In a couple of weeks, I'd like to publish a list of the "10 Most Iconic Running Events in America." I started musing about this a few days ago while planning my racing schedule for the remainder of 2011, and realizing that although the JFK 50-mile isn't until November, the entry deadline is already upon us. Entries open July 1 for runners who meet the "A" qualification standard (see jfk50mile.org for details), and there's a good chance the race will be filled by July 2. If there are still places available in the thousand-runner field after a week, runners meeting the "B" standard can enter. There are way more people who want to run this race than can be accommodated on the Appalachian Trail.
This will be JFK's 49th year, which makes it the oldest continuously-run ultra in America. It's also the largest ultra, and one of the most competitive. (The Western States 100-Mile is widely considered the most competitive ultra, and I won't argue with that, but JFK is no slouch--consider that when seven-time Western States champion Scott Jurek came to the JFK two years ago, he finished 11th, and when Michael Wardian came to JFK after finishing third in the World 50k championship in Gibraltar, last year, he placed 6th.) However you measure it, JFK is an iconic phenomenon.
But of course, there are other iconic races as well. The Boston Marathon, I'd say, is in a class by itself. When I was a young runner in the 1950s and '60s, the dream of every long-distance runner was to someday run Boston. In my own fantasies, Boston was right up there with the Olympics. And indeed, to this day, faster times have been run at Boston than in any Olympic Marathon in history.
While Boston and the JFK 50 are the two most iconic long-distance races I have ever had the thrill of running, I know perfectly well that for other runners, there are many other events that have had that kind of aura. Western States, of course. There are thousands of annual events out there now, but I want to make a short list of the most iconic ones. It won't be scientific or unbiased (neither is American Idol or the U.S. presidential election), but it will be fun. There's no way to objectively define "iconic," but here are a few suggested attributes:
Longevity: a race that's been around since before man walked on the moon, or at least since before "Chariots of Fire" was produced.
Popularity: hordes of people want to get into it, so it fills up months before the event.
Competitiveness: Elite runners are drawn to it. The front-runners in this event can outrun antelopes!
A uniquely spectacular or challenging course: awesome elevation profile, amazing views, or a million live spectators.
"Dream" quotient: It's an event you dream of going to someday--a race you want to be able to tell your grandkids you ran. If you're getting along in your years, like me, it's on your Bucket List.
Out of the innumerable candidates, what would be examples of events that meet some of those criteria? In addition to Boston and JFK, some events that leap to mind (in roughly ascending order of race distance) include the Penn Relays, Prefontaine Classic, Peachtree Road Race, Falmouth Road Race, Dipsea, Bay to Breakers, Gasparilla Classic, Cherry Blossom 10-mile, New York Marathon, Way too Cool 50k, Western States 100, and Badwater 136.
But that's just what leaps to mind for me. What about you? Write your nominations below (click on "comments"), or send me an e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Pick one or pick ten, whatever you like. Give reasons! In a couple of weeks, based on your comments and on my own 54 years of running adventures, I'll post the results. Looking forward to hearing from you!