David Graham: My Thoughts On The Men’s Marathon For 2015

By David Graham
December, 2015

Editor’s note: As he did last year, friend of LetsRun David Graham has written a comprehensive review of the year in men’s marathoning and has once again kindly allowed us to publish it. Enjoy.

LRC 2015 LRC Year-End Rankings, Men’s Marathon: All Hail Eliud Kipchoge; Meb Keflezighi Leads Americans LRC All 2015 Year-End Rankings

I do not envy anyone trying to put together a marathon ranking for 2015: there is so much uncertainty. Yes, the #1 position is clear (even clearer than last year, when most folks, including LRC, thought Wilson Kipsang was #1, whereas others thought that no, Eliud Kipchoge should get the nod).

For 2015, Eliud Kipchoge should be the unanimous world number one, no questions asked. But then…? For my part, when I look at it, I not only am not sure about who gets in the top 10 and who doesn’t, but for those whom I feel do deserve a spot on the list, I hardly know WHERE in that top 10 they belong. Ghirmay Ghebreslassie, for example, deserves a top-10 spot (because in my book, the winner of a world championships title is automatically in the top 10), but with that race plus a 2:07 for 2nd place at Hamburg, does he get the #2 spot, #5, #7, #10 or what????  I don’t know.

Because of this uncertainty, I have broken down the ranking list into various parts. Part 1, the world #1. Part 2, those whom I feel definitely deserve a place in the top 10…with tentative ranking numbers within that top 10. Two of the top 10 men will have to come from the remainder of the list: Part 3, those with one great performance at a major marathon; Part 4, winner of three marathons; Part 5, winners of two marathons (not previously mentioned); or Part 6, one marathon win for the year. Part 7 are the Honorable Mentions.

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Only nine men broke 2:06 in 2015 and only two broke 2:05. For me, this means that in the rankings, if someone ran a 2:05 – even if they didn’t win – it was a significant performance. Also, a high finish at London weighs heavily in the rankings; a high finish at the World Champs slightly less, but still important.

So with that prologue, here goes:

Part 1: The World #1

Eliud Kipchoge Was All Smiles in Berlin Eliud Kipchoge Was All Smiles in Berlin

1. Eliud Kipchoge – this is an easy “no brainer” choice: he ran the two fastest marathon times of the year; won two World Marathon Majors; one of his wins came in the most competitive marathon field for 2015 (and one of the best fields ever assembled) and the other he won – and set a PR – with his insoles coming out!  In Berlin, his 2:04:00 was only one second slower than Haile G.’s WR there in 2008.

Kipchoge has a beautiful running form that is pleasing to behold; and while he was perhaps a slightly controversial #2 in 2014, he was clearly the undisputed #1 in 2015. With his 2:04:42 win in London and his 2:04:00 win in Berlin, not to mention his career record of five wins in six marathons (the lone loss coming when the winner broke the world record), which he has won in a variety of venues (Hamburg, Rotterdam, Chicago, London, Berlin) let’s hope the Kenyan Olympic selection committee doesn’t do anything dopey like leaving him off the 2016 Kenyan Olympic marathon team (as they did in leaving him off the 2015 World Champs team).


Part 2: Some of the Rest of the World Top Ten

2. Ghirmay Ghebreslassie – This young man was the biggest surprise of the year. His win at the World Champs in unbearably hot conditions against a strong field gets the tenacious teenager Ghebreslassie in the top 10. A 2:07:47 for 2nd place in Hamburg preceded his 2:12:28 win in Beijing.

Biwott (middle) and Desisa (right) both made Graham's top 10 Biwott (middle) and Desisa (right) both made Graham’s top 10

3. Stanley Biwott2:06:41 for 4th at London, 2:10:34 win at New York City. Biwott was in the hunt at London until the last few miles…and his 28:35 final 10K at New York to drop the most competitive Geoffrey Kamworor and win the NYC marathon gets him a top-10 spot.

4. Wilson Kipsang – a close 2nd at the most competitive field of the year, London, gets Kipsang in the top 10. The rest of the year was less than stellar with his DNF on that hot-as-Hades day at the World Champs in Beijing and then a 4th at New York when he got dropped in the last 10K. So Kipsang topples from his world #1 position, but a close 2nd at the hypercompetitive London – in a sub-2:05 – is by itself sufficient to get Kipsang in the top 10. Regarding Biwott versus Kipsang, Kipsang beat Biwott in London but Biwott beat him in New York. Biwott has a “W” to his name, though Kipsang a sub-2:05 on his resume for the year.

5. Berhanu Lemi2:05:28 win at Dubai plus a 2:07:57 win over a fairly good field at the Warsaw Marathon gets this 21-year-old a top-10 spot. Though he had two wins, one of them in the very competitive Dubai race, running both London and New York has to outweigh Dubai + Warsaw, so I would tend to put Lemi behind both Biwott and Kipsang.

6. Dickson Chumba – His podium finishes at two World Majors – 2:06:34 for 3rd at Tokyo and 2:09:25 win in Chicago – get him a top-10 spot (though with Chicago being less competitive than in years past, I don’t think I’d put Chumba in the top five).

7. Lelisa Desisa2:05:52 for 2nd at Dubai, 2:09:17 win at Boston, 2:14:54 for 7th at the World Champs, and 2:12:10 for 3rd at New York City. A 2nd in the competitive Dubai race in one of only nine sub-2:06‘s for 2015, a win at Boston, a top 10 at the World Champs, and a 3rd at New York means the guy was always “in the hunt” at major competitive marathons…and so I place him in the top 10.

8. Yemane Tsegay2:09:48 for 2nd at Boston, a 2:13:08 for 2nd at World Champs (Beijing) and a 2:13:24 for 5th at New York City: Boston is prestigious, the World Championships is the World Championships; so a silver medal at World Champs, a runner-up at Boston, plus a top five at New York ought to count for something in a yearly world rankings.


Part 3: Single Notable Marathon Race for the Year

Mark Korir – his 2:05:49 got him the win in Paris; his time makes him the 5th-fastest marathoner for the year.  I would lean towards including him in the top 10, but am not certain. Was also 22nd at Worlds.

Kamworor finished an impressive 2nd in New York just two months after earning silver in the 10,000 at the World Championships Kamworor finished an impressive 2nd in New York just two months after earning silver in the 10,000 at the World Championships

Bernard Kipyego2:06:19 win at Amsterdam. Also 4th at Boston.

Moses Mosop2:06:19 win in Xiamen. Was supposed to run Paris and Honolulu but wound up a DNS at both of them.

Abera Kuma2:06:47 win at Rotterdam. Also 9th at Boston.

Paul Lonyangata2:07:12 win in Shanghai. No other marathons in 2015.

Geoffrey Kamworor2:10:48 (with a ferocious 28:49 for the final 10K) for 2nd at New York City

Patrick Makau2:08:18 win at Fukuoka. DNF after 5k at Boston.


Part 4: Three Marathon Wins for the Year

Elisha Barno2:13:19 win in Jacksonville, 2:10:38 win at Grandma’s Marathon, 2:11:39 for 2nd at Twin Cities, and 2:11:51 win at California International Marathon.

Part 5: Two Marathon Wins for the Year

Wilson Erupe2:06:11 win at Seoul, 2:07:01 win at Gyeongju; should he get a top-10 spot?

Sisay Lemma2:07:06 5th place at Dubai was followed by a 2:06:26 win at Frankfurt and a 2:07:31 win at Vienna; top-10 spot?

Girmay Birhanu2:08:56 for 8th at Dubai, 2:07:26 win at Daegu, 2:08:14 win at Ottawa, and 2:10:07 for 4th at Chicago.

Kenneth Mungara2:08:44 win in Milan and a 2:08:42 win at the Gold Coast: outright wins for a masters runner who on both occasions broke the master’s world record. He also added a 5th at the Honolulu Marathon (2:18:36).  For those who remember Hee Haw‘s manner of saying “Salute” to small towns, I take off my hat to Mungara and with respect say, “Saaaa – lute!”

Julius Maisei2:12:21 for 2nd at Tel Aviv, 2:14:17 win at Zhengzhou, 2:13:13 for 4th at Hong Kong, and 2:17:26 win in Singapore.


Part 6: One Marathon Win

Steven Chebogut – a 2:05:52 win at the competitive Eindhoven (where three men broke 2:06) helped make up for his 2:08:01 for 3rd at Hamburg; should he get top-10 consideration?

Endeshaw Negesse2:06:00 win at Tokyo (now a World Major) and 2:10:48 for 4th at Shanghai.

John Mwangangi2:06:13 win in Valencia, 2:13:14 for 11th place at Hamburg.

Samuel Ndungu2:09:08 win in Lake Biwa, 2:10:06 for 3rd in Chicago.

Daniel Limo2:10:34 win in Los Angeles and a 2:13:24 for 3rd at Honolulu.


Part 7: Honorable Mention

Eliud Kiptanui2:10:11 for 7th at Seoul and a 2:05:21 PR got him 2nd place in Berlin; his Berlin time made him the third-fastest marathoner in the world in 2015. Can the third-fastest marathoner in the world – with a runner-up finish at a World Major – not get a top-10 ranking? Well, in this hypercompetitive age, the answer is…yes.

Mutai en route to bronze in Beijing Mutai en route to bronze in Beijing

Dennis Kimetto2:05:50 3rd at London, DNF in Beijing, DNF in Fukuoka. A 3rd in the most competitive marathon of the year – with one of only nine sub-2:06 races on the year – counts for a lot, but it gets sandbagged by two DNF’s, so I’m afraid Kimetto doesn’t get a top-10 spot.

Tilahun Regassa2:06:54 2nd at Xiamen and 2:07:16 5th at London.

Deribe Robi2:06:06 for 3rd at Dubai, 2:09:05 for 3rd at Prague, 2:05:58 for 2nd at Eindhoven. Look at those times: in any year in the 20th century, such a season would have been dazzling…

Feyisa Lilesa2:06:35 for 4th at Dubai, 2:09:55 for 5th at Rotterdam, and 2:06:57 for 3rd at Berlin.

Mark Kiptoo2:07:21 for 2nd at Rotterdam, 2:06:00 for 3rd at Eindhoven – two solid races with two podium finishes – no doubt, he makes the top 10 for races run on Dutch soil in 2015…

Sammy Kitwara2:07:43 for 6th at London, 2:09:50 for 2nd at Chicago – if Chicago were as competitive this year as in years past, Kitwara’s season might get consideration for a top-10 spot…

Solomon Mutai2:13:30 for 3rd at World Champs, 2:10:42 for 4th at Hanover – it’s a competitive age when a bronze medal at a World Champs doesn’t get you a top-10 rankings spot…


By the way, it was only a short four years ago that names like Geoffrey Mutai, Emmanuel Mutai, Patrick Makau, and Abel Kirui were making waves with huge course records at Boston (G. Mutai, followed by Mosop, both in low 2:03s), New York (G. Mutai, with E. Mutai and Tsegay Kebede all well under the old course record) London (E. Mutai), and a WR in Berlin (Makau), not to mention a win at the 2011 World Championships (Kirui).

Where are those men now?  And where is the always-on-the-podium Kebede? And 2011 WC silver medalist Vincent Kipruto?

They are still competing, but none of them showed good form this year.

Makau did win Fukuoka…but a 2:08:18 is not worth the same value in 2015 as it was in 1981 when Rob de Castella ran that at Fukuoka to set the world record….and a win at Fukuoka in 2015 counts for much less than it did in 1981, when it was still worthy of being considered the unofficial world championships. And 2:08:18 is 4:40 slower than Makau’s PR.

My how quickly the world changes…how transitory are one’s peak years in the marathon…

P.S. The American top 10 might look something like this:

1. Meb Keflezighi2:12:42 for 8th at Boston, 2:13:32 for 7th at New York (the latter the fastest marathon ever run by an American master)
2. Luke Puskedra2:15:27 for 5th at Duluth, 2:10:24 for 5th at Chicago (the fastest American marathon in 2015 by almost a minute)
3. Dathan Ritzenhein2:11:20 for 7th at Boston
4. Matt Llano2:12:28 for 13th at Berlin
5. Aaron Braun2:12:54 for 7th at Houston
6. Jared Ward2:12:56 for 3rd at Los Angeles
7. Matt Tegenkamp2:13:52 for 11th at Boston
8. Craig Leon2:14:49 for 9th at Houston, 2:15:16 for 8th at New York City
9. Jeffrey Eggleston2:14:17 for 12th at Boston
10. Fernando Cabada Jr.2:15:36 for 10th at Chicago

(Editor’s note: David may not have realized that Elkanah Kibet, who ran 2:11:31 for 7th in Chicago, is an American citizen)

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