I believe the use of rabbits and other extra-competitive devices by race organizers hoping to claim a record was set at their race is ruining the the athletic event of the marathon race for all of us.
The most recent example was the spectacle of Haile Gebrselassie being paced through the streets of Berlin by a phalanx of rabbits hired to create a draft at preset pace in an artifically orchestrated, and ultimatelay futile, attempt to set a new world record over the marathon distance. Had this ruse succeeded, I, for one, would not have recognized his time as a race record. What we witnessed was, at best, what I would call a time tial, not a race. It was also a slap in the face to the rest of us. A race record—be it a world record or a P.R.—is, to me, the result of honest unaided competition on that rare day when training, weather, and the competition all combine to produce a faster time than ever before run. If artifical conditions for one, or even a few, runners lead to a faster time, that mark is time trial result, not a race result, if for no other reason than it was set on a most definitely unlevel playing field. On any given day at any given race, we should all race under the same conditions.
I suspect that almost all of us have run our "best," in some way defined, during a training run rather than in a race. We've all had the feeling after a great training run of wanting to put that lightening in a bottle for race day. But, when race day rolls around, despite our best efforts of months of training, weeks of tapering, days of carbo loading, etc. the lightening is rarely there. Believing that we can do it, but didn't do it this time, is what makes a lot of us run the next race.
When we did set our best time in a race, we did so because the day and the course gave us the opportunity and we were pushed by our competition, even if that competition was our own prior P.R., to achieve something we'd never done before. Each one of us is no different than Haile Gebrselassie in that regard. Despite all the advantages, Gebrselassie failed to achieve his record. I'm certain dozens, if not hundreds, of other runners did set their own records that day, and with no extra-competitive help. In that sense, even though we didn't see them on TV, they all beat Haile Gebrselassie. As the current world record holder, his goal of a new record was just higher, but no more meaningful, than theirs.
For Gebrselassie and the organizers who tried to rig the outcome for him, the Berlin Marathon of '09 was in no sense a race; it was a farce.
For everyone who P.R.'ed, even at more than 2:04, congratulations! You're the real winners of Berlin '09.
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