Growing army of marathon runners continue to confound the sceptics

Growing army of marathon runners continue to confound the sceptics #38

Kenya’s Dennis Kimetto crosses the line in Berlin as he completes the fastest marathon in history – his 2:02:57 breaking the 2:03-barrier for the first time. Photo: Tobias Schwarz/Getty

Some people still think of it as a sort of annual mass street demonstration in support of capital running punishment. What, they ask, are those sick people running for? Why would anyone punish themselves so brutally for 26.2 gut-busting miles through the streets of any capital city, especially in a race where hardly of them have the slightest chance of winning?

Some people will always think that way about the Dublin Marathon. Only they are now part of the minority. Because the fastest-growing sector of world sport continues to be these mass participation events, the marathon still chief among them, and Monday’s race is just another perfectly understandable demonstration of it all.

Indeed Dublin’s entry of around 15,000 runners, including around 4,000 foreign entries, from 47 countries, is up again on last year, despite the fact nearly every other city and large town in the country – from Belfast to Dingle – also now stages a marathon of its own.

The same goes for almost every big city marathon in the world. Last year, the New York Marathon, with its 50,266 finishers, was the largest in marathon running history. And, according to Runner’s World magazine, there were 1,100 marathon races staged across the US last year, compared to around 300, back in 2000. The combined total of marathon finishers in the US alone is now well over half a million each year: that’s a lot of 26.2-mile running for a lot of people.

The appeal

There is still no easy way of explaining the appeal of running a marathon. But then running any long distance means breaking into a part of the physical and psychological hinterland that none one of us will ever fully understand.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t still some differing opinion over what exactly constitutes running a marathon. On one hand, it’s still as much about the time as it is the distance; on the other hand, it’s all about the distance and nothing do to with the time. Most marathon runners actually fall somewhere in between, and consider both the time and the distance. But should one be ever mutually exclusive from the other?

Last month, in Berlin, Dennis Kimetto ran the fastest marathon in history – his 2:02:57 breaking the 2:03-barrier for the first time, and reigniting the great debate about if, or indeed when, the two-hour barrier will be broken. My guess is it will be later rather than sooner.

For now, Kimetto’s 2:02:57 should be taken for exactly what it is – the single most amazing display of sustained human athleticism this year. Especially as just over two years ago, Kimetto was a peasant farmer, struggling to make ends meet by cultivating and selling maize and potatoes at the local market of the remote Kapng’etuny village, in the heart of the Kenyan Rift Valley.

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