WTW: Historically Fast Marathons in Amsterdan and Paris, RIP Agnes Tirop and Elaine Thompson-Herah Dumps Her Coach?

The Week That Was in Running, October 11 – October 17, 2021

By LetsRun.com
October 20, 2021

Last week, with Chicago and Boston going on, we didn’t have time for the WTW. If you missed our coverage of either race, catch up now:

2021 BOA Chicago Marathon coverage2021 Boston Marathon coverage

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Past editions of the Week That Was can be found here. Got a tip, question or comment? Please call us at 844-LETSRUN (538-7786), email us, or post in our forum.

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A Week After The Chicago And Boston Marathons Are Held, Two Really Fast Marathons Take Place

Much has been made of the fact that five of the six World Marathon Majors are being staged in a six-week span this fall. Yet despite those races competing against each other (and the Olympics and Valencia) for talent, we have seen three of the deepest marathons in history.

The first was the women’s race in London on October 3. That race, won by Joyciline Jepkosgei in 2:17:43, was the first marathon in history to feature five women under 2:19.

The other two historically deep marathons both came on the men’s side, and both took place last weekend. And they probably aren’t the ones you were expecting. Not London. Not Berlin, Chicago, or Boston, either.

No, the two races were Paris and Amsterdam — neither of which are an Abbott World Marathon Major — which leads us to our Stats of the Week.

Stat of the Week I

3 – number of times in history that at least 5 men had broken 2:05 in the same marathon before this year (it had happened at 2013 and 2018 Dubai and 2020 Valencia). 

3 – number of times at least 5 men have broken 2:05 in the same marathon this year — and none of them were majors, as six guys broke 2:05 in Milan in May and this weekend five did it in both Paris and Amsterdam.

Stat of the Week II

0 – number of Americans who have ever run under 2:05:38 in a record-eligible marathon

8 – number of Kenyans who ran under 2:05:38 last weekend in Paris and Amsterdam

In Amsterdam, Ethiopia’s Tamirat Tola — the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist in the 10,000 and 2017 world silver medalist in the marathon — earned the victory in a personal best and course record of 2:03:39. It was a day to remember for his family as Tamirat’s brother, Abdera Adisa Tola, also won a major European road race on Sunday, clocking 59:54 to win the Rome-Ostia Half Marathon.

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Tamirat Tola’s run broke the Amsterdam course record, which has been held by some impressive runners, including Haile Gebrselassie (2005) and 2019 Boston/Chicago champ Lawrence Cherono (2018). Behind him, Kenya’s Bernard Koech ran 2:04:09 and Ethiopia’s Leul Gebresilase ran 2:04:12, meaning Amsterdam now accounts for three of six fastest marathons in 2021. 

Plus Hiskel Tewelde ran 2:04:35 in fifth to break the Eritrean record. One year ago, that record stood at 2:06:46 — a time three Eritreans eclipsed in Amsterdam.

The women’s winner in Amsterdam was Kenya’s Angela Tanui, who won her third marathon of the year in a course record of 2:17:58, smashing the 2:20:01 pb she ran to set an Italian all-comers record in Siena earlier this year. Tanui was originally entered in the Boston Marathon but her visa fell through and she withdrew the week of the race. Had she run Boston, she was going to be our pick to win.

Tanui dedicated her win to compatriot and fellow adidas athlete Agnes Tirop, who was tragically murdered last week.

Paris Was Fast, Too

Amsterdam wasn’t the only race to churn out fast times last weekend. In Paris, five men ran faster than the course record of 2:05:04, set in 2014 by a runner by the name of Kenenisa Bekele. The winner was clear, Elisha Rotich of Kenya, who was only 10th in Milan in May (though he still ran 2:06:44) but improved to 2:04:21 to win in Paris. Behind him, it was a mad dash for second as the next four finishers all crossed the line between 2:04:41 and 2:04:53. The women’s race wasn’t nearly as fast as Ethiopia’s Tigist Memuye won in 2:26:11.

What Does It All Mean?

So what’s going on here? Why, in a season in which marathons were expected to struggle for depth, did we just see two of the deepest marathons ever? And why were they in Amsterdam and Paris instead of a World Marathon Major like Berlin or Chicago?

Let’s tackle the last question first. The weather played a key role in the fast times in Amsterdam and Paris. In both cities, it was almost perfect for marathoning: in Amsterdam it was 52 degrees Fahrenheit at the start, 55 at the finish, and in Paris it was 45 degrees at the start, 52 at the finish. That’s significantly better than Berlin (63 at start, 73 at finish), Chicago (72 at start, 73 at finish), and Boston (64 at start, 66 at finish + consistent headwind). London, by comparison, also had good weather (52 at start, 57 at finish), and while the men’s times in London weren’t crazy, the women’s times were incredibly fast. (The first half splits were also too fast in Berlin and London, and the field paid for it in the second half).

Another factor: there wasn’t much of a difference between the fields in Amsterdam and Paris and the other majors this fall (except for London). In fact, Paris has more sub-2:08 guys (14) than any other race this fall.

2021 Fall marathon fields by pb

PBs of Elite Men For 2021 Fall Marathon Fields
  Sub-2:04 Sub-2:05  Sub-2:06 Sub-2:07 Sub-2:08
Paris 0 0 5 11 14
Amsterdam 0 4 5 7 10
Boston 0 3 8 11 11
Chicago 1 5 7 9 9
London 5 6 7 7 7
Berlin 2 2 2 10 13

Okay, so that explains why we saw fast times in Paris and Amsterdam and not Berlin or Chicago. But it still doesn’t explain how we are seeing historically deep marathons in a year when the talent pool was supposed to be extremely diluted.

You can probably guess the reason, though. To quote Mars Blackmon, “It’s gotta be the shoes.” Before COVID-19 hit, we were already seeing a total rewriting of the marathon record books, ushered in by Nike’s Vaporflys, which began to see widespread use in 2017. 

There were barely any elite marathons in 2020 and the first half of 2021 due to the pandemic (though two of the biggest 2020 races, Tokyo and Valencia, featured a ton of fast times). Now that they’re back, we’re being reminded of just how much shoes have changed the game. As much as the Vaporflys shook things up in 2017 and 2018, we’re on another level now as most of the other shoe companies have had a chance to produce their answer to the Vaporfly (even if scientific studies are starting to show the vast majority of them aren’t nearly as good), plus Nike has also been able to improve their own shoes, releasing the Alphafly in 2020 and the Next% 2 in 2021.

Just look at the all-time list in the women’s marathon:

1. Brigid Kosgei 2:14:04            2019
2. Paula Radcliffe 2:15:25         2003
3. Mary Keitany 2:17:01            2017
4. Ruth Chepngetich 2:17:08    2019
5. Peres Jepchirchir 2:17:16     2020
6. Worknesh Degefa 2:17:41    2019
7. Joyciline Jepkosgei 2:17:43  2021
8. Lonah Salpeter 2:17:45        2020
9. Tirunesh Dibaba 2:17:56      2017
10. Angela Tanui 2:17:57          2021
11. Degitu Azimeraw 2:17:58   2021

When Mary Keitany and Tirunesh Dibaba ran 2:17 in London four years ago, they were just the second and third women in history to dip under the 2:18 barrier. Now, three women have broken 2:18 this month alone. Of the 18 fastest women in history, 17 have run their personal bests within the last five years.

This isn’t going to change anytime soon. We just have to accept that a time run today does not mean the same as a time run 10 years ago. A 2:04 in 2021 is probably worth a 2:06 in 2011. A 2:17 today is probably worth a 2:20 in 2011. Keep that conversion in mind and suddenly the times we saw in Amsterdam and Paris don’t seem so crazy.

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Change in the Air for Elaine Thompson-Herah?

Four weeks ago, there was speculation that Elaine Thompson-Herah, fresh off triple Olympic gold in Tokyo, might be parting with her longtime coach Stephen Francis. At the time, Thompson-Herah referred to the speculation as “rumors” but did not exactly issue a forceful denial, with Francis saying he would wait until practice for the new season began in October before weighing in on a potential exit.

Well we are well into October and Thompson-Herah returned to practice this week, and she did not do so with Francis’ MVP Track Club. In a media release, she said she has begun training “independently” and that she is “still in the process of finalizing her training arrangements for the 2022 season.” While Thompson-Herah has not officially left the group, it seems as if she will have a new coach in 2022.

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Why would Thompson-Herah, coming off the greatest season in the history of women’s sprinting (FloJo’s 1988 doesn’t count), leave her coach?

We can think of three big reasons.

1. Money. If Thompson-Herah’s Nike deal is up and another company comes in and offers Thompson-Herah a massive new deal, she would have to leave Francis, who is a Nike-sponsored coach.

2. She may want more personal freedom and/or individual attention. Francis has coached Thompson-Herah since 2012, when she was 20 years old. With back-to-back Olympic 100/200 titles, she’s undeniably been very successful. But Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce also won two Olympic titles under Francis, and she left his group after winning Worlds in 2019.

3. She may not want to train with a potential key rival that is man years younger than her.

Another interesting development is that Nike has approached Francis and asked him to coach a “top international female sprinter.” Some have wondered whether that might be American Sha’Carri Richardson — who would fit the criteria, as she is sponsored by Nike. 

If Richardson did leave coach Dennis Mitchell for Francis, it would be an incredible story. Francis is a tremendous coach — his athletes have won the last four women’s Olympic 100m titles. Coaching Richardson to take down his two greatest former pupils, Thompson-Herah and Fraser-Pryce, would be a storyline straight out of a daytime soap.

Not wanting to train with a younger rival may have been in part why SAFP left and it makes total sense. If someone as talented as you that is younger is doing the same workouts as you, how are you going to beat them?

If #3 is a factor at all, not only would it remind us a bit of SAFP’s departure, it also would remind us of Matthew Centrowitz’s departure from the Nike Oregon Project. We don’t think the Olympic champion was too thrilled that Salazar brought in a big potential rival in Clayton Murphy to the group in 2017.

(A New Era Begins: Why Matthew Centrowitz Left the Nike Oregon Project for Bowerman Track Club)

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RIP Agnes Tirop

Almost unfathomable tragedy has hit the Kenyan athletics scene for the third time in a little over 10 years as last week 2015 world cross champion Agnes Tirop, the 10th fastest woman in history at 5000 (14:20.68) and two-time 10,000 WC medallist (bronze in 2017 and 2019), was murdered, allegedly by her husband, in Kenya at the age of 25.

She is the third Kenyan track superstar to die tragically in their 20s in just over 10 years.

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In 2011, 2008 Olympic marathon champ Sammy Wanjiru, who redefined what was possible in the marathon at the 2008 Olympics in such an amazing way that it inspired LetsRun.com coaching guru John Kellogg to write his only race recap in the 20+ years of LetsRun, died months before his 25th birthday after a drunken fall off of his balcony.

(2008 Olympic Men’s Marathon Recap: Outrageous Pace Pays Off; Wanjiru Hammers to Kenya’s First Marathon GoldRIP Sammy Wanjiru: The World’s Greatest Marathoner Has Died)

In 2018, Nicholas Bett, the 2015 world 400 hurdles champion, was tragically killed in a car accident at age 28.

And now Tirop is dead at 25.

So sad. What would they all have accomplished if their lives weren’t squashed in their prime? Sammy Wanjiru could still be running marathons now as he’s two years younger than Eliud Kipchoge.

More: MB: Kenya has had 3 World/Olympic champions die in their 20s in the last 10 years, when (if ever) has this happened to an American? 
*4 Takeaways From An Awesome 2015 World Cross-Country Championships: Get Used To The Name Geoffrey Kamworor, The Vindication Of Sara Hall, LRC Is Popular In China, And African Domination Is A Good Thing
*RIP Sammy Wanjiru: The World’s Greatest Marathoner Has Died
*RRW: Kenyan Star Agnes Tirop Found Dead In Her Home

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Chaos In Men’s Rankings at The NCAA Level

The Pre-Nats and the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitationals were held last week, making it the biggest week of the NCAA cross country regular season. On the men’s side, NAU looks hard to beat, as has been the case in recent years, but there was a lot more movement overall in the national rankings than normal. 

Eight nationally ranked men’s teams dropped out of the rankings, including four that were ranked in the top 20 (No. 14 Iona, No. 16 Butler, No. 17 Wake Forest, No. 18 North Carolina). Contrast that to two years ago when only three ranked teams dropped out and none of them were ranked in the top 25.

For the women, it wasn’t quite as drastic. This year, five ranked teams dropped out of the rankings versus four in 2019, but two of the teams dropping out in 2019 were in the top 20 (No. 15 Syracuse, No. 17 Ole Miss) compared to none this year.

It makes sense that the early-season rankings may not have been as good as in the past as there are so many more transfers this year due to the transfer portal being a big thing now and there being so many extra seasons of eligibility due to last year not counting as a season of eligibility. Plus so many coaches baby their stars that it’s hard to tell who is in good shape until they actually race.

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We still stand by our conviction that the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility to everyone in cross country last year wasn’t a good move. Everyone in the world has suffered from COVID-19; why should NCAA athletes be immune to a little sacrifice? Plus all of the extra seasons of eligibility are going to greatly impact the affordability of college for high schoolers as they will be competing with 23- or 24-year-olds for scholarship money.

*NCAA Men’s Rankings *NCAA Women’s Rankings
*LRC What We Learned From the 2021 Pre-Nats/Nuttycombe Invitational

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A Reduced Boston Marathon In 2022?

Speaking of decisions we don’t like, did you see that the Boston Marathon organizers are planning for the 2022 Boston Marathon to also have a reduced field size?

“If a miracle occurs and suddenly there’s one pill that prevents COVID and another one that cures it, we’ll expand the field size in January,” said race director Dave McGillivray.

We don’t understand why, as an outdoor sporting event, they can’t be at 100% capacity. If you are really worried about COVID-19, just require proof of a negative test and vaccination. There’s nothing else people can do than that. Officials need to start realizing as we approach the two-year anniversary of COVID’s beginnings that COVID isn’t going to be 100% eliminated any time soon. We need to follow the science of figuring out how to return to as much of our normal lives in the safest way possible, not virtue-signaling or waiting for the day that there is zero COVID-19.

Then again, Boston’s decision to promote a reduced size in 2022 may have nothing to do with preventing the spread of COVID-19. Are we the only ones to realize that London said this year they’d have their largest field ever at 50,000 but only ended up with 35,871 and that the day before this year’s race Boston announced they had 18,252 entrants but only 15,736 starters?

Are people less interested in marathons during COVID or is the hassle of traveling across borders the cause? We don’t know. But the marathon numbers are definitely down.

Recommended Reads / Other Things Of Note

LRC What We Learned From the 2021 Pre-Nats/Nuttycombe Invitational

Mary Cain files $20 million lawsuit against Alberto Salazar and Nike “Salazar told her that she was too fat and that her breasts and bottom were too big,” the lawsuit alleges.
*MB: Mary Cain sues Al Sal and Nike for $20 million over alleged abuse 

To see our favorite reads from other weeks, go here.

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Quotes Of The Day And Last Week’s Home Pages

To see the quotes of the day from last week or last week’s home page or any home page, go to our archive page.

Got a tip, question or comment? Please call us at 844-LETSRUN (538-7786), email us or post in our forum.

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