NorthShore Blog

Wait… the fastest marathon time wasn’t the Elite Marathon winner?

Ar the 2019 , Julie Brandt-Glass rolled across the finish line in 1:22:42.9, less that 1/4 of one second faster than the runner up Sarah Hopkins right behind her. Julie stood atop the podium for the Elite Marathon and accepted her trophy and $1,000 prize purse with a big smile. But wait… Julie didn’t have the fastest time for women at the 2019 NorthShore Inline Marathon? Why should she get the fame and fortune? Here’s why…

Not, it’s not a mistake. Three women went under 1:20 at the 2019 NorthShore Inline Marathon, yet Julie’s time of 1:22 was the winning time. There are many races going on simultaneously at the NorthShore Inline Marathon, such as running and rollerski events, the Half Marathon Skate, Combined 39.3 Mile Skate, and more. The capstone event, of course, is the NorthShore Inline Marathon. However, there are technically two separate races with athletes that skate 26.2 miles: The NorthShore Inline Marathon, and Marathon-Elite. The NorthShore Inline Marathon has seven waves: Advanced Wave 1, Advanced Wave 2, Advanced Wave 3, Combined 39.3 Mile, Recreation Wave 1, Recreation Wave 2, and Recreation Wave 3. The Marathon-Elite has four waves: Male Open, Male 30-39 and 40-49, Male 50-59 and 60+, and Women Open and 40+. The Marathon-Elite race is the race that crowns the winner, the USA National Champion, and is the only race during NorthShore weekend with a prize purse.

There are a few differences in how the race rules are laid out, which is why there is a need for two completely separate races for the same sport, the same distance, the same course, on the same day. For one, there is no cross-drafting between genders allowed in the Marathon-Elite race. Therefore, an Elite male cannot join a paceline with Elite racers who are female. A female can’t join a paceline that has Elite males in it. If both a male and female get dropped from their Marathon-Elite paceline and find each other on the course, they can’t work together and draft. On the contrary, NorthShore Inline Marathon (Advanced and Recreation waves) can intermix in any way: people of different waves and different genders can skate together in a paceline.

There have been several circumstances over the years where a female in an Advanced wave in the NorthShore Inline Marathon has posted a faster time (sometimes much faster) than the female race winner of the Marathon-Elite. Why? This is generally because of the intermixed genders found in the pacelines of Advanced and Rec wave skaters.

But also, the NorthShore Inline Marathon and Marathon-Elite are totally separate races, and athletes generally “race” it, strategize and execute their race plans differently with different goals. In the NorthShore Inline Marathon, Advanced wave athletes usually are going for the fastest time they can muster. Those in a paceline typically like to work together to get to the finish line in as little time as possible. Marathon-Elite participants are going for placement. Everyone wants to win, and so games are played within the paceline. There is more slowing down and speeding up, “accordioning” of the paceline, and fast breaks meant to drop less powerful skaters off of the lead pack paceline. The strongest Elite sprinters want to conserve their energy for the final sprint, and the best endurance skaters want to push the pace early and throughout the entire marathon to break down the sprinters. Still, everyone needs each other in the paceline and it’s sometimes a risky endeavor to go off the front alone. Therefore, time is really a non-factor and each Elite athlete is weighing their own strengths against their fellow Elite athletes and strategizing to be in the correct place when the finish line is finally in sight.

So, to sum up WHY the fastest time doesn’t always win the race: it’s because we are talking about two separate races. The NorthShore Inline Marathon is one race, and the Marathon-Elite is a totally different race. Well, maybe not totally different. But different enough in the rules and how the race plays out that we have to hold two separate contests.