Marathon News: Why Were the World Marathon Championships Held in the Desert And Missing the World Record by 2 Seconds

Mileage goals
Written by Charlie

Read how a runner came amazingly close to the marathon world record and try to see why in the world the marathon championships were held in a desert country.

Here’s a bit of a marathon roundup for your Sunday afternoon! We are officially into the fall marathon season with many marathons already taking place in September and the big World Marathon Major, the Berlin Marathon, taking place today.

What Was the IAAF Thinking?

The IAAF is the International Association of Athletics Federations and they are in charge with putting on the World Athletics Championship. For 2019, these events are taking place in Doha, Qatar – in September and early October.

For anyone that has visited the Middle East in these months, you know it is hot! Not only is it hot but it is quite humid! I ran 26.2 miles in Abu Dhabi a few years ago in early September and it was about 110 degrees with high humidity as the sun went down. I have also run the Dubai Marathon (held in January) twice and can say that even “winter” heat is tough.

Yet, the IAAF saw fit to hold these championships, which include the marathon distance, in Doha at the end of September – outdoors. They tried to counter the high heat by having the races start at midnight. Guess what? The humidity is really bad then as well!

In fact, many runners and others are calling this decision a disaster and a move by IAAF to get money from Qatar instead of looking out for their athletes.

There were 68 women that toed the starting line and 28 of them had to drop over the course of the race. There was a reported 30 runners that had to seek medical attention at the tent over the course of the race and after. The IAAF made some (what I believe) ridiculous parallels to other races in the past with somewhat similar DNF (did not finish) numbers.

But, with temperatures in the 90s and the humidity at 70% (at midnight!), it was definitely the weather that caused a lot of these struggles and the slower times. To give you an idea, the winner of the women’s marathon championships, Ruth Chepngetich, ran a 2:32:43 marathon time. While that is a very good time, it was 15 minutes slower than the winning time she ran in Dubai in January of this year! Yeah, that likely had something to do with heat!

The other races, at shorter distances, have gone off ok but it was the marathon that suffered for the weather. I would hope IAAF takes this into account when they choose their next locations to not put it in a country like Qatar at this time of year. I have no knowledge of the negotiations involved but Qatar has wanted these kinds of sporting events for a while (they have the World Cup in 2022 but it will be held in November) and they certainly have the money to make it happen.

More: USA Today

Missing the World Record by 2 Seconds

Today was the very fast Berlin Marathon. More world records have been set there than any other marathon, thanks to a flat, fast course and cooler temperatures of fall. Today, the current world marathon record came so close to falling again!

Three years ago, Kenenisa Bekele missed the (then) world marathon record by a sliver of time that measured at just 6 seconds. Today, he missed the one-year old marathon record by a stunning 2 seconds! His final time was 2:01:41 to win the 2019 Berlin Marathon.

Part of what made it so amazing was that his hamstring tightened up on him at the 31KM mark (around 18 miles) yet he stuck with it after slowing a bit and still passed two of his countrymen to claim the first place spot.

In fact, he recovered so well that with just 2km left, he was actually 2 seconds ahead of the world record but he wasn’t able to deliver the kick necessary to clinch that world record. Still, that is amazing for someone who did not go in with a goal of claiming the world record and he did improve on his best time by a large 80 seconds.

So, congrats to Bekele on an amazing race and I am sure we will see that race for the record happen again!

More: Runner’s World

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.