What’s Next for the Marathon in 2019
More fat shoes, farewell to Flanagan, and the continued dominance of Kipchoge
Winston Churchill once said that it was ill-advised to prophesize in advance—that it was “much better policy” to do so after an event had already taken place. I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, as with other Churchillian talents—like working in bed and drinking scotch before noon—not everyone can pull off the art of making predictions after the fact.
Count me among the suckers who still try to guess what the future may hold. Fortunately, rather than anticipating the actions of foreign armies or rebellious colonies, I only make predictions about marathon-related stuff. Among other things, there’s a lot less pressure to be right.
Here’s what I think we can expect for 2019. Feel free to ring up your bookie, but if things don’t go as predicted, don’t hold me accountable.
Eliud Kipchoge Will Win Another Marathon Major
Really bold, I know. After breaking the marathon world record by over a minute last September in Berlin, the 34-year-old Kenyan was named #2 on ESPN’s list of most dominant athletes of 2018 and received the IAAF Athlete of the Year award. Both of these accolades feel laughably inadequate when it comes to summarizing the Boss Man’s dominance over 26.2 miles; annual awards are mundane, almost by definition—somebody is going to win every year.
But Kipchoge’s 2:01:39 marathon was a once-in-a-generation type of performance; it was, as Alex Hutchinson wrote for this website, “a stunning 78 seconds off the previous world record, by far the largest margin for more than half a century in an era of supposedly diminishing returns.”
I don’t know whether we will see Kipchoge break his own record in 2019. I kind of doubt it, since even he can’t control the weather. But I do know that when he races, he will win.
Shalane Flanagan Will Retire After Running Boston One More Time
Another daring prognostication! After the American professional fields for the 2019 Boston Marathon were released earlier this month, one name was conspicuously absent. “Where is Shalane?” LetsRun.com asked, noting that the Massachusetts native was not slated to race Boston for the fifth (and presumably final) time. That could still change in the coming weeks. I expect Flanagan will defy expectations and decide to close out her running career by taking one more crack at her favorite race. But that will be it. I may be contradicting myself here, but I don’t see Flanagan running another Olympic Trials. At her level, you don’t commit the Trials unless you are also committing to compete in the Olympics if you make the team—and Tokyo 2020 is a year and a half away.
There Will Be More Fat Shoes
In 2018, Nike launched the second version of its obscenely expensive and highly coveted racing shoe, the Vaporfly 4%. As more evidence emerged that the Vaporfly did in fact improve running economy, there was growing speculation on what this meant for the running shoe industry as a whole.
“I think if it’s really gonna be like the wetsuits in swimming,” Saucony-sponsored Molly Huddle said in November in response to the rise of the Vaporfly. “It’s either going to be something everyone starts making or it’ll be wiped out of the sport. So I think we’re still kind of in that tipping point to see which way it goes.”
Given Nike’s clout in the sport and the fact that the 4%s are already ubiquitous, I don’t see the shoe being “wiped out.” (Also, to once again pilfer a line from The Hutch, if you’re going to ban a shoe, “you have to have a clear idea of what it is that’s objectionable—beyond the mere fact that the shoes seem to work.”) Rather, I expect more companies to come out with their own version of foam-heavy racers.
More Runners Will Wear Those Ghastly Sleeve Things
If you watched Kipchoge break the tape in Berlin, you might have noticed that he was wearing arm sleeves (arm warmers?), even though it was a relatively mild day. Meanwhile, back in April, Mo Farah was sporting a similar accessory at the London Marathon, despite record heat. I remember being totally baffled by Farah’s unseasonal apparel choice—and I wasn’t the only one—but eventually just figured he was wearing the sleeves because he thought they looked cool.
I predict that the running sleeve will proliferate among hot shot amateurs in 2019, for better or worse. More broadly, I think we will see a continued uptick in the accessorization of running; KT tape and nipple guards are only the tip of the iceberg.
OTQ Will Be the New BQ
Okay, I might be overshooting a little on this one. But (and speaking of hot shot amateur runners) at this year’s California International Marathon, a whopping 99 women and 53 men ran Olympic Trials qualifying times.
CIM may be an unusually quick race, but there does seem to be an uptick of non-pro athletes seriously getting after it. Or is it just that the sub-elite contingent has been getting more visibility thanks to social media and apparel companies like Tracksmith or publications like TEMPO who have made the competitive amateur essential to their brand? I’m too far inside the bubble to know for sure, but I think we will see more and more regular folks running very fast in 2019.