By the end of March, the towel had been thrown in. And now, sitting on the verge of 2021, people around the world are waving so long and good riddance to 2020. We at The XC share this sentiment, and are ready to get back to mass races and group training, but we'd be remiss if we didn't highlight a few of the good, great and flat-out extraordinary times this year. And, of course, the chaos as well.
To prove that 2020 wasn't all bad — at least for runners — here are Alex Cyr, Andrew Cruickshank and Michael Doyle's top stories of the year:
Alex's Five Stories
1. Upsets and New Beginnings at The London Marathon
The only marathon major to take place in 2020 did not come as advertised. Instead of a showdown between two of running's all-time greats, what we got was the continued reign of Brigid Kosgei, the take down of Eliud Kipchoge, and a masterclass in how to pull off a major race mid-pandemic.
2. Joshua Cheptegei: The Next Bekele or Just a Product of His Time?
Uganda's Cheptegei wrestled the 5,000m and 10,000m world records away from Kenenisa Bekele in 2020, and made it look easy. But still, it's unclear if Cheptegei's performances are due to era-defining talent, or technological advances in the sport (better shoes and pacing systems, in particular). Performances in 2021 and beyond will help us answer that question.
3. The Rise of the Insta Training Group
North American elite training groups such as Tinman Elite, On Running and NAZ Elite reigned supreme in 2020, redefining what it means to be a professional runner. Sponsors aren't just looking for fast times anymore, they want groups with a solid brand that can captivate audiences through social media and Youtube. Practice that public speaking because personality in the running world is starting to count.
4. Evolution of the Shoe Wars
Nike has dominated the running shoe universe since the last Olympics, but 2020 saw an uptick in competing products, leaving us questioning whether Nike's Vaporfly Next% is still the best shoe on the market. One glance at Kibiwott Kandie's half marathon world record in Adidas' Adizero Adios Pro makes us wonder how secure Nike's perch is at the top of the shoe pyramid.
5. The Demystification of the Canadian Marathon
Rachel Cliff's 2:26:56 marathon in 2019 had her firmly secured as the fastest marathoner in Canadian history. But in the span of one year, we're beginning to question whether Cliff will even make the Olympic team. And on the men's side, young bucks, Ben Preisner and Tristan Woodfine, crushed the Olympic qualifying time by both running 2:10. This may be the first Olympics ever where Canada sends six marathoners.
Andrew's Five Stories
1. The Rise of Tommy Hughes
Like fine wine, the Irish phenom gets more impressive with age. The former Olympian and now 61-year-old broke the men’s 60-65 age group half marathon world record in September with a 1:11:09, then a month later broke the marathon 60-65 world record, running 2:30:02. All this after fighting a long battle with alcoholism in his fifties.
2. The Year of the Promised Comeback
Mo Farah and David Rudisha, two of the greatest runners of all time, announced plans to return to the track in the 10,000m and 800m, respectively, in time for the Tokyo Olympics. But as the deadline approaches and newcomers dominate the headlines, a return to stardom for Farah and Rudisha appears unlikely.
3. The U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials Were Excellent
Not only was the trials one of the last marathons prior to the pandemic but it showcased one of the deepest fields ever on U.S. soil. Aliphine Tuliamuk, Molly Seidel and Sally Kipyego upset prominent stars such as Sara Hall, Molly Huddle and Des Linden. While on the men's side, Jake Riley had a coming out party and Galen Rupp strutted away from the field looking like he was on a tempo run.
4. The Rise of Sara Hall
Hall had a year for the books. She crushed a 2:22 marathon in London in October and then only two months later at The Marathon Project she threw down a 2:20, less than a minute off Deena Castor's American record. We're just upset Hall doesn't have another shot at qualifying for the Olympic marathon.
5. Asbel Kiprop Is Now a Rally Car Driver
Kenyan runner Asbel Kiprop, who won gold in the 1,500m at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, does not agree with his four-year doping ban. In fact, he claims it's all part of a doping conspiracy against him. But rather than waiting for the ban to expire or retiring gracefully, 2020 saw Kiprop quit athletics to become a professional rally car driver. It should be noted that in 2013 he was hospitalized after crashing his car while out for a drive. We, uh, wish him the best.
Michael's Five Stories
1. What the Cancellation of Everything Revealed About the Sport
Every major marathon, save for the Tokyo and London elite races, was cancelled in 2020. The majors' inability to cobble together any kind of race shows their dependence on mass participation rather than elite fields. Without thousands of people, these races aren't viable. That’s troubling and must be addressed, otherwise races will continue to disappear.
2. Kipchoge Is Human After All
After an all-time string of marathon victories and jaw dropping performances, The Ageless One (Eliud Kipchoge) was soundly beaten at the London Marathon in October. Kipchoge is the closest thing running has to a Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali or Tom Brady, and he was taken down in his prime. This leaves more questions than answers about Kipper’s legacy and how long his reign will last. Olympic cycles tend to cap periods in running dominance; we’ll see if this is the case for Kipchoge.
3. The Quarantine Backyard Ultra
April was the first time we saw a significant running event after the onset of the pandemic, but it wasn’t a marathon major or a big rack meet — it was a super screwy ultra of sorts. A backyard ultra is a knockdown challenge: 4.167-mile loop every hour (100 miles in 24 hours). More than 2,000 people participated in the challenge. The eventual winner, Mike Wardian, ran around his suburban Arlington, Virginia neighbourhood for three days, and was given a golden roll of toilet paper for his efforts.
4. The Marathon Project and Other Self-Made Events Foreshadow a Revolution in North American Distance Running
Elite training groups took their collective destiny into their own hands in 2020 after it became clear that major events weren’t happening. The Project was an inventive and highly entertaining race, proving that speed isn’t everything, and that distance running — the marathon, in particular — can be captivating if the focus is on the elite runners.
5. Cheptegei the GOAT
Joshua Cheptegei, under restrictive training and racing conditions, had arguably the best running streak ever in 2020. This included two world records that had previously seemed untouchable. While you can argue that new spike technology and wave-light pacing may have played a role, Cheptegei ran both world records with minimal competition. We could very well be witnessing the kind of Olympic-dominating talent only seen in athletes such as Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps.