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Friday, April 09, 2010

2010 Fortis Rotterdam Marathon Preview

Fast course + fast men = New record?

Well, if we are honest with ourselves, the record is unlikely to fall, but racers with impressive credentials are lining up on Sunday.  Rotterdam is a funny race, solidly a "second-tier" event that serves as a proving ground for those runners who can't quite crack the nod to one of the World Marathon Major races.  But the data tell a different story, and some of you might recall the graph below from a post we did last November that asked the question, "Are marathon times getting faster?"  Here is the graph again:

Of course the analysis shows that on the flat and fast courses like Chicago, Berlin, and London, the times are indeed improving;  however on the less than flat courses like New York and Boston, which often produce more tactical races, the times are much the same and show only marginal differences over the 20 year span.  Many of you wrote in following that post about how best to quantify the average time for a specific event, and many of those points were well taken although we will leave it as a 10 year average for this analysis.

Back to Rotterdam. . .because in the past two decades it never attracted the big names in spite of having a course and date that is suitable for the world record---in fact in the 1980s the world record was set not once but twice (1985 and 1988) in Rotterdam.  This could well be purely a consequence of a less "ambitious" race organizer, but what if we add Rotterdam to the same graph above?

Suddenly Rotterdam looks much like all the other big city marathons, and in case the two smoking fast times from last year were not enough evidence, these data tell us that it is a fast course on paper and it is capable of producing world class times.

The 2010 Marathon D├ębutante Ball 

As per normal for Rotterdam, this year we will see a new crop of marathon d├ębutantes with impressive times on their CVs.  These include Bernard Kipyego who has a 59:10 half marathon PB, and Jonathan Maiyo with a 59:08 half PB.  Both of these men seem to be part of the "new" generation a la Sammy Wanjiru, in that they are only 22-23 years old and already running marathons.  So they have opted to bypass the more traditional route of racing shorter distances, probably in favor of the potential winnings on the marathon circuit.  The big unknown with these athletes is how long they can maintain these kind of performances.  Other data tell us that even the top runners have a limited number of marathons in their legs before their performance begins to creep in "wrong" direction.  So time will tell as Wanjiru's generation carries on in this manner.

Kwambai returns for the win

If you were lucky enough to catch the highlights or the race from last year, you will remember it well.  It was a classic as Duncan Kibet and James Kwambai battled down the stretch, producing the third fastest time ever.  Kibet nipped Kwambai at the line for the win, but in the absence of Kibet and with one more year of experience, Kwambai gets the easy nod to win on Sunday.  There are a couple of potential challengers that might keep Kwambai busy, namely Patrick Makau (2:06:14) or maybe Vincent Kipruto (2:05:47), so watch for them to challenge Kwambai often.  The rest of the field is what one might expect from a major marathon, that is, plenty of good times but no one else in the pack has a PB below 2:07, which in most cases will place the out of touch when things get angry some time after 25 km.

Will Kwambai break the WR?  Unlikely.  He has not mentioned he will even attempt it, and it also would mean he must take nearly 30 s off his best time, which is an awful big ask.  Depending how how he goes this weekend, though, he could be a contender if given the chance and, more importantly, the pacing support that is required to break 2:03:59.

Watch it live on the internet

Apparently Universal Sports will be streaming the race, so perhaps most of us will be able to watch the action, which also might include a new record for the fastest debut---Kipyego or Jonathan Maiyo might be able to break the current 2:05:50 (even in a loss to Kwambai) to take that record.  And we will perform our normal analysis, perhaps not during the race but definitely watch out for a recap on Sunday or Monday.  Enjoy the action!