The Greatest Race in the World and what that would look like

After the success of the Berlin marathon to facilitate another marathon world record, I started thinking about what it would take to create a race with the sole intention of making it the Greatest Race in the World – the GRW.

The greatest marathon course possible

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Kipsang on his way to 2:03:23

In the case of the Berlin marathon, I think there are a very large number of factors that come together to make it the course upon which so many marathon world records have been set. From my experience of running it, and in no particular order, here are a few that I suspect play a part:

  • a flat course (as flat as you can make a 26 mile loop)
  • a course that conforms to IAAF stipulations (the Boston Marathon course – over which the fastest ever marathon has been run – does not conform so Geoffrey Mutai’s 2:03:02 run there in 2011, does not count)
  • great crowd support
  • flawless organisation
  • good road surfaces underfoot all the way around
  • as few twists and turns as possible
  • no bottle-necks (not such a big deal for the elite runners, but for the rest of us trying to run a PB, it can be important)
  • as many runners as possible to race against / work with

There are also factors that vary from year to year – cool conditions, ideally no rain and either no wind or at least as little head wind as possible – are ideal. But even the GRW can’t control the weather. Although the greatest race might be able to take prevailing wind directions and weather conditions into account to limit the chances of a freakily bad day.

What about races apart from the marathon?

Of course, the marathon is not the only race, despite it being my obsession. So what about GRWs over other distances and on other terrains? I suspect that many of the factors that would go into creating the 26.2 mile GRW would apply equally to all endurance road races, certainly from 5km upwards. But if you think that the GRW might be a trail race, then being flat and on tarmac, would not be considered ideal. In that case the factors that might make for the greatest race might include the technicality of the trails, inspiring views, aid stations stocked with cheese and coca cola and so on. There would also be different requirements for the GRW if it was a fell race or an orienteering race.

What would make for your ideal race?

I once read an article where the author imagined the race that would need to be created to allow the perfectly trained athlete to break the 2 hour barrier for the marathon. The article focussed quite a lot on the training that the athlete had undergone, the technology used to monitor the athlete while he or she ran and the clothing and footwear that would facilitate the record attempt. I think that for us mere mortals, the training varies enormously depending on the runner and the kit is just whatever you feel good in. But the course is something that, if done right, can help everyone to run a faster time than they have before.

So my big question is, what would you suggest would make up your dream race – if you could imagine the Greatest Race in the World, what would it look like? Leave your suggestions in the comments below and perhaps, one day, we can make that race a reality. Then there’d be no excuses, right?

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