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?

The Running and Endurance Sports Performance of the Year awards: RESULTS!

As regular readers will know, the Running and Endurance Sports Performance of the Year awards were born out of my own personal frustration with the BBCs Sports Personality of the Year awards shortlist. You can read why I was so annoyed and how the RESPYs nominations poured in here.






Little did I imagine however, that my solitary rant into the keyboard, from my flat in north London, would attract such attention, generating passion and inspiration and leaving me, at times, reading such great nominations with tears of pride and amazement in my eyes. So first of all, to everyone that bothered to contact me – either by email or twitter or through comments on the blog – thank you! Thank you for showing me that there is still deep passion in this country for endurance sports and for the athletes who test themselves, very often for little or no reward, week after week. These are people constantly striving to be the best runners and endurance athletes they can be and by doing that they show the rest of us the way.

I was also deeply moved by the depth of knowledge that so many responders to my request for nominations showed about the people they wanted to win the award. So often I think, sport is blighted by partisanship whereby athletes or players are either lauded or vilified, not for their skill or devotion or dedication, but for their affiliation or the colour of the shirt they wear. Throughout the RESPYs process, none of that came across. The nominees were suggested and voted for because they were recognised as having done something amazing in 2011 – a running or endurance sports performance (or performances in some cases) worthy of recognition.

Awards are for awarding

However as with all endurance events, whilst taking part is a phenomenal achievement in itself, there must always be a winner – in the case of the RESPYs two winners: one male and one female.

I must admit now that the process for picking the winner possibly lacked complete rigour. I counted up the nominations and votes for the individuals who had been mentioned, I spoke to some experts in endurance sports that I know and I read what I could about the most nominated/voted for individuals. And then I chose…

And the winners are…

Chrissie Wellington with the Women's RESPY for 2011

Chrissie Wellington for the women’s award for her phenomenal performance in Kona in 2011, where she won an amazing 4th world championship despite an extremely nasty crash on the bike only weeks before the race. I do not have the words to describe how tough a competitor Chrissie is and at the same time what an amazing ambassador she is for her sport and her passions, especially helping those less fortunate in the world. I truly believe that Chrissie Wellington should have won the BBC SPotY (as well as a myriad other awards) for her increadible dedication to the sport and her unbelievable determination to the the best that she can possibly be. Which, it turns out, is rather good indeed. Chrissie, you are a most deserved winner.


Scott Overall for the men’s award for his massively impressive 5th place and Olympic marathon qualification with 2:10:55 in his debut race over 26.2 miles in Berlin 2011. Scott is not an overnight phenomenon, having raced at shorter distances very successfully for many, many

Scott Overall with the men's RESPY 2011

years. But without fanfare and knowing that he had no opportunity to try the distance out before having a crack at Olympic qualification, Scott simply ran his own race in Berlin and showed endurance runners throughout the UK that the era of global marathon dominance by men from the UK might be over for now, there is no reason why we cannot start to see a return to the ‘good old days’ that so many commentators lament is over. And more than just the fact that Scott ran such a great time in Berlin, he is also at the heart of a group of runners who are now looking to emulate what he has done – even to the extent that he will be pacing other GB runners in the London marathon who are looking for the elusive sub-2:12 time to get them on the team. So for just going out there and pushing back the barriers that many thought were insurmountable, and at the same time making sure that there will be at least one GB vest to yell for on marathon day in the London Games in August, we salute Scott Overall and wish you all the best for a great race in 2012.

The Future for the RESPYs?

So what is next, I hear you ask? Well the RESPYs really showed me that there is passion and knowledge amongst the readers of this blog. So at the very least there will be another RESPYs for performances in 2012. Beyond that, I am still keen to acknowledge and highlight runners who might not be at the very front of the pack in major races, but who show us all that we can achieve more than we ever thought possible, so I will work on a way to develop the Runners At The Sharp-end and showcase those sorts of people. And I think that some way to doff our collective caps to all the people who work tirelessly, often voluntarily, to help keep running, erm… running should be created. So please all get your thinking caps on and if you want to nominate for the RESPYs 2012 throughout the year then please do – I am sure there is a small, low-key athletics meeting happening in London this summer which might throw up a few suggestions!

Adidas’ new range for 2012

First of all a confession – I haven’t ever really run in Adidas footwear before (I did have a pair when I very first started running, but I can’t really remember them and they were consigned to the bin fairly quickly after I discovered I had bought a size too small for me). The reason for this is rather ridiculous, but is something that I hope many runners will understand; I had a bad retail experience and then never went back to the brand I was annoyed by.

After I started running I always went to a specialist running shop for my shoes, but after a few years, I started to think that I knew what felt good on my feet. So I went to a huge Adidas shop on Oxford Street, in London’s West End, with the intention of trying on, and buying, some Adidas racing flats. After all these were the shoes that Haile Gebrselassie had worn when he and I ran the Berlin marathon earlier in 2008; he set the then world record of 2:03:59 and I ran a PB in 2:51:52.

The problem is that I am not good at shopping. I don’t like hanging around and I don’t like what I perceive to be bad service. So after waiting for a preposterously long time to be served and for the shoes I wanted to try to arrive, the sales assistant dropped the shoes on the floor at my feet and started serving another customer… and I left and walked straight into the arms of ASICS, where I remained until earlier this year.

But I have always liked the idea of Adidas. My favourite racing shorts are Adidas. My favourite t-shirts, long- and short-sleeved, are Adidas. And so many runners I know love their shoes, I often felt I was missing out. But I can be a bit stubborn and there wasn’t really a good reason to stop racing in my ASICS.

But now I might relent and finally succumb to the lure of the three stripes. Why? Well I have stopped wearing the ASICS that I was so faithful to and started trying different brands. And the new Adidas range looks pretty interesting.

Shoes for racing

Being shown around the Adidas shoes today by Kirstyn from the KTB PR agency, I finally grasped the different ranges that Adidas have and who they are aimed at. There is the Response range, aimed at the beginner and designed to provide a choice of entry level shoes. Then there is the Supernova range, offering slightly lighter and rather sleeker-looking shoes with lower profiles and an overall racier feel, aimed at the ‘improver’. These shoes include Adidas’ torsion system in the sole along with a larger area of Formotion cushioning but without any extra weight. Next up is the adiStar range, which is considered to be for the serious runner with further technical additions and even lighter weight. And finally there is the adiZero range which contains Adidas’ racing flats, as worn by Gebrselassie and, perhaps more significantly, Patrick Makau in this years Berlin marathon, when he set a new world record for the marathon: 2:03:38.

The Adidas adiZero range

There are two shoes in the new adiZero range that I am really keen to try; the adiZero Adios and the Feather.

The Adios is the shoe that I think could become one of my favourites. Handling the shoe, it is undoubtedly light and feels well balanced and with just the right amount of flex. The innovation in this shoe that I think is really interesting is the link-up between Adidas and the tyre manufacturer Continental, who have supplied rubber that has been incorporated in key areas of the sole to aid grip. The areas of rubber are quite small to ensure the shoe remains extremely light, but the rubber is exactly where my racing flats always wear the fastest – mainly at the front of the toe-box – and if the Continental rubber adds traction (the KTB PR team informed me that some boffins somewhere have estimated that the rubber saves 1mm of ‘slip’ per 1 meter, which over a marathon adds up I guess!) and longevity, then I think Adidas could be on to a winner.

The other interesting shoe in the range, that caught my eye, is the Feather (see right). As the name would suggest this is a very light shoe indeed and has something that I haven’t seen in a long-distance shoe before. The ‘sprint frame’ that the shoe is built around is a full-length rigid plastic base – similar to the sole of a track spike – that the upper is bonded on to (thereby saving stitching which might make the shoe  more attractive to those who prefer running without socks) and onto which is stuck the adiPRENE cushioning material. I must admit that I am not convinced that a shoe that has such rigidity in the sole is going to be a good idea, but I hope I’ll get a chance to try them out and report back.

Adidas adiZero and Supernova apparel

The other things that caught my eye were the adiZero clothing range and the official London marathon apparel.

As I have said before, I really am a big fan of the Adidas adiZero clothing range. The latest offerings feel really great; super-light, well made with body-mapping technologhy which means that different materials are used in key areas to aid moisture management or improve ventilation. Oh and they are orange (and I mean really orange – see left!) I know that personally I am highly likely to end up adding to my already considerable collection of running wear with some items from this range and as soon as I do, I will post some reviews.

The final items I had a look at were the Supernova pieces that will make up the official London marathon range (at the time of writing this they are not available, but you can have a look by following the link). Again, orange is the colour of choice – see right – and I think that the collection looks good and really is high quality, so if you are keen to show-off that you have run the London, then this kit is the way to do it and is also pretty good technically.

So I would say that from what I have seen, Adidas have some pretty exciting products coming out in the next few months. I hope that I will have a chance to try at least a few out and I will put something in the review section. In the mean time if anyone reading this wants to add a review of some kit they are currently using please let me know (and that goes for any brand, not just Adidas) whilst I am going to pull on my new trusted Mizunos and head out for a little run.