It’s been quite a year for the running community — from glory in Boston to disbelief in South Africa.
By Henry Howard
With 2014 winding to a close, many news organizations look back with “top 10” lists of the best, worst or some other categorization.
As runners, we have our own personal top achievements from the past year. Maybe it was a PR, finishing a new race distance or winning an age group. Or perhaps pushing through or recovering from an injury.
But as I reflected on the past year, there seemed to be quite a few running related stories that carried impact that will last beyond 2014. The resilience of the Boston Marathon community to host a terrific race one year after the terrorist bombing. The death of a beloved Olympic athlete and war hero. And Deena Kastor’s half marathon record.
These aren’t in any particular order — I’ll let history decide on the significance of each. But to me, these are the top running stories from the past year.
Top Running Stories of 2014
1. Running community takes back the Boston Marathon
The 2014 version of the Boston Marathon was its 118th but was arguably the most important. This year’s Boston ran smoothly, one year after two terrorist bombs killed three people, injured more than 250 and halted the race.
More than 1 million onlookers came out to cheer the athletes and send a message to the world: Terrorism will not win.
Extra security measures were put in place at Boston and copied by pretty much every major marathon since. Extra screening procedures are routine. Clear, plastic bag checks are the only ones that runners can use.
The only thing that would make the 2014 Boston Marathon more significant would be for . . . [see number two]
2. An American male winning Boston
Meb Keflezighi won the 2014 Boston Marathon, the first American to do so since 1983. Keflezighi , who at the time of the race was two weeks shy of his 39th birthday, became the oldest winner of the race since 1930.
The emotional victory inspired marathoners everywhere and likely motivated non-runners to lace up their sneakers to try a 5K or another race distance.
3. Former Olympian and World War II hero dies
I had the pleasure of interviewing Louie Zamperini’s children and Laura Hillenbrand, the author of his book “Unbroken,” shortly after his death. In my magazine article, they talked about Zamperini’s incredible story of resilience and redemption. Zamperini, who died July 3 at age 97, was an incredible athlete — high school record holder in the mile, 1936 Olympic athlete — who didn’t stop jogging until he was 87.
“He would be out watering his plants in the front yard, and some jogger would be jogging by,” his son Luke Zamperini told me. “He would turn around and say, ‘Hey, I’ll race you to that mailbox up there.’ Of course, he was pretty slow in his later years. So when the other person would reach the mailbox first, he would say, ‘Well, now you can say that you beat an Olympian.’ That would usually make them stop, turn around and come back to talk. It’s just the way he would make friends.”
4. Oscar Pistorius found guilty
The Paralympic champion and Olympian sprinter from South Africa was found guilty of culpable homicide in the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.
Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence and a concurrent three-year suspended sentence for reckless endangerment.
Whenever he is released, Pistorius’ running career is likely over.
5. The redesign of Runners World
As a runner and magazine editor, this may interest me more than most people on the surface.
But if you have found yourself spending more time with Runners World — like me — since the redesign, the staff’s work has paid off. For me, there is more information, package in a way that is easier to scan and read. Well done, Runners World, well done.
6. World records fall
Deena Kastor, the 41-year-old American marathon record-holder, grabbed another distinction this year: She set the world record for the Masters half marathon, 1:09:36 at the Philadelphia Rock n’ Roll Marathon.
Her inspiring feat really hit home with me as she talked about persevering through side stiches. “I went through a rollercoaster of emotions. Today’s race was a benchmark,” she said after the race. “It was really humid out there and I didn’t feel great, but I ran fast so I’m thrilled.”
Additionally, Dennis Kimetto broke the marathon world record at the Berlin Marathon with a 2:02:57.
Kimetto chopped 26 seconds off the previous record, held by Wilson Kipsang.
The 30-year-old Kimetto became the first to break the 2:03 mark; will he also be the first to complete a marathon in under two hours? Stay tuned.
7. Rob Krar dominates ultras
As ultra marathons increase in popularity, one athlete in particular is starting to emerge as a regular on the podium. Rob Krar, a pharmacist by trade, won two of the most prestigious ultra running events in 2014: the Leadville Trail 100 and Western States Endurance Run.
Where did Krar come from? He was on Butler University’s track team and participated in marathons — including a 27th place finish in the 2007 Boston Marathon, 2:25:44 — before finding and succeeding in ultras.
8. Rita Jeptoo’s failed drug tests
Well-known Kenyan marathoner Rita Jeptoo is facing disqualification over a failed drug test. A second test confirmed the results of the first one that found a banned performance-enhancing drug in her system.
Jeptoo has won the Boston Marathon three times and the Chicago Marathon twice. We should learn early in 2015 whether any of her titles will be vacated.
Surely, 2015 will also bring moments of glory and heartbreak for runners across the globe. Will those highlights and lowlights be even more significant than those from the past 12 months? Only time will tell.
Boston Strong: Flickr Creative Commons; CC Chapman
Meb Keflezighi: flickr Creative Commons; paul-w-locke
Louis Zamperini: Wikipedia Creative Commons
Oscar Pistorius Wikipedia Creative Commons
Deena Kastor: Flickr Creative Commons; Michael Dorausch
Dennis Kimetto: Flickr Creative Commons; Sebaso
Rita Jeptoo: Wikipedia Creative Commons