September 16, 2018
The greatest marathoner ever has run the greatest marathon ever.
For years, the only thing missing from Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon resume was the world record. No longer. In an astonishing performance at the 2018 BMW Berlin Marathon, Kipchoge took marathoning into a new stratosphere by clocking 2:01:39 — the first man ever under 2:02, and a full 78 seconds faster than Dennis Kimetto’s four-year-old world record.
It was a performance so far superior to anything we’ve seen before that comparing it to another marathon feels inadequate. This was Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in basketball, Usain Bolt’s 9.58 in the 100-meter dash.
Kipchoge’s splits — 61:06 for the first half, a ridiculous 60:33 for his second half — sound made up. But they were real, and they were spectacular.
Derek Clayton lowered the world record from 2:12:00 to 2:09:36 in 1967. The men’s marathon world record hadn’t been lowered by more than a minute in a single race since 1969 when Clayton lowered his 2:09:37 WR down to 2:08:34.
Kipchoge’s Unparalleled Success
While Kipchoge’s time represents a massive breakthrough in the marathon, the fact is that the 33-year-old Kenyan has been on a completely different level from his peers for several years now. Berlin was his 10th victory in 11 marathon starts (and his ninth straight), an unparalleled run of marathon success in the modern era. During that time, it was quite clear that Kipchoge was capable of improving upon Kimetto’s 2:02:57 world record, but until today, the stars never aligned for him.
Kipchoge’s last two trips to Berlin were evidence of that fact. In 2015, he clocked 2:04:00 despite running most of the race with the insoles flapping out the back of his shoes. In 2017, he ran 2:03:32 in wet, slick conditions. Today, conditions were good for running fast, with temperatures in the high 50s at the start and mid 60s at the finish with winds topping out around 7 miles per hour and a low dew point (50 F at halfway). It was his best chance yet to break the world record, and Kipchoge took full advantage.
Behind Kipchoge, Kenya’s Amos Kipruto (2:05:43 pb, winner of Seoul last year) finished second in 2:06:23 as former world record holder Wilson Kipsang was third in 2:06:48 after both men went out in 62:07. Japan’s Shogo Nakamura was the first non-African-born finisher in 4th in 2:08:46 (63:21 at halfway) as half-marathon world record holder Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea recorded his first sub-2:10 in a legitimate marathon by running 2:08:46 for 5th (63:44 at halfway).
The pre-race plan was for Kipchoge and his three pacers, Sammy Kitwara, Bernard Kipkemoi, and Josphat Kiptoo Boit to run 2:02:00 marathon pace, with a second group of pacers leading Wilson Kipsang and others at 2:03:00 pace. And unlike this year’s London Marathon, where the top two groups merged into one, the packs stayed separate: within a mile, Kipchoge and his pacers had broken away, and he would not be approached the rest of the way.
By 5k, which Kipchoge covered in 14:24 thanks to a quick 2:43 opening kilometer (2:02:57 is 2:54.8 per km, or 14:34 per 5k), Kipchoge led by nine seconds over Kipsang and 2:05 men Amos Kipruto and Abera Kuma. Kipchoge ran each of his next two 5k segments in 14:37, slightly behind world record pace, and by 15k, the biggest issue was not Kipchoge, who looked strong and relaxed, but his pacers.
In the early stages of the race, Kipchoge had difficulty corralling his pacers, repeatedly motioning for them to tighten up their formation so that he could draft behind them. But soon a larger problem emerged. Kitwara, who owns personal bests of 58:48 and 2:04:28, was expected to be the last rabbit standing, taking Kipchoge through 30k, but he could not even last half that distance, stepping off before 15k. Just after 15k, he was joined by Kipkemoi, leaving Boit, who ran a 59:19 half marathon pb earlier this year, as the lone man running with Kipchoge.
If there was a benefit to Kitwara and Kipkemoi dropping out, it was that it freed Kipchoge from anything that may have been holding him back: his next 5k, 14:18, was his fastest of the race. He reached halfway at 61:06 — six seconds slower than what he split in London in April, but still the second-fastest opening half ever in a marathon.
A 14:28 took Kipchoge to 25k, and Boit could no longer handle the pace. Kipchoge was all alone with more than 10 miles to run, his only true opponent the clock on the pace car in front of him that kept spitting out his splits every kilometer.
“It was unfortunate,” Kipchoge later said of the pacemaking difficulties, “but I had the belief and I was really ready for Berlin. I had to push by my own.”
Kipchoge quickly erased any fears that he would struggle without the help of a pacer as he split 14:21 from 25k to 30k, at which point he was in uncharted territory: no one had ever run faster for 30 kilometers than Kipchoge’s 1:26:45 split (Breaking2 and its rotating pacers excluded).
Incredibly, Kipchoge was getting faster. At 30 kilometers, he was on pace for exactly 2:02:00, and though the occasional grimace started to appear on Kipchoge’s face, his legs kept clicking off the splits with astounding speed. By the time his 35k split popped up (unofficially 1:41:03 — 14:18 from 30k to 35k), Kipchoge was now well under 2:02 pace (2:01:49). The question was no longer whether the record would go, but whether Kipchoge could break 2:02, and by how much.
Kipchoge would slow, slightly, over the next five kilometers, splitting 14:30 from 35k to 40k (though that split was still under the average WR pace, and just a tad slower than 2:02:00 pace — 14:27 is 2:02:00 pace) and that put him on 2:01:52 average pace.
The world record was almost certainly his, but a sub-2:02 clocking was now in doubt. Kipchoge, however, summoned a final kick, perhaps knowing that whatever time he ran today could stand as the world record for decades. Kipchoge ran his last 2.195 kilometers from 40k to the finish in 6:07 (4:29 mile/1:57:34 marathon pace), saluting the crowd and beating his chest twice before crossing the line, clapping his hands with glee and dashing into the waiting arms of his coach Patrick Sang. It was an uncharacteristic — but well-deserved — expression of pure joy for the usually-serious Kipchoge. See it for yourself.
Und hier ist der (historische) Zieleinlauf von @EliudKipchoge. Der Kenianer hat den Weltrekord pulverisiert: 2:01:40 (Bestzeit lag zuvor bei 2:02:57, aufgestellt von Dennis Kimetto 2014 in Berlin) #berlin42 #BerlinMarathon pic.twitter.com/L0NO7yXoGE
— rbb|24 (@rbb24) September 16, 2018
After Kipchoge embraced Sang, he took a moment for himself, falling to his knees just past the finish line and offering up a prayer, before posing for photos and heading back onto the course to celebrate with the fans. As the crowd of spectators delighted in their great champion, cheering him on as he doled out hugs, handshakes, and high-fives, it was striking to watch the clock in the broadcast’s bottom-right corner. At the time of his first handshake, it read 2:03:20 — a time that would have stood as the world record just six years ago.
But that was before Eliud Kipchoge had ever run a marathon. Now he has run his greatest marathon of all.
Quick Take: This record will stand for a long, long time (unless Kipchoge breaks it)
Kimetto’s 2:02:57 lasted for almost four years, but that record never looked unbreakable: since it was set in September 2014, Kipchoge, Kipsang, Kenenisa Bekele, and Emmanuel Mutai all ran within 16 seconds of it. No one has ever run anything close to 2:01:39 — Kimetto is the only other man under 2:03, and he’s still 78 seconds behind.
Kipchoge’s extended run of dominance in the marathon was the best evidence that he’s the greatest we’ve ever seen at the distance, and now he has the personal best to back it up. We don’t toss this analogy around lightly, but Kipchoge really is the Usain Bolt of marathoning. Like Bolt, he has been unbeatable for a long stretch of time. Bolt’s world records in the 100 and 200 have stood for nine years and could easily stand for another decade: no one has shown anything to indicate that another 9.5 in the 100 is coming anytime soon. Kipchoge’s 2:01:39 looks to be the same — an incredible mark by a transcendent athlete.
The other thing to note about the record is that the weather today was good for marathoning — which, as Kipchoge’s career has shown us, can have a massive impact on the time.
So in order for the record to fall, you’re going to need another transcendent talent like Kipchoge (the greatest marathoner in history by some margin) and great conditions on the day. The chances of those two things coming together anytime soon are small. The 1500m world record is 20 years old; the 5,000 record 14 years old, and the 10,000 record is 13 years old. Now that Kipchoge has had his say, it would not be surprising to see the marathon world record reach a similar age.
QT: Post-race words from Kipchoge
After the race, Kipchoge tried to explain how much the moment meant to him as he said:
“I lack the words to describe how I feel. It was really hard [during the last 17 kilometres] but I was truly prepared to run my own race. I had to focus on the work I had put in in Kenya and that is what helped push me. It was my aim to smash the world record and I felt confident before the race. I’ve now run 2:04, 2:03 and now 2:01. Who knows what the future will bring? I’m really grateful to my coaching team, my management, the organisation. I’ll definitely return to Berlin. Berlin for me is eternal.”
QT: Trying to put this in perspective is hard, but Kipchoge lowered the world record by 3 seconds per mile
Kipchoge’s run was so remarkable it’s hard to give it its proper due. In today’s age of hyperbole, this run deserves every accolade said about it. The lower the world record gets, the harder it is to be broken, and the less it should be broken by. Yet Eliud Kipchoge just broke the world record by more than any man in the last 51 years, and he ran the last 10 miles by himself.
Until today, the fastest half-marathon split in a marathon was the 1:01:00 run on the downhill first half of London this year. That split (and the 13:48 first 5k) obliterated the field and even Kipchoge, as he “only” won London in 2:04:17.
Today, Kipchoge went out in 1:01:06, the second fastest half split ever for a marathon. Not only was it not too fast for him, it was a perfect split for him to negative-split off of as he came back with a ridiculous 1:00:33. Dennis Kimetto’s 1:01:12 second-half split during his world record had been the fastest ever during a second half (and in that race he had gone out in 1:01:45). Kipchoge’s splits for both his halves this morning were 39 seconds faster than Kimetto’s. Unbelievable.
In an age where the marathon record is thought to be improved by seconds, Kipchoge took three seconds per mile off the old record.
QT: Kipchoge has the world record in part because his prime has lasted freakishly long
It is very rare for a marathoner to stay among the very best in the world for more than two or three years. Some marathoners, like Meb Keflezighi, put together long, decorated careers, but those careers are subject to the occasional swoon. There are others, like Kimetto, Sammy Wanjiru, and Geoffrey Mutai, who shine very bright for a year or two before flaming out.
Yet here is Eliud Kipchoge, wrapping up his sixth year as a marathoner, and he is going stronger than ever. If his “prime” worked like the prime of most marathoners, then he never would have had this shot at a world record; he would have begun to fade years ago. But so far, Kipchoge and Patrick Sang have found a way to stave off any signs of decline. This was Kipchoge’s 11th marathon (including Breaking2), and he ran it significantly faster than any of the previous 10. How much longer can this last?
QT: What is left for Eliud Kipchoge to accomplish?
At this point, there is no reasonable argument against Kipchoge as the greatest marathoner of all time. He has the world record (by a wide margin), Olympic gold, and 10 wins from 11 starts, including nine in a row.
Kipchoge is still only 33, and he loves to run, so there’s no way he’s retiring anytime soon. What else can he accomplish?
Here are three things he could still do:
-Win a second Olympic gold medal
Only Ethiopia’s Abebe Bikila (1960, 1964) and suspected doper East Germany’s Waldemar Cierpinski (1976, 1980) have ever won two Olympic marathon golds (in reality, it should be Frank Shorter’s name on this list instead of Cierpinski’s as shorter won gold in 1972 and silver behind Cierpinski in 1976). Kipchoge could join them with a win in Tokyo.
-Run up the score in the marathon GOAT discussion
Some people want to see Kipchoge run more unpaced races — he did win the Olympics, but he’s never given Boston or New York a try. He doesn’t need to do that as he’s already the GOAT, but whatever he accomplishes from here on out in the marathon will make it harder and harder for any future marathoner to surpass his legacy.
-Become the greatest distance runner of all time?
This is the most interesting one. For years, the discussion for greatest distance runner of all time has centered around two men: Kenenisa Bekele and Haile Gebrselassie. But Kipchoge has achieved so much in the marathon that he must now be mentioned in that conversation. Yes, Bekele and Gebrselassie’s track accomplishments dwarf those of Kipchoge, but Kipchoge is a far better marathoner than either of them. If he keeps winning, at some point, the enormity of what Kipchoge has accomplished in the marathon could lead some to argue he is the overall distance GOAT.
QT: Side-by-side comparison of Kimetto and Kipchoge’s splits
Here’s a look at Kimetto’s splits from his 2:02:57 record run in Berlin in 2014 and Kipchoge’s splits today. Kipchoge was faster on every segment but one — Kimetto covered 30k to 35k in 14:10 compared to Kipchoge’s 14:18.
— Run Kenya (@RunKenya) September 16, 2018
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Top 25 Men’s Results
1 Kipchoge, Eliud (KEN) 2:01:39
2 Kipruto, Amos (KEN) 02:06:23
3 Kipsang, Wilson (KEN) 02:06:48
4 Nakamura, Shogo (JPN) 02:08:16
5 Tadese, Zersenay (ERI) 02:08:46
6 Sato, Yuki (JPN) 02:09:18
7 Tsegay, Okubay (ERI) 02:09:56
8 Uekado, Daisuke (JPN) 02:11:07
9 Canchanya, Wily (PER) 02:12:57
10 van Nunen, Bart (NED) 02:13:09
11 Da Silva, Wellington (BRA) 02:13:43
12 Da Silva Noronha, Vagner (BRA) 02:14:57
13 Cabada, Fernando (USA) 02:15:00
14 van Peborgh, Nick (BEL) 02:15:04
15 De Bock, Thomas (BEL) 02:15:19
16 Murayama, Kenta (JPN) 02:15:37
17 Martin, Brendan (USA) 02:16:26
18 Hicks, Malcolm (NZL) 02:16:28
19 Spence, Julian (AUS) 02:16:39
20 Martelletti, Paul (NZL) 02:17:29
21 Orta, Luis Alberto (VEN) 02:17:48
22 O’Hanlon, Gary (IRL) 02:19:06
23 Devos, Gerd (BEL) 02:19:14
24 Wuve, Berihun (ISR) 02:19:45
25 Threlfall, Brady (AUS) 02:19:53