The Start Of Something New On The Roads

By Kyle Merber

October 4, 2023

The inaugural edition of the World Road Running Championships is in the books and it seemed like it was a success. No logistical snafus, good races, and no protesters… although maybe that just means the event lacked enough prestige to get on any organizers’ radars?.

From my perspective (hiding under the covers at 5 AM watching on a phone without any volume) it seemed like a fun enough festival of races that we ought to try and convert into a tradition. That’s good because it’s coming to San Diego in 2025!

The one-day event featured a mile, 5K, and half marathon, with 347 elite athletes representing 56 countries. The times were good, however, given the blitz of fast marks that we have been treated to recently, it takes a bit more to impress me these days. But this is a championship and that’s why we got – good, hard racing! More on that in a second…

World Road Running ChampionshipsWorld Road Running Championships

Justin Britton / @JustinBritton

Latvia doesn’t feature in too many conversations when it comes to modern-day international running, so it was really cool to see and hear the enthusiasm of the Baltic country on display. People were stoked to be hosting an event of this stature in their own backyard. There were over 13,000 entrants in the mass-start races! How many first-time road races can put up those types of numbers right out of the gates? Hell, the New York Marathon only saw 55 entrants its rookie season – look at it go now!

I have full confidence that the organizing committee in San Diego is going to knock it out of the park as well, even if they basically have to put the thing together from a near blank slate, logistically. The real challenge this event is going to face as it strives to cement itself as must-contest for top athletes is easy to identify but tougher to solve: the prize money for winning the half marathon at this year’s championships was $30,000 – the same as it was 20 years ago at the IAAF Half Marathon Championships in Portugal.

Options have value and that’s the challenge with road running right now. Ask someone to name the best 100m runner in the world, and they’ll – assuming they’re a reader of this newsletter or higher in the track nerd-dom continuum – tell you who won Worlds. But if we try to argue who the best female marathoner in the world is right now, then we’ll be debating seven different athletes who passed by each other like ships in the night because there’s no need to overlap.

It’s in the best interest of World Athletics to find a way to compete with the top road races across the globe, not only for consolidation of talent but for storytelling and profits. The World Marathon Majors should be looked at as a competitor. Any entity that is able to pull Eliud Kipchoge away from competing at your championship is not a friend.

Rather than outsourcing the content, the TV contracts, the additional sponsorships, and the entry fees, World Athletics could own the entire property itself.

Do the math… over 47,000 people run the New York City Marathon, and it costs between $255 and $358 to enter. If World Athletics hosted its own “New York City Marathon” then that’s an additional ~$14M of revenue for NYRR off registration fees alone. Someone is going to email me the real math, but the point remains that there is a ton of money in mass participation road racing that World Athletics should tap into more aggressively. (In 2020, NYRR had $105M in revenue in comparison to WA’s 2022 revenue of $54.9M.)

With the reduction of prize money at the World Marathon Majors, this smells like a major opportunity for an elite-focused event to start enticing the very best in the World to all race on the same day once a year, rather than once every four.

And since I know Seb Coe definitely only skims this newsletter and prefers to read what follows bolded text, let me state clearly what he should do next: move the marathon from the World Athletics Championships to the World Road Running Championships, host the event every year in the same flat, fast, and beautiful major city, then use the funding from the 30,000+ person event to pay elite athletes better than any other race so that it actually crowns the true world champion.

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Kyle Merber

After hanging up his spikes – but never his running shoes – Kyle pivoted to the media side of things, where he shares his enthusiasm, insights, and experiences with subscribers of The Lap Count newsletter, as well as viewers of CITIUS MAG live shows.