountains were banned, the beaches too, and when we were finally allowed out between 6 and 9am, it was clear that life as a runner had changed. As we continue to roll with the pandemic punches, race virtually or in small, safely managed events, we take a look back at the strangest running year ever, and a few key moments.
Half Marathon Shoot Outs
In March this year, Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele broke Mo Farah’s course record in the men’s Vitality Big Half race in London with a time of one hour and 22 seconds. He shaved 1 minute and 18 seconds off the record, which was set in 2019. That’s an average pace of 2 minutes and 52 seconds per km.
Mo Farah Fights Back
In September, Farah broke the 1-hour world record challenge at the Brussels Diamond League. He clocked an impressive distance of 21 330m.
London Marathon Drama
A covid-friendly London Marathon hosted two separate races; one for the elite women and one for the elite men, in loops around St James Park. In the women’s race, Brigid Kosgei asserted her unbreakable dominance over the marathon distance with a 2:18:58 win. She now has back-to-back victories at both London and Chicago marathons. Three minutes after Kosgei’s win, America’s Sara Hall had everyone on their seats with a gutsy behind-charge to pass Ruth Chepngetich in the finish chute. Hall and Chepngetich finished in 2:22:01 and 2:22:05 respectively. The top ten women were on average 2 min 21 secs slower than their personal bests even though 4 women improved marginally. One of those who improved was South African Gerda Steyn who narrowly missed the SA record, improving from 2:27:48 to 2:26:51.
Eliud Kipchoge, who has never come further back in a marathon field than second, and that had only happened once, gracefully accepted 8th place after some ear pressure threw him off his game at around the 30km mark. This after a straight win of 10 consecutive marathons and his successful sub-2-hour marathon event. The men’s lead pack of 5 became 3 with one lap to go, and then an all-out sprint finish between Ethiopian, Shura Kitata, and Kenyan, Vincent Kipchumba, played out in eerie silence, as it would have had a crowd whipped up in a proper frenzy on any other occasion. Kitata took it in 2:05:41.
It is possible that the mind blowingly fast new world records set in 2020 made up for a year of very little racing.
In October, Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey took down one of the world’s most revered records; the 5 000m. She left a new mark of 14:06:62 in Valentia, clipping 4 seconds off Tirunesh Didaba’s 12-year-old record. On the same day, Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei set a new men’s 10 000m record of 26:11:00.
Cheptegei had an incredible year, taking the 5 000m record at the Wanda Diamond League in Monaco in August. Arguably the top international running moment of the year, Cheptegei shaved 2 seconds off Kenenisa’s mark, which he had held since May 2004; Cheptegei was just 7 years old when the previous record was set.
Locally, whilst racing has been limited, there have been some emotional start lines, exciting virtual races, and a gradual return to safe trail running. There is very little clarity around 2021, and where our second wave will take us, or when the vaccine will roll out. It remains up to each of us to run safely, knowing that sunshine, movement and happy endorphins are a pretty solid antidote to the sadness attached to what we have all lost this year.
May the year ahead bring more gains than losses, more hope than fear, and more togetherness for all of us.
Words: Kim Stephens