Two weeks ago at the London Marathon, Eliud Kipchoge ran a solidly OK race. He finished in 2:06, respectable for almost any other runner, but a disappointment for him. Similarly, Joshua Cheptegei made his half-marathon debut on Saturday at the World Half-Marathon Championships and he ran a mediocre race. For most, his fourth-place finish and debut time of 59:21 would’ve been the race of a lifetime, but for Cheptegei, it was a bit of a bummer. On paper, these results might be a bit of a letdown, but in actuality, this is exactly why we race. Here’s why losses for arguably the two best runners in history is a good thing for the sport.
The fastest runners in the world are just like us (sometimes).
While it’s easy to think that Cheptegei and Kipchoge could never run a bad race, seeing both of these stellar runners falter was inevitable. Instead of seeing it as a great loss, it can be seen as a reflection of the impossible standard these two were held to – that they couldn’t lose. In London, an ear blockage got the best of Kipchoge. For Cheptegei, he was coming off a world record 10,000m run less than two weeks earlier. Of course he was a little tired. For these two, the bad days are few and far between, but just like everyone else, they can happen.
It’s more exciting
Another reason a bad day for the big guns isn’t terrible is that it’s really exciting to watch. This is exactly why we race and don’t simply decide champions based on seed times. Upsets are one of the most interesting parts of sport, and getting to watch one is a thrill. After a year of primarily staged races, watching two fair fights play out in real-time was a treat.
They’re helping others to success
While Kipchoge and Cheptegei obviously like to win, their successes aren’t just individual victories. When they win and break world records, they show their competitors what’s possible. They likely take a certain level of pride in seeing others succeed, as they know they played a role in showing the running world just how fast people can be.
On a small scale, it’s what is happening in Canadian road running right now. Just four years ago, 2:24 was an unthinkably fast women’s marathon time, but now it’s our national record. Canadian women got there by pushing each other.
Kipchoge spoke to The Guardian after his first marathon loss since 2013 saying, “I’m really disappointed but this is sport. It’s what normally happens in sport. It’s not the end of the world. It’s not suicide for Eliud Kipchoge to be beaten. I have more marathons. I will come back again.” His message is a great one for runners to remember after a bad day: there’s always another race and you can always try again.