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Running into history Generali Cologne Marathon

01 July 2016, 7am

With open hand

The Rheinenergiemarathon Cologne made history even in its very first edition back in 1997 with a world record: the first time more than 13,000 registered runners took part in a marathon premiere. An additional 1000 inline skaters also glided their way through the streets of the city.

When planning the marathon the organising team put special emphasis on two things: firstly to showcase the city’s breath-taking facets and secondly to project the open-mindedness and tolerance of the Rhenish city. To fulfil the first ambition runners were led on an exciting course through numerous famous city districts, which together depicted broad cultural diversity and astonishing scenery, right up to the finish line in front of Cologne’s famous Cathedral. The second purpose was symbolised by carving a course on the map of the city which resembled the open hand of friendship.

With more than a million citizens Cologne is Germany’s fourth largest metropolis. It can look back on 2000 years of history starting with the Romans in about AD 50. As a religious and trade city located on the River Rhine Cologne has played a crucial role during past centuries which can be seen in the expansion of the city. Many churches as well as the Old Town of Cologne bear witness to this history but many fell victim to bombing during the Second World War.

Cologne’s marathon may have made a later debut than most but it was hailed by the running community. A lot of national and international athletes hit the road in Cologne for the first edition on 5 October 1997 won in 2:11:58 by Olympic bronze medal winner from Barcelona 1992 Stephan Freigang — outpacing Kenyan Benson Lorkowa (2:13:25). Angelina Kanana won the women’s race in 2:27:27 and finished over seven minutes clear of Poland’s Krystina Kuta. Her time from this first race stood as the course record for 15 years.

The following year another German runner won: Carsten Eich, who competed at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000, finished just seconds ahead of Benson Lorkowa in 2:10:55. In doing so he improved Freigang’s inaugural course record by more than a minute. Poland’s Magdalena Sobanska won the women’s race in 2:29:39. In this race 2700 inline skaters took part and there were 11 athletes in wheelchairs.

In 1999 a marathon relay for schoolchildren was added to the events on offer: 273 students in 39 teams ran the marathon distance as an Ekiden relay.

The number of runners gradually increased over the years, reaching 18,000 in the 2003 race. Inline skaters were part of the marathon programme until 2014 and their participation peaked in 2002 with 5365 participants.

Coinciding with the 10th anniversary of the RheinEnergieMarathon Cologne in 2006 the half marathon distance was added to the portfolio of running events and has since then developed into Germany’s second largest with more than 10,000 starters.

The winners that year were Pascal Meissner in 1:11:43 and Irina Mikintenko in 1:10:59. Mikitenko was Germany’s best female marathon runner for several years. Born in Kazakhstan she won the London Marathon in 2008 and 2009, and the Berlin Marathon in 2008. She is the only German female to have broken the 2:20 barrier and won the “World Marathon Majors” Series in 2007-2008 and 2008-2009.

In more recent times Kenyan runners have conclusively come to the fore in Cologne. Alfred Kering set the current course record with his 2012 winning time of 2:07:37. Helena Kirop’s win that same year in 2:25:34 finally broke Kanana’s inaugural mark. These times show that the RheinEnergieMarathon Cologne is not only a beautiful and interesting course but also a fast one.

With a full range of events on offer runners do not have to run a complete marathon to enjoy Cologne’s special atmosphere. The relay was initially a mass ‘fun’ event but has developed into a more serious competition with a course record of 2:30:00. Up to 600 teams cross the starting line each year.

The last 10 years of the RheinEnergieMarathon Cologne have been characterised by numerous course changes because of construction and this was also why the finish line had to be moved from Cologne Cathedral. For many years it has been in Cologne-Deutz which is from where all the various races start. But in 2013 the finish line could finally be moved back to nearby the internationally-renowned landmark of Cologne Cathedral. The famous sight with its gothic architecture stands 157m high — the second largest cathedral in Europe (after the Ulmer Münster) and the third largest in the world. The Cathedral was started in the thirteenth century but construction paused for several hundred years and it was only completed in the nineteenth century.

Returning the finish line close to the jaw-dropping sight of the Cathedral gives the runners a very special finishing Moment that they will never forget. The recent course and its old-cum-new finish line represents the city very well and displays the diversity of its cultures and people. The RheinEnergieMarathon Cologne offers an extraordinary experience for every runner who comes to participate.

On 2 October this year the RheinEnergieMarathon Cologne celebrates its 20th anniversary. Professional and amateur runners, “Rhenanian cheerfulness” and top athletes’ ambitions, carnival costumes and high-tech clothing will all mix up together and merge into a great birthday party after the race.

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