September 28, 2019
DOHA, Qatar — Cream boils to the top.
At the end of one of the hottest marathons in history, Ruth Chepngetich of Kenya — who earlier this year became the third-fastest woman in history by running 2:17:08 in Dubai — was the last woman standing, earning the first gold medal of the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships in 2:32:43, the slowest winning time in world championship history. 2017 champion Rose Chelimo of Bahrain grabbed the silver in 2:33:46 as Commonwealth champion Helalia Johannes became the first Namibian woman to medal at Worlds by taking bronze in 2:34:15. Two-time world champion Edna Kiplagat, 39, came up a little short in her quest for a 4th medal at worlds as she was fourth in 2:35:36.
41-year-old Roberta Groner, the full-time nurse who ran 2:29 in Rotterdam in April, had a fantastic race and led the Americans by finishing 6th overall in 2:38:44. Carrie Dimoff took 13th in 2:44:35 while Kelsey Bruce, who ran for LetsRun at the World Cross Country Championships in March, finished 38th in 3:09:37.
The conditions were as brutal as advertised. You can’t always tell the story of a marathon by looking at the results, but in this one, you could. A woman who ran 2:17 earlier this year ran 2:32 today and still won by over a minute. Just seven women broke 2:40. 28 of the 68 starters (41%) dropped out of the race. These were truly miserable conditions to run a marathon.
Despite the midnight start (technically 11:59 p.m. on Friday night to avoid confusion on the date), the thermometer read 90 degrees at the start of the race, with a humidity of 73% and dewpoint of 80, and weren’t much better by the time Chepngetich crossed the line along the Doha Corniche just after 2:30 a.m. — 88 degrees, 76% humidity, with a dewpoint of 79 degrees.
The leaders early on were running close to 2:35 pace early on until there was an injection of pace the third 5k where Chepngetich briefly broke away from the field before a lead pack to form. By 15 kilometers, the breakaway group consisted of the three eventual medalists, plus Kiplagat and Visiline Jepkesho of Kenya. The leaders then slowed back down and hit halfway in 1:16:39. They stayed together (save for Jepkesho who faded before 25k) and largely on 2:33 pace until the 35k mark as they hit 30k in 1:49:13 (2:33:36 pace) and 35k in 2:07:23 (2:33:34 pace).
At the 35k aid station, Chepngetich had had enough and she made her break for glory and picked up the pace and cruised to victory. She covered the 35k to 40k segment in 17:29 (5:37.6 mile pace) when the previous 5k segment had been run in just 18:10 (5:50.8 mile pace). Meanwhile, everyone behind her in the lead pack slowed down on the way home. The conditions were so miserable her fastest 5k segment was actually from 10k to 15k and she only ran that segment at 2:25:50 pace.
1 Ruth Chepngetich KEN 2:32:43 2 Rose Chelimo BRN 2:33:46 3 Helalia Johannes NAM 2:34:15 4 Edna Ngeringwonykiplagat KEN 2:35:36 SB 5 Volha Mazuronak BLR 2:36:21 6 Roberta Groner USA 2:38:44 7 Mizuki Tanimoto JPN 2:39:09 8 Ji Hyang Kim PRK 2:41:24 9 Lyndsay Tessier CAN 2:42:03 SB 10 Un Okjo PRK 2:42:23 11 Madoka Nakano JPN 2:42:39 12 Desi Jisa Mokonin BRN 2:43:19 13 Carrie Dimoff USA 2:44:35 SB 14 Kwang-Ok Ri PRK 2:46:16 15 Visiline Jepkesho KEN 2:46:38
Quick take: A Rosa athlete wins the gold medal
Chepngetich is clearly one of the best marathoners in the world. We knew that coming in. However, she was untested in a marathon field of this quality. She triumphed with ease despite the strong field and the conditions and now has won four of her five career marathons.
But in the sport of track and field, we always have some uncertainty about whether what we are seeing is real — that it is unaided by the use of performance-enhancing drugs — and in the case of Chepngetich that doubt is even stronger.
Why? She is a female marathoner represented by agent Federico Rosa and agency Rosa e Associati. Rita Jeptoo was arguably the best female marathoner in the world in 2014 having won four straight World Marathon Majors when she tested positive for EPO. Her agency was Rosa e Associati .
Jemima Sumgong was arguably the best marathoner in the world after winning the London Marathon and the Olympic marathon in 2016. When the LRC crew went and visited her training camp in early 2017 and asked Sumgong about her success and rapid improvement, she credited her coach Noah Talam, then just a couple months later tested positive for EPO.
It wasn’t a surprise then when Sarah Chepchirchir, the wife of Talam who set a 2:19:47 Tokyo Marathon course record in 2017, was busted for a drug violation this year.
Chepngetich smiled like a champion and said all the right things after the race. “The race was tough but I didn’t give up,” she told what was left of the media corps at her press conference, which began after 4:00 a.m.
When LetsRun.com’s Jonathan Gault asked her what she could do to assure people she was clean considering all the doping marathon positives represented by her agency, the IAAF spokesman at the press conference told her she didn’t have to answer the question.
Prior to the Worlds, in an IAAF profile Chepngetich said she was self-coached, saying,“I will not be having one any time soon, I think training with my colleagues does well for me. Some athletes think I am weird, but I like it that way.”
When asked by LRC at the press conference on her preparations for Worlds, she said had prepared well with the other Kenyan marathoners for the World Champs and was coached by the Kenyan coaches and gestured to Richard Meto, who was in the back of the room. Meto is an assistant coach to Kenyan legend Patrick Sang (Eliud Kipchoge’s coach). We then asked Meto if he coached Chepngetich and he said he did and he assured us she was clean. He also said he had worked with her prior to this, but we will follow up for more details.
Quick take: Namibia gets its first women’s medal
Namibia had the great Frankie Fredericks in the sprints, but until today it had never won a women’s medal at a World Championships. Helalia Johannes changed that by outdueling two-time world champ Edna Kiplagat for bronze. Until this year Johannes sported a modest pb of 2:26. However, she finished 11th in the 2012 Olympics and won the Commonwealth Games and the Cape Town Marathon last year. Then she took it to another stratosphere in 2019 by running 2:22:25 to win Nagoya. When asked how she got so much better at an older age (she’s now 39), she pointed out she was 11th at the 2012 Olympics and said she changed some things up with her coach Robert Kaxuxuena.
As for winning bronze, she said it meant a lot to her, but running in the heat was a different matter. “I cannot say I enjoyed the event. I just tried my best.”
Quick Take: What were the Ethiopians doing?
The Ethiopian federation entered three of its best marathoners in this race, and all three dropped out. We can’t speak for Roza Dereje (who won Dubai in 2018 and was 3rd in London this year) or Shure Demise (who was 3rd at Tokyo in March). But Ruti Aga, who won Tokyo in March, is entered in NYC five weeks from now and didn’t even make it to 15k; by halfway, all three Ethiopians were out of the race.
Yes, the conditions were brutal, but Aga certainly seemed to have one eye on New York today (we don’t know if Dereje or Demise are running fall majors but wouldn’t be surprised if they did). And we don’t blame her. New York will give her a fat check to show up and run a historic race on a great course and there is zero chance that race will be run in 90-degree weather in the middle of the night. Memo to the Ethiopian federation: don’t force athletes to run this race, especially given the conditions that were forecast.
Quick Take: It bears repeating: these conditions were awful
Unlike most major marathons, media were allowed to get on the course, and since the course was a 7k loop that ran right by the finish line, we got to see the athletes several times.
Even just standing to watch, both LetsRun staffers at the race had sweat pouring down our faces and never felt comfortable. Every so often, an athlete would come by in a wheelchair or a stretcher, forced to drop out of the race because of the brutal conditions.
For a handful of runners, this was a race. For most of the field, it was simply a battle to make it to the finish line. Of the previous four editions, only Moscow was even close in terms of DNFs.
2019 Doha: 28 DNFs/68 starters (41%)
2017 London: 13 DNFs/91 starters (14%)
2015 Beijing: 13 DNFs/65 starters (20%)
2013 Moscow: 23 DNFs/70 starters (33%)
2011 Daegu: 7 DNFs/53 starters (13%)
Race Results Weekly’s David Monti reported that at least one runner passed out as he wrote that Italy’s Sara Dossena “stopped, felt sick, then crumpled to the pavement and was briefly unconscious.”
“She fainted right in front of me,” said her manager Marcello Magnani in a voice message left at the Race Results Weekly office.
(This incident happened right in front of the LRC staffers in Doha, and it was indeed uncomfortable to watch.)
UPDATE: LetsRun.com incorrectly wrote that it was Giovanna Epis who fell to the pavement; it was actually Sara Dossena. The error was LetsRun.com’s, not Monti’s.
Quick Take: Roberta Groner finished sixth by carrying a bottle in her hand almost the entire way
Groner went out conservatively (she was 17th at 10k in 36:58) and said that her biggest focus was not on the clock, but on staying hydrated. Groner made ample use of the aid stations, saying she ran almost the entire race with a bottle in her hand, and also used ice in her headband to cool her head and neck.
“I felt like I was just constantly drinking or throwing water on me,” Groner said.
Working with Dimoff, Groner gradually worked her way up the field, climbing to 12th by halfway, 8th by 30k (by which time she had dropped Dimoff) and 6th by the finish.
Groner has quite the backstory. She gave up running almost 20 years ago after her senior year at St. Francis (Penn.) University and took a 10-year break from the sport. Then she got the itch to start training again.
“Had three children, just wanted to get back out there a little bit for myself,” Groner said. “Do something for me. My kids can see something that I do passionately. We all do something passionately right? Could be play piano, whatever you want to be, do something. As long as it’s something you love to do with your heart, that’s all you gotta do.”
In the last few years, Groner began ramping up the intensity building toward the Olympic Trials and the results have followed. She ran 2:30:37 at CIM in 2017 — a PR of almost six minutes — then lowered her best to 2:29:09 in Rotterdam this April.
When she got the opportunity to represent the US at Worlds, she jumped at it — even though she’s already signed up for New York in November.
“Once they asked me to do Worlds, I mean I’m 41,” Groner said “Absolutely an honor for me to come out here and represent my country.”
No doubt, Groner did her country proud today.
Quick Take: Carrie Dimoff ran this one for her father
Dimoff’s father, Joe, was her biggest running fan but passed away earlier this year. He always told Carrie that he would come to Tokyo if she qualified for the 2020 Olympics, and though he couldn’t make it to Doha, he was present in his daughter’s thoughts at the start and finish of the race. Dimoff dedicated each of her six 7k laps to people close to her, starting with Joe and continuing with her mom (lap 2), kids (lap 3), husband (lap 4), coach Elliott Heath (lap 5), and ending, once again, with Joe.
Dimoff said that once Groner dropped her, today’s race was simply about making it to the finish line. And she did, in 13th place.
“It was so hard,” Dimoff said.
Fun fact about Dimoff: she works in Nike’s footwear division working on innovation. And yes, she was wearing Vaporflys today.
We asked Dimoff if she helped design the version she was wearing, and she replied, somewhat cryptically, that she didn’t work on “this one.”
So did she help design the original version?
“I don’t really think I should talk about what I do,” Dimoff said, a grin stretching across her face. “Let’s just leave it a mystery. But footwear stuff. Footwear innovation.”
Talk abou the race on our messageboard/fan forum:
- Official 2019 Doha Worlds Day 1 Discussion Thread
- “Feels like temp: 109F” for WC Women’s marathon start
- Test of Will in Brutal Marathon Conditions-Perfect for a 40 something mother & full time nurse from Jersey