The arrival of September, with its cooler temperatures, changing leaves, and return of the beloved (or disdained) Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks, also brings football. Lots of football. High school, college, and professional football. Enter fantasy, not the word that you would typically associate with the pigskin. Most people think of fantasy in terms of Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, or Star Wars, not Tom Brady or Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers. But like the players themselves over the course of sixty minutes, the goal for fantasy players, in the always amusing words of former New York Jets coach and ESPN NFL analyst Herm Edwards, is to achieve victory – to win the game.
The aim of fantasy football, be it through Draft Kings or its primary competitor Fan Duel, is to assemble a team of players through a draft and compete against others for prizes, including cash. Draft Kings, for instance, is offering a $1 billion (billion with a “B”) payout to the person who “scores the most Draft Kings fantasy points that could possibly be scored within the salary cap and position requirements.” The odds of creating a perfect draft are daunting, dare I say outright impossible. But that won’t stop legions of fans from taking a crack at such a sizable payout of greenbacks.
What does a fantasy site like Draft Kings have in common with running? Not much, as fantasy leagues are only available for the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, MMA, CFL, NASCAR, golf, and soccer. But suppose for a moment that a fantasy league for runners existed. Who would you draft to your team that would be formidable in competition against other players? Who would dominate? The first place to start in choosing the best runners for a draft would be to look intently at the type of running. Think track and field. Cross country. The half marathon or marathon, even ultramarathons on the trails.
For our purposes, we’ll stick with professional runners as Draft Kings partners with professional sports for their respective competitions. I’ll further add that a sizable draft of talent is beyond the scope of this article; therefore, I will limit my picks to a select few. With Usain Bolt now in retirement, I need to look elsewhere for speed on the track for the short races. Speculation on Bolt’s successor has been vocal lately, though some talking heads suggest that there will not be another Bolt – ever.
That said, I am intrigued with Japanese sprinter Abdul Hakim Sani Brown. Brown won the 100-meter race and 200-meter race at the 101st Japanese Championships at the Yanmar Stadium Nagai in Osaka. His winning times, which are now personal bests for the 18-year-old, were 10.05 in the 100 and 20.32 in the 200.
As for the marathon, one need not look further than the 2017 Berlin Marathon for three draft worthy contenders. Eliud Kipchoge, Kenenisa Bekele, and Wilson Kipsang. Kipchoge, if you recall, was nothing short of mesmerizing back in May when he ran the fastest time ever for a marathon distance (2:00:25). Substitute pacemakers, which acted as a windshield, made this much-hyped Nike Breaking2 feat doable. Will Kipchoge be able to break the IAAF world record, set in Berlin in 2014 by his fellow countryman Dennis Kimetto? Will 2:02:57 fall further, even a few seconds? I want Kipchoge on my team.
One of the more unique events in track and field competition is the steeplechase. Runners in the modern event race around a track and then jump a barrier into a water pit. Emma Coburn, a rising star in the steeplechase, won the 3000-meter title at the 2017 World Championships in London with a time of 9:02:58. Her future is bright as she has consistently lowered her finish times one year to the next.
Between Coburn, Kipchoge, and Sani Brown, both short and long distances for track and road appear to be covered. As an aspiring trail runner, however, I would be doing a disservice to myself and the athletes who compete in ultramarathons to not draft two more rock stars. I give you Kilian Jornet of Spain and Dean Karnazes of California.
The accomplishments between Jornet and Karnazes will cause all runners to think that their distances and finish times are paltry, but I suspect that both of these athletes are easily approachable and equally humble about their performances in spite of their ridiculous abilities. Karnazes’ most recent undertaking was finishing the Spartathlon, a 153-mile race from Athens to Greece. Jornet finished second at the renowned Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, a 103-mile race that passes through France, Italy, and Switzerland with an elevation gain of 10,300 meters.
A fantasy draft league for runners? The concept is intriguing, and the technological infrastructure to create a platform (i.e. an app) for one exists, but professional running events will always draw less viewers than professional football. Always. No matter. I don’t have much interest in professional football anyway, so observing the intensity of foot races that come down to the wire are a welcome event to watch on the tube or online. What runners are you drafting this season?