Like so much else about 2017, the year in racing shocked, awed, infuriated and inspired — and sometimes all at once. From chasing down history to chasing down cheaters to nearly capturing the sport’s holy grail, the past 12 months have been anything but boring. So as the curtain falls on 2017, we’re excited to share our top highlights from the year in racing.
At the beginning, an end: The year began with the world’s most notable run streak coming to an end, as chest pain prompted Great Britain’s Ron Hill to take his first day off in 52 years — more than 19,000 straight days of running. No word yet on how the former Olympian and Boston Marathon champ will occupy his next 52 years. Congrats, Ron!
It’s his world, we’re all just running in it: Racing phenom Michael Wardian rose to the World Marathon Challenge of running seven marathons on seven continents in seven days, as his average finish time of 2:45 topped the previous record of 3:32. Wardian would reclaim the spotlight in August by setting the record for cumulative finish time in two of the nation’s most grueling events, the Leadville Trail 100 and Pikes Peak Marathon — on back-to-back days. Waiter, we’ll have what he’s having!
That’s why it’s called “Up” syndrome: In February, 26-year-old Kayleigh Williamson danced across the finish line to become the first runner with Down syndrome to complete the Austin Half Marathon. The secret to her success? “I kept going,” she said — three words that resonate with runners everywhere. Thanks for the inspiration, Kayleigh!
Loss of a legend: The running community mourned the death of Canadian legend Ed Whitlock at age 86, five months after he became the oldest person ever to run a marathon in less than four hours (3:56:38) at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Whitlock also holds marathon world records in the 70–74 (2:54:48), 75–79 (3:04:54) and 80–84 (3:15:54) age groups. His timeless advice for runners and non-runners alike? “Don’t limit yourself.”
Props for the Pig: The Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon hogged the national spotlight in April, overcoming 63 strong contenders — including The Cowtown in the finals — to take home the title of “America’s Rave Race” in the inaugural RaceRaves March Lunacy Tournament. Color the competition pink with envy!
And then there was one: John “No, not the White House Chief of Staff” Kelly touched the yellow gate in a time of 59 hours, 30 minutes, 53 seconds to become the only finisher of this year’s Barkley Marathons, the nation’s most notoriously difficult foot race. Meanwhile, in a gut-wrenching performance of his own, Gary Robbins came up just short after taking a wrong turn in the fifth and final loop. And Michael Wardian proved himself mortal by failing in his first attempt at the Barkley.
(Almost) breaking 2: May got off to a speedy start with the most anticipated running event of the year, Nike’s Breaking2 project. On a Formula One racetrack in Monza, Italy, Eliud Kipchoge — arguably the greatest marathoner of all time — came within one second per mile of capturing running’s holy grail and smashing the two-hour marathon barrier. The real winner in this exhibition, though, may have been Nike’s Zoom Vaporfly 4%, created specifically for Breaking2 and currently the hottest running shoe on the market.
Comrades in arms — and legs: What came around went around when Ryan Sandes became the first South African to win America’s most prestigious ultramarathon, the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. Sandes’ improbable victory came just three weeks after Camille Herron became the first American woman since 1997 to win the Comrades Marathon, the world’s largest ultramarathon held in — Sandes’ homeland of South Africa.
Chasing (and catching) the dream: Americans Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs finished first and second in the steeplechase at the IAAF World Championships, becoming the first U.S. women to claim the top two podium spots in any world championship distance event. Coburn also became the first American to win the steeplechase since 1952. No wonder ESPN.com called the event “one of the best races in running history.”
¿Que pasó? At the Mexico City Marathon, more than 5,800 runners — roughly 20% of the field — including 800 potential Boston Qualifiers were disqualified for infractions that ranged from course-cutting to acting as a “bib mule” (running with another person’s bib number). One race photo showed a male runner brazenly wearing two bib numbers, one belonging to a woman named Maria whose finish time would have qualified her for Boston.
Red, white and blew-‘em-away: Coming off a strong second-place finish in Boston, Galen Rupp shocked the world by becoming the first American runner in 15 years to win the Chicago Marathon. Four weeks later a spirited Shalane Flanagan brought new glory to Old Glory, outlasting three-time defending champion Mary Keitany of Kenya to become the first American woman since 1977 to win the New York City Marathon. U-S-A! U-S-A!
Lots of sandy claws: With 4,288 runners, the Surfing Madonna Beach Run set the Guinness World Record for world’s “largest race on sand.” No word yet on whether a second record was set for “largest pile of sand poured out of runners’ shoes at a finish line.”
Somebody to lean on: Dallas Marathon women’s winner Chandler Self held a sizable lead coming down the home stretch before her legs gave out and high school relay runner Ariana Luterman stepped in to assist her across the finish line. Self was awarded the victory, but it was Luterman who inadvertently stole the show and helped the running world end an up-and-down 2017 on a high note.
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