Commentary

A gorilla in London and other top marathon moments of 2017

Originally Published: December 22, 2017
By Doug Williams | Special to ESPN.com

Tom HarrisonJohn Stillwell/PA Images via Getty ImagesTom Harrison planned to crawl on his knees during the London Marathon, but they were blistered after the first day even though he wore pads. So he switched to his hands and feet, which was faster but harder on his arms.

As Tom Harrison approached the finish of the London Marathon in April, he began pounding his chest a la King Kong. He had, after all, just completed the race in a gorilla suit.

The 26.1 miles took him 6½ days, sleeping at friends' house along the way. He crawled or on all fours ("gorilla style") for 10 to 12 hours a day as a way to raise money for gorilla conservation ($54,000 in total). The 41-year-old police officer was happy to have completed his quest but had a complaint. "I think I've started to smell a bit like a gorilla," he said.

Harrison's effort makes our cut as one of the most memorable marathons of 2017. What else wowed us or piqued our interest? Here are five more moments that made us pause -- for better or for worse.

Elsa/Getty ImagesShalane Flanagan finished the New York Marathon in 2 hours, 26 minutes, 53 seconds, about a minute faster than second-place Mary Keitany, who had won the previous three New York Marathons.

Flanagan wins New York

Shalane Flanagan stood on the podium and started to cry as her name was announced as the winner of the New York City Marathon in November. In fact, she'd been shedding tears since she approached the finish line knowing the win was hers. "This is the moment I've dreamed of since I was a little girl," she said.

Flanagan, 36, was the first American woman to win the race since 1977. That was 40 years ago, when Meb Keflezighi -- who ran the final race of his distinguished career on the same November day -- was just 2.

To get the win, Flanagan, who grew up in Marblehead, Massachusetts, broke the three-race victory streak of Kenya's Mary Keitany, running 2:26:53 to Keitany's 2:27:54. Leading into the race, Flanagan had called Keitany "the alpha racer," but it was Flanagan who built a commanding lead over the final 3 miles.

Going backward to move forward

Because of a neurological condition called runner's dystonia, Justine Galloway started having trouble running six years ago. The condition creates confusion between the brain and muscles. So, when she tries to run the way she always had (she ran for Rutgers), her gait, posture and balance are affected. Yet Galloway, 37, of San Diego, discovered she can run backward without major muscle malfunction.

After doing four half-marathons backward, Galloway did this year's New York City Marathon that way (with a guide) and finished in 6:06:51. She used to be able to complete marathons in about 3½ hours.

Now she's just happy to be running. She is inspired by her dad, who had Parkinson's disease and died in 2010.

"I didn't want to give it up until I had to," she said. "Right now, I don't feel like I have to yet, so I haven't."

EPA/NIKE/HANDOUTAs part of Nike's Breaking2 project on May 6, Kenyas Eliud Kipchoge ran the fastest marathon in history: 2 hours, 25 seconds.

Fastest marathon ever

It was called the Breaking2 project, and it featured three of the world's fastest marathoners, a special new shoe, some alternating, ultra-fast pacers, a pace car and the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, a Formula One race track chosen for the attempt.

The project was Nike's attempt to see if a human being can run a marathon in less than two hours. It almost succeeded.

On the morning of May 6 at Monza, Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge ran the fastest marathon in history: 2 hours, 25 seconds. (Countryman Dennis Kimetto's 2:02:57 at Berlin in 2014 remains the official world record.) Kipchoge averaged 4:35.7 per mile in besting his official marathon PR of 2:03:05. "This really was about human potential. I hope people will be inspired," said Tony Bignell of Nike.

Said Kipchoge: "The world now is just 25 seconds away from under two hours."

Courtesy Eyob FanielItalian Eyob Faniel was the unexpected winner of the Venice Marathon after the leaders took a wrong turn.

Catching a break in Venice

It took 22 years and some wayward motorcycle guides for a local to win the Venice Marathon.

Eyob Faniel won the race in October when the lead group of runners made the mistake of following the motorcyclists charged with guiding the runners up front on the proper route. At the 16-mile mark, those motorcyclists took a wrong turn and the lead pack ran several hundred yards before someone realized the error, and they all turned back.

Faniel -- a native Eritrean who became an Italian citizen in 2015 and is a member of the Venice Marathon Club -- won in 2:12:16, two minutes ahead of the second-place finisher.

Faniel, 25, shook off those who said he didn't earn the win. "Thanks to all of you who cheered for me and the many messages!" he wrote on Facebook. "For those who would like to spoil this moment I read only blah blah blah blah."

Costume malfunction

Jozef Urban, a 31-year-old Slovakian, probably would like everyone to remember his 10th-place finish at the Kosice Peace Marathon in Slovakia in October for the personal best he set. Urban's 2:21:51 was 27 seconds faster than his previous PR. Yet no one will recall his time or his effort.

He will be remembered for his running-shorts malfunction that left him exposed to history. Instantly, he was a global YouTube star, with his unfortunate moment -- and his private parts -- there for all to see as he ran the final few hundred yards past cheering (and some laughing) fans.

Urban had nothing to say after the race, which just happened to be broadcast live in Slovakia. The race is billed as Europe's oldest marathon.

Doug Williams

Special to ESPN.com

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