© Copyright – 2019 – Athletics Illustrated

“Almost all absurdity of conduct arises from the imitation of those whom we cannot resemble,”
― Samuel Johnson, The Rambler

Ethiopian runner Tigist Girma, who owns a personal best of 2:26:34, was scheduled to run the 2019 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon on Sunday, Oct. 20. A contract was signed between her agent and the race organizers, however, the athlete backed out. The athlete’s husband told the agency, Elite Sports Management (ESMI), that the Toronto Marathon “does not match her condition.” How absurd.

It’s a nice excuse, but is completely off the mark; perhaps a red herring.

One can only imagine the tortured agent as he listens to the ridiculous machinations delivered by the athlete’s husband (and the eye-rolling, of course).

The Toronto course record is four-minutes and five seconds faster than Girma’s personal best. Her personal best was set in Ottawa in May, 2019. It is highly unlikely that she improved by more than the difference between her personal best and the course record over the past four months. And if so, she could earn a noteworthy course record time and a fair paycheque. Where is the risk?

Girma’s annual bests are 2:32:44, 2:29:00, 2:26:44 and 2:26:34.

Toronto, an IAAF Gold Label Race, offers a fast course. Perhaps not as fast as Berlin, Chicago, London or Rotterdam, but that has yet to be proven. During the 2018 edition, Canadian Cameron Levins broke the 43-year-old national record of 2:10:09 in Toronto with his 2:09:25 performance. It was his debut.

The men’s course record is a solid 2:06:52, and is, so far, a lifetime personal best for Kenyan Philemon Rono. He is back for 2019 to attempt a threepeat; it’s good enough for him. His performance according to the IAAF scoring tables works out to a 2:21:30 for women.

The women’s course record is held by Mimi Belete at 2:22:29. It is the 31-year-old Bahraini’s current personal best too.

Is Mr. Girma implying that these athletes could have run faster elsewhere? This also has yet to be proven.

Girma will now have to enter a fall marathon and run well under 2:22:29 to prove that her fitness is way beyond the means of the Toronto Waterfront Marathon course. Alternatively, she will at least need to outperform fellow Ethiopians racing Toronto.

This implies that she would need to run sub-2:20:00, otherwise, what is “well under 2:22:29”? Several minutes of course, however, the odds are against her. Only 32 women have run under 2:20:00, two of those performances were run in Boston, a non-eligible course for records and standards. Two of the performances were by Rita Jeptoo (one at Boston), a banned drug cheat (EPO).

All of the sub-2:20:00 performances (45) were run between 10 courses: London (12), Dubai (10), Berlin (9), Chicago (6), Boston (2), Tokyo (2), Rotterdam (1), Xiamen (1) Beijing (1), and Seoul (1).

If Girma is in top form, then she needs to run a marathon around the same time that Toronto is scheduled for, a time of year that she had to set her peak towards – considering that they did sign a contract for Oct. 20.

This leaves three other very fast marathon races available to her, Berlin, Chicago and Beijing.

January: Dubai, Xiamen
March: Tokyo, Seoul
April: London, Boston, Rotterdam
September: Berlin
October: Toronto, Chicago, Beijing

Although there are several more courses that are sub-2:22:29, there are few that repeatedly resulted in faster times and fewer still in the autumn, however, one of them is Ottawa. Ottawa’s course record is 2:22:17 by Ethiopian Geleta Burka from 2018.

Based on Girma’s 2:26:34, she will not benefit as much in Berlin (for example) from the pacers and competitors who would typically try to run at a record pace. The Berlin marathon course record is 2:18:11. The non-Paula Radcliffe marathon record time is 2:17:08.

Girma’s real issue may be that she will be thoroughly beaten in Toronto by countrywomen Bruktayit Degefa and Belaynesh Oljira. Oljira has run 2:21:53, while Degefa owns a best of 2:23:28.

The big money in Toronto is $40,000 CAD for a new course record, which is out of her reach. The prizing goes six deep from a pot of $30,000 CAD.

Any marathon that may offer a faster course and a more elite field, will be out of her range – if she improves by as much as Mr. Girma is implying (already), then she will raise red flags about her performance. Good luck to her.