A feast of top-class road racing will be on offer with the return of the World Athletics Elite Platinum Label marathon series this weekend.
The series will include seven big international races over the next three months, six of those in a thrilling six-week period from Sunday (26).
This exciting back-to-back top-tier race programme will see many of the world’s best athletes – together with significant mass fields – run in Berlin, London, Chicago, Boston, Amsterdam and New York, before the final Elite Platinum Label race of the year is held in Valencia in December.
The Elite Platinum Label races form the top level of a three-tier road race programme introduced by World Athletics for 2021, prompted by the many calendar changes brought on by the pandemic in 2020. As well as Elite Platinum Label, the programme includes World Athletics Elite Label and World Athletics Label races held across each of the sport's six areas.
In 2021, the Elite Platinum Label was available to races that had been granted Platinum status in 2020, irrespective of whether the race took place or not. This top-tier classification reflects, among other things, the quality of the elite fields and commitment to the sport, including supporting a strong anti-doping programme.
Six marathons in six weeks
The famous marathon distance is 26.2 miles, or 42.195 kilometres, and the number 42 is a key one for Elite Platinum Label action over the coming weeks as it’s the exact number of days between the next six races.
First up is the BMW Berlin Marathon on 26 September, which is set to be the world's largest marathon since the pandemic began. Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele and Hiwot Gebrekidan headline the elite fields, with multiple world and Olympic champion Bekele returning with his sights on a third victory on the roads of Germany’s capital city. A total of 11 world records have been broken on the Berlin Marathon course, which this weekend will welcome around 25,000 runners as they take part in the mass race.
The programme then moves on to the Virgin Money London Marathon, traditionally held in the Northern Hemisphere spring but taking place in autumn – on 3 October – for the second consecutive year. The title of biggest post-pandemic race looks set to be handed from Berlin to London as the UK event aims to become the largest marathon ever staged anywhere in the world. Up to 50,000 participants will run the traditional course from Greenwich to The Mall, while another 50,000 will take part in the virtual event. The elite stars among them will be defending champions Brigid Kosgei, Kenya’s world record-holder and Olympic silver medallist, and Ethiopia’s Shura Kitata.
One week later, on 10 October, all eyes will be on the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, where Kenya’s 2019 world marathon champion Ruth Chepngetich and Ethiopia’s 2019 Dubai Marathon champion Getaneh Molla will be among those racing for top places. Following the cancellation of the 2020 event, next month’s marathon hopes to welcome 35,000 participants to run in the US city. “While we expect to see fast times up front, we are focusing on celebrating every athlete in this year’s field and the personal stories, challenges, and triumphs that they bring with them,” Executive Race Director Carey Pinkowski said.
Elite Platinum Label action will resume the very next day as 11 October marks the return of the BAA Boston Marathon. The 125th running of the event will feature Ethiopia’s two-time winner and reigning world marathon champion Lelisa Desisa and Kenya’s Edna Kiplagat, who won the 2017 edition of the race and claimed her two world titles in 2011 and 2013. Alongside the in-person mass race of 20,000 participants, there will also be a virtual race held from 8-10 October.
Next up is the TCS Amsterdam Marathon on 17 October. Three of the best Dutch men’s marathon runners – Michel Butter, Björn Koreman and Frank Futselaar – have so far been announced, with further elite entry announcements coming soon. The 2019 edition featured 45,000 participants from 140 countries and after the 2020 event was cancelled the Dutch capital is looking forward to welcoming runners back for its range of events, which include a half marathon and an 8km race.
The six-week marathon thriller culminates with the TCS New York Marathon on 7 November. The star-studded line-up includes Kenya’s Olympic champion Peres Jepchirchir and Ethiopian great Bekele, who is set to return to 26.2-mile action just 42 days after he competes in Berlin. Up to 33,000 runners will have the opportunity to take part in the 50th running of the race, on a course that passes through the five boroughs of NYC, while a virtual event will also take place.
Spectacular finale in Valencia
The World Athletics Elite Platinum Label programme will head to the Maraton Valencia Trinidad Alfonso EDP on 5 December for its final race in 2021. A deep elite field featuring more than 120 men with PBs under 2:20 and 130 sub-2:50 women are set to race, supported by several groups of pacers, including those targeting the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 qualifying standards. Organisers say the course will be faster, with fewer turns.
After the elite-only edition of 2020, the mass race returns to Valencia, the ‘city of running’, with 18,000 participants ready to run in the Spanish city where four world records – the women’s 5000m (Letesenbet Gidey) and the men’s 10,000m (Joshua Cheptegei), 10km (Rhonex Kipruto) and half marathon (Kibiwott Kandie) – have all been set over the past couple of years.
Also forming part of this year’s Elite Platinum Label programme of events were the Nagoya Women's Marathon in March and C&D Xiamen Marathon in April, while the Shanghai International Marathon is scheduled for 28 November with a domestic-only field.