Yesterday morning (12/20/20) some of the fastest distance running ever on American soil took place.
In a small town of Chandler, AZ, on the Gila River Native American reservation (home of the Pima and Maricopa tribes), 40 women and 48 men came together to race in what was simply called “The Marathon Project”.
The idea of the “race” came about because all major marathons have been cancelled/postponed for the foreseeable future (the London marathon is a slight exception, but even that event was extremely limited in both size and scope) and many of these runners are professional athletes that both needed and wanted to get back to work.
The race organizing committee complied with all CDC COVID-19 guidelines as well as the local state of AZ safety regulations. All athletes needed to submit a negative Covid test, press conferences and athlete technical meetings (where everyone learns all the specifics of where and when to be places, etc.) were all held via video calls, no spectators were allowed on the course, and all volunteers wore masks and gloves. (Athletes of this caliber also all have individual water bottles assigned to them. None of that water cup nonsense at this level - even in nonpandemic situation).
What was so cool about this event was all the planning to make it as fast as possible: ideal weather, a flat course, no potholes (folks who have run Boston or New York know what a huge help a smooth running surface can be), pacers (folks to help lead groups of runners so they don’t have think as much and can also block the wind,
if that’s an issue).
☝🏾Photo from the New York Times, which looks like it took this photo from The Marathon Project people.
And fast it was. Twelve women ran under 2 hours and 30 minutes and 7 men ran under 2 hours and 10 minutes. Twenty years ago, this would have been a preposterous goal. (Recall that in 2000 we only sent one woman and one man to compete for the U.S. in the Sydney Olympic Marathon. We could have sent 3 of each gender. We simply didn’t have anyone run fast enough to qualify.)
In addition, the women’s champion, Sara Hall, ran 2:20:32, a personal best and the second fastest American women’s time. Ever. The winner of the men’s division was 4th year medical student, Marty Hehir, who ran 2:08:59.
Women’s Champion Sara Hall and Men’s Champion Marty Hehir.
In addition, athletes from Canada and Mexico ran Olympic qualifying times, effectively placing themselves on their countries’ team for the Tokyo Games if/when they happen.🤞🏻
While we could argue that this event was a little too controlled, a little too fabricated - that it lacked the drama of a race where a lot was as stake, I take the view that any display of human excellence in the face of challenge should and must be celebrated. This year has taught us all that there is always a lot at stake. And that we must keep going. And enjoy the victories however they reveal themselves.
Congratulations to all who took part, organized the race, volunteered, and helped support these athletes on their quest. Inspiration and incredible accomplishments are all around us.
☝🏾Sara Hall with some guy.
Full results of the event 👇🏼