July 8, 2015
We only know the identities of three runners in the elite field for the 2015 BMW Berlin Marathon, but the storylines are already set. Race organizers announced Wednesday that Kenyans Eliud Kipchoge, Emmanuel Mutai and Geoffrey Mutai will headline this year’s elite field. Kipchoge, who ran his PR of 2:04:05 in Berlin in 2013, has won three straight marathons, most recently taking down Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto to win a loaded London Marathon in April. While the win will be important to Kipchoge, runners go to Berlin for one reason: to run fast. So you can bet that the digits 2:02:57 will be burned into Kipchoge’s brain by the time the race starts on September 27; that’s the time Kimetto ran on this course last year to set the world record.
We’ve embedded the announcement video below; read on for a few quick thoughts on this year’s field.
Quick Thought #1: World records fall in Berlin seemingly every year, but it has to stop at some point
In case you forgot, this is what Kipchoge has accomplished in his five career marathons:
Four wins and an average time of 2:04:42. Not bad.
The parallels between Kipchoge in 2015 and Kimetto in 2014 are striking. Kipchoge will be 30 on race day; Kimetto was 30 years old when he broke the world record last year. 2015 Berlin will be Kipchoge’s sixth career marathon; 2014 Berlin was Kimetto’s sixth career marathon. Most importantly, though, both enjoyed tremendous success in those five marathons. Check out Kimetto’s five marathons prior to his world record:
Obviously, Kipchoge has been more consistent, but Kimetto’s PR was 20 seconds faster than what Kipchoge’s is heading into Berlin. That doesn’t mean Kipchoge can’t break the world record, but it is worth noting that both Kimetto and Kipsang (who held the world record of 2:03:23 prior to Kimetto) had both broken 2:04 before setting their world records.
Berlin makes sense for Kipchoge. He’s won three straight marathons, and while he’s never run a slow marathon, he hasn’t run a time like 2:02:57 or 2:03:23, the PRs of the two men he defeated in London in April. You never know how long a marathoner’s prime is going to last, which means this is the year for Kipchoge to attack the world record.
If you’re going to break the world record, Berlin is the course to do it on (the last six records have been set in Berlin). And Kipchoge can’t run Berlin next year without skipping the Olympics (the Olympic marathon is on August 21; Berlin is on September 25). Though he’ll only be 32 in 2017 — not old for a marathoner — there’s no telling what kind of shape he’ll be in at that point.
This isn’t your father’s world record, however. After being stuck at 2:06:50 for 10+ years from 1988 to 1998, the men’s marathon world record has gone down five times in the last seven years and three of the last four. The formula seems simple; bring a really fast marathoner to Berlin (check) and watch him set a world record. And that works, until all of a sudden it doesn’t.
Consider the mile world record. Between 1979 and 1985, the record was broken six times. But in the ensuing 30 years, it’s gone down just twice and hasn’t been touched since 1999. As records become faster, they become harder to break. And sometimes, the record becomes such an outlier that it lasts a long, long time.
We’re at that point in the mile; it’s possible we’ve already reached that point in the marathon, and if we haven’t, it’s coming soon. Talk of sub-2 is totally absurd.
2:02:57 is an extremely formidable time — 4:41 pace for 26.2 miles. And while Kipchoge could certainly better it — after all, he beat the guy who set it by over a minute in his next marathon — if he does beat it, it won’t be by much.
Most of the limiting factors in the marathon have dissipated over the past decade. More top runners are dedicating themselves to the marathon at an early age, some skipping the track entirely. The course in Berlin flat and extremely fast and annually attracts two or three of the sport’s biggest names, around whom the entire race is built, complete with a dedicated army of pacers. Conditions are always very good for marathoning in Berlin.
So when you’re looking for ways for Kipchoge to cut time out of that 2:02:57, there aren’t many remaining. Maybe Kipchoge can come into the race in slightly better shape than Kimetto. Maybe he runs slightly more even splits. But even if that’s true, he has to hope everything that went right for Kimetto last year goes right for him this year and then catch another break or two. In the marathon (though perhaps less so in Berlin), that’s often wishful thinking.
Quick Thought #2: Is Emmanuel Mutai destined to get second again?
Without seeing the rest of the field, it certainly seems that way. Mutai is an exceptional marathoner — his 2:03:13 in Berlin last year would have broken the world record had Kimetto not been in the race –but Kipchoge is the world’s best right now. Emmanuel Mutai is definitely better than Geoffrey Mutai (who hasn’t done better than sixth in a marathon since winning New York in 2013) and we have to assume he’s better than anyone else running Berlin given that they didn’t announce anyone else in the video.
Emmanuel Mutai has a staggering six runner-up finishes in majors (plus one win, in London in 2011) and he may add to that total in September.
Quick Thought #3: Is Geoffrey Mutai done?
The four-time major champion and course record holder in Boston and New York turns 34 two weeks after Berlin and hasn’t run a good marathon since 2013, most recently DNF’ing London in April. His best performance this year was a 61:59 half marathon in June, a time peak Mutai could split in a marathon.
Answering whether Mutai is “done” is a tough task. He wasn’t close to winning a marathon last year, but he still finished sixth in competitive fields in London and New York. It certainly doesn’t make sense for him to give up the sport.
But in terms of whether Mutai can win another major, it does appear that Mutai is in touble. This is always a tricky discussion considering the small amount of data points we have on marathoners, but with so much talent in the sport, it’s never been harder to win a major marathon. These days, you have to be in 2:03/2:04 shape to win a major and Mutai is trending in the wrong direction. It only takes one good race for Mutai to change that, but given his advancing age and recent results, we can no longer give Mutai the benefit of the doubt. He has to prove himself again.
Mutai is the Roger Federer of the men’s marathon right now. Both are 33, both are very good but everything needs to go perfectly for them to win another major. He shouldn’t be entirely written off, however. People did that a long time ago with Meb and last time we checked he won Boston in 2014.
Quick Thought #4: What kind of appearance fees are these guys getting?
After the announcement, a couple of LRC staffers were theorizing about appearance fees when one of them asked, “Do you think these guys all get the same appearance fee?”
Initially it would seem like an obvious answer. Of course not — Kipchoge is the best marathoner in the world right now and smoked the Mutais in London. But we thought about it some more and now we’re not so sure.
Races shell out big appearance fees to attract attention to their race. And while Kipchoge has been a far better marathoner than Mutai over the past two years, the general public doesn’t see that. What they see is this:
2012 Berlin Marathon champion
Four major victories; course record holder in Boston and New York
2015 London Marathon champion
2014 Chicago Marathon champion
Three straight marathon victories; two career major victories
2nd in 2013 Berlin Marathon
Runner A is Mutai. Runner B is Kipchoge. Which many could you promote better?
We can’t say for sure who commands a bigger appearance fee since races don’t release those figures. Kipchoge probably receives more than Mutai because staging a world record attempt has become an important part of the Berlin Marathon and Kipchoge is the man in this field best-equipped to do that. But we’d love to know the exact details. If you are an agent and or race director and have an idea, please email us. We can keep your name off the site but would love for our fans to get the scoop.
P.S. If you’re wondering where Kimetto and Kipsang will be racing this fall, both were named to Kenya’s provisional six-man squad for the World Championships in August. That team needs to be whittled down to three before Worlds, so Kimetto and Kipsang could still run a fall major like Chicago or New York. But if they want to run Worlds — and both have expressed interest — they seem to be no-brainers for two of the spots on the team.
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