Modern Athlete Magazine Issue 162 October 2023 | Page 55

C o l u m n
The mass participation races saw these World Champs attract over 7000 entries
Images : Adam Nurkiewicz for World Athletics , Marta Gorczynska for World Athletics & courtesy World Athletics for the Zen-Gen 18-30-year-olds whose focus tends to be more on socialising and fun than personal performance . In many sectors , the distance has been associated with general health , but the growth in parkrun , and now the recognition of the 5km distance as a World Record and championship distance , has given the 5km more credibility amongst formal club runners . Again , whether a 5-hour or sub 3-hour marathoner , a flat out 5km is a key indicator of potential as runners prepare towards their longer goals .
The 5km also has relevance to most community sectors , and is the foundation for many relays and company competitions . Meanwhile , at the sharp end of the field , the distance merges the middle- and long-distance track athletes with the faster road elites , again bridging a gap for both competitors and supporters , that has too often existed in our sport .
The Half Marathon
The 21.0975km distance has long been the staple distance for the global road championships , although for a short period this was unsuccessfully changed to include other officially recognised distances such as 20km or 25km . The official half marathon distance remains the mark of challenge to the distance road runner , and a stepping stone around the world towards the full marathon .
The 2023 event in Riga brought back the team competition , comprising teams of four athletes in men ’ s or women ’ s races , with the combination of the top three times determining the victors . The team event remains a major motivator to those who are unlikely to feature on the individual podium , or even in the top ten , but can still find themselves determining their country ’ s standing in the event . Although the international women commenced with a separate start to provide a women-only competition , the mass of participants were able to run with , and against , the world elite ’ s men , in the same race .
Success in Riga
The inaugural edition of revamped World Road Running Champs did have to overcome some challenges , but the event was universally declared a success . With these three distances being raced and public participation opportunities across the whole event , it resulted in a festival day of road running , from 10am to 5pm , with eight races that attracted around 7000 runners .
The event was observed keenly by the organising teams from both San Diego and Copenhagen , who will be hosting the 2025 and 2026 editions . The mass participation components at those venues are set to be even bigger , as both cities have a history of major athletic events . San Diego is the home of the original Rock and Roll Marathon series , and apart from the fast and furious Copenhagen Half Marathon , which attracts 27,000 runners , the Danish organisers have just completed a three-day 5km relay weekend with 125,000 participants !
Even the medals were modern and eye-catching , and something all participating runners wanted to add to their collections
Sharing the Knowledge
It wasn ’ t simply about the racing in Riga , though . Around 150 delegates attended the third World Athletics Road Running Conference , which proved to be the best in the series , with debatably the most practical agenda of the three editions to date . The diversity of presentations and information covered topics from the utilisation of the rules to improve the credibility and integrity of a race , to how the global ranking system is designed to encompass and rank races and runners from national to elite to World Record standards , to how the world has changed for marketing , media and sponsorship , plus much more .
In particular , the impact of social media on the growth , marketing and participation in the sport opened eyes on the global numbers , with a specific section on the handling of issues , incidents and crisis that unfortunately highlighted for those in the know here in South Africa just how poorly some of our ‘ iconic ’ SA races have handled their challenges in recent years .
On a more positive note , one thing that I was really pleased about was that after years of being a sole South African attendee , and more recently presenting , at such events held around the World Athletics Championships , it was truly great to see a couple of the SA delegation in the audience . Perhaps the changes required to take our sport forward here in SA will start becoming a reality as more knowledge is gained at this global level .
The world stats give meaning to where we stand , and the changes that are required . Only 38 % of races in the world are marathons , and 20 % are half marathons , leaving 42 % to other distances and combinations . In world terms , around 55 % are organised by commercial eventing companies , whereas in South Africa , nearly 100 % are hosted by clubs , but some realise that they need to bring in professional eventing companies in one or more aspects of their events .
Looking to the Future
In short , our road running exists in a professional industry , and if we want our sport to be sustainable , we need to marry our exceptionally strong and virtually unique club and provincial system with opportunities for commercial enterprises , particularly for logistics and implementation . The rationalisation , and acknowledgement of the change in market desires , must be adopted to maintain , let alone grow , the numbers and participation in the sport , to maintain the sponsor engagement and investment , and to generate the resources to allow for development and high-performance support to the elite athletes .
The evidence is indisputable that it will be road running that provides the foundation of the sport ’ s future , and while the big city marathons , or the Comrades Marathon in SA , will always provide the personal human challenge for the masses , the numbers and financial sustainability for the current younger generation lies in the shorter distances .
About the Author
Norrie represented Scotland and Great Britain in numerous ultra-distance events , then represented South Africa in triathlon . He is a World Athleticsaccredited coach and course measurer , and travels all over the world to work on events , including the Olympics . He has been appointed by World Athletics as Technical Delegate to a number of the world ’ s leading Label events in Africa , Asia and the Middle East . He has authored two books ( Everyman ’ s Guide to Distance Running and Every Beginner ’ s Guide to Walking & Running ), and counts 20 Comrades medals amongst his more than 150 ultra-marathon medals , as well as multiple wins at distances from 100km to 1000km . You can read more from him at www . coachnorrie . co . za .