The Last of the World Marathon Majors


For some reason, I woke up this morning thinking about the New York City Marathon.

Sunday, November 2nd will be the 44th running of the race first organized by Fred Lebow and Vince Chiappetta. This year, the race will celebrate its one-millionth finisher, an amazing thing considering that only 55 men finished that first race back in 1970.

It seems to me that there was a time — peaking in the early 1980s — when the New York City Marathon was the emperor of fall marathons, and, along with the Boston, the most important long distance race in the world.

In the late 1970s Bill Rodgers won four titles. Alberto Salazar won three titles, including a debut 2:09:41 in 1980, making good on his pre-race prediction to run under 2:10. In the 1980s, Grete Waitz ruled the women’s race in New York, winning nine times between 1978 and 1988. And who can forget the duel between Geoff Smith and Rod Dixon in Central Park, ending with Dixon exulting the heavens while Smith lay exhausted and defeated on the rainy pavement?

In my mind, the importance of New York has been diluted over the years by the rise of the super-fast, world-record-friendly marathon races in Berlin and Chicago, not to mention numerous “minor” races like Frankfurt, Osaka, and others. Nevertheless, New York still holds the prestige position as the final race in the world marathon majors series.

The what?

If you aren’t entirely clear about the world marathon majors series, you are not alone. I consider myself to be pretty knowledgeable about all things running-related, but when I stopped to think what I knew about the WMM, I realized that I was woefully ignorant. I spent some time this morning reading up on how it’s all supposed to work. Here are a few of the things I DIDN’T know:

  • Each series lasts two years, and overlaps with the series before and the series after. That is, this Sunday’s NYC Marathon brings to an end the 2013-2014 series, but marks the midpoint of the 2014-2015 series.
  • The series includes six annual marathon events (Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, New York) plus the IAAF World Championship or Olympic Marathon in the years when they occur. It’s interesting to look at that list of cities and realize that Boston is BY FAR the smallest city that hosts an annual WMM event.
  • In any two-year series (potentially eight races), runners count only their four best finishes. A minimum of two finishes is required to qualify for the jackpot.
  • The jackpot is $1 million, split between the top man and woman.
  • Points are awarded as follows: 1st – 25 points, 2nd – 15 points, 3rd – 10 points, 4th – 5 points, 5th – 1 point.
  • There is a detailed tie-breaking system in place, in case two runners finish the series with the same number of points. I won’t bore you with the details, but it rivals the NFL playoff tie-breaking system.

So back to New York: If I’m looking at the leaderboards and NY entry lists correctly, it appears that Dennis Kimetto and Rita Jeptoo have the 2013-2014 titles locked up. But then, of course, the 2014-2015 series is up for grabs.

Maybe I’m trying to talk myself into being more into the race on Sunday, but I’m still feeling like New York, for all its pomp and glamour and insanely complex logistics, five-borough diversity, and rich history, has been drifting slowly out from the center of the running world. I know I used to watch the entire race live on ABC. Now, I’ll probably just check the results afterwards.

Maybe it’s just me, but is New York still the Big Apple of the Marathoning World?

About Jon Waldron

Running and Racing have been important parts of my life for as long as I can remember. I ran Track and Cross Country at Amherst HS, back in the day, and am proud to have been training and competing with the Cambridge Sports Union (CSU) for more than thirty years. If my bones hold out, I hope to continue for another thirty. Sixteen years ago, I began coaching, first as an Asst. Coach at Newton North HS in Newton, MA, and for the past ten years, as Head Track and Cross Country Coach at Concord Academy in Concord, Massachusetts. I've been writing about running for almost as long as I've been running, dating back to high school, when I would write meet summaries for the Amherst Record for about $0.33 per column inch. I've been blogging about running since 2005, and began blogging at "the runner eclectic" in 2014. Until recently I also had a day job, working full-time as a Technical Product Manager for Nuance Communications, based in Burlington, MA. But I am now on what might turn out to be a permanent sabbatical. Thank you for reading my blog, and please consider leaving a comment.
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3 Responses to The Last of the World Marathon Majors

  1. Kevin says:

    I won’t watch the race live because I’ll be doing our normal long run. However, you can bet that I’ll be spending 3 hours watching the race when I get home. For me, New York City is the Big Apple of marathons. Can’t wait!

  2. brfinch says:

    If Wilson Kipsang wins at NY then he will win WMM by 1 point because of his 5th place finish at London ’13. He has to win though.

  3. Ankit says:

    This helped me get a bit more excited about it:

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