2023 Berlin Marathon Preview: How Will Eliud Kipchoge Respond After Boston Defeat?

On Sunday morning, just one week after the Diamond League season wrapped up in Eugene, the 2023 fall marathon season gets underway with the BMW Berlin Marathon. The field is headlined by the greatest marathoner in history, Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, who will be running Berlin for the sixth time.

No venue has proven more successful for Kipchoge. In five appearances in Berlin, he has won the race four times, setting world records in the last two in 2018 and 2022. His only defeat came in his first appearance, in 2013, where he ran a pb of 2:04:05 and it took a world record by Wilson Kipsang (since suspended for whereabouts failures) to beat him.

Kipchoge, who is coming off a rare defeat at the Boston Marathon in April, is the main story, but as usual there are a number of athletes looking to run fast — particularly important with the Paris Olympics less than one year away. Ethiopia’s Tigist Assefa, who delivered one of the biggest shocks in marathon history by running an enormous course record of 2:15:37 last year, is back to defend her title, while Kipchoge will be challenged by 2022 London Marathon champion Amos Kipruto. In addition, a number of American men are flying over in search of the 2:08:10 Olympic standard (or as close as they can get), including Scott FaubleTeshome Mekonen, 2016 Olympian Jared Ward, and 2021 Olympian Jake Riley. You can read more about Fauble and his preparations here: LRC Scott Fauble Is Aiming for the Olympic Standard at Berlin Marathon.

Below, four things to watch for during Sunday’s race.

What: 2023 BMW Berlin Marathon
When: Sunday, September 24, 9:15 a.m. Central European Time (3:15 a.m. US ET)
How to watch: In the United States, the race will be streamed live on FloTrack. Here is a list of broadcasters with rights across the world. This year’s Berlin Marathon will be broadcast live on Olympics.com in a number of territories including Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Faroe Islands, Finland, Georgia, Greece, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Norway, Romania, Sweden, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. Need a VPN? Use the VPN we use at LetsRun.com.
*Full elite entries

1) How will Eliud Kipchoge respond to Boston defeat?

When most marathoners lose a race, we shrug and move on to the next one. The marathon is a such a brutal event, with so many potential stumbling blocks, that anyone who wins even half of their starts is viewed as a massive outlier.

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That makes Kipchoge the outlier of outliers. Not counting his two sub-2:00 attempts, Kipchoge has won 15 of his 18 career marathons — a ludicrous 83% win rate, usually against incredibly tough fields. So when Kipchoge only finished 6th in Boston in April, there was an inquisition into the possible reasons for his defeat.

Kipchoge said he battled a leg issue that popped up around 30k when Gabriel Geay began to push the pace in the Newton Hills. But Kipchoge also looked very much like a typical Boston rookie. He did not change his training to account for Boston’s notorious uphills (and downhills), went out too hard (14:17 for the downhill first 5k) and led the first half of the race into a headwind, even though his most famous 26.2 mile run in history – his 1:59:41 – showed the importance of drafting against the wind.

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The question now is what comes next, and everything is on the table. Kipchoge, officially, will celebrate his 39th birthday on November 5 (and many believe he is a few years older than that). At some point, he must start to decline. But people were saying the same thing about Kipchoge five years ago, and since then he has broken two world records, broken two hours, and won a second Olympic title.

Could Boston have marked the beginning of the end for Kipchoge? Of course. But let’s not forget: less than one year ago, Kipchoge ran a world record of 2:01:09 in Berlin. Anyone writing off Kipchoge after one bad race does not have a very long memory.

Kipchoge has said he wants to win all six World Marathon Majors. So why is he running Berlin (which he was won four times) instead of New York (which he has never run)? It’s all about the Olympics. Certainly, the comfort and familiarity of Berlin is a factor, but Kipchoge told LetsRun in July that the timing was important, too.

“I trust that with the timeframe, September towards next year is a good time to run Berlin, come back, have a race, start again, and I’ll have enough time to train,” Kipchoge said.

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While Kipchoge still plans on running another marathon before Paris, his manager Valentijn Trouw explained to LetsRun that Kipchoge did not want to push his next three marathons too close together. If Kipchoge were to do New York (November 5), a spring 2024 marathon, and the Olympics (August 10), that would make three marathons in 40 weeks (just over nine months). Over the course of his 10-year marathon career, Kipchoge has never clustered three marathons so closely together. Ahead of the 2016 Olympics, Kipchoge ran three in 47 weeks (11 months) and ahead of the 2021 Olympics, Kipchoge ran three in 44 weeks (just over 10 months). By doing Berlin this fall, the 2024 Olympics would be Kipchoge’s third marathon in 46 weeks.

“The reason has been much more thinking about Paris, looking back and where do I still have some time to take some rest and start building and having three marathons in which timeframe puts me in the best position towards the Olympics,” Trouw said.


So what can we expect from Kipchoge on Sunday? Trouw says training has gone as it always has gone — that is to say, well. And, despite the defeat in Boston, he has not noticed a difference in Kipchoge’s demeanor heading into Berlin.

“I see exactly the same Eliud that I saw last year in Berlin or this year in Boston or in London or wherever I see him,” Trouw said. “It’s the same behavior.”

The pace on Sunday should be fast, and conditions look good for marathoning, with wind around 5 mph and temperatures in the 50s. But Trouw said that, as of Wednesday night, he had not discussed potential splits with Kipchoge and did not plan to do so until much closer to the race.

“If you come to Berlin, we can be very open and honest that you come to run fast, otherwise there are also other marathons to choose from,” Trouw said. “So of course he wants to run a fast race. We can speak about world records or no world records, but in the end, things have to come together. And that’s the weather, the athlete needs to feel great, the pacing, and the whole atmosphere on race day, and you need to wake up in a good way. So Eliud is doing well and let’s see what happens on Sunday.”

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Last year, you may recall, Kipchoge went out absurdly fast, even for him: his halfway split was 59:51, nearly a minute faster than the previous fastest first half in a legitimate marathon. Trouw said that ahead of the race, they had discussed an opening split around 61:00. But things changed once the gun went off.

“The first 8k went a bit faster than that and I think Eliud made the decision, I’m not going to ask the pacemakers to slow down, I feel good, conditions are good, and maybe today is the day to try something,” Trouw said.

That is why Trouw does not want to discuss target times — ultimately it is up to Kipchoge and how he is feeling on race day. That said, he does not expect another 59:51 opening half.

“Last year was extremely fast,” Trouw said. “That doesn’t happen so often.”

2) Who could beat Kipchoge?

Aside from Kipchoge, there are two names that stand out among the men’s elite entries: Kenya’s Amos Kipruto and Ethiopia’s Andamlak Belihu. If Kipchoge runs his best race, he is not losing. But if he’s not at his best, those are the two most intriguing men to watch. Here’s the case for each of them.

Kipruto won his first World Marathon Major in London last year (Jon Buckle for London Marathon Events)

The case for Amos Kipruto

The 31-year-old Kipruto did not break 2:05:41 in any of his first nine career marathons, although he finished in the top three in six of them and earned World Championship bronze in 2019. Then in 2020, he ran 2:03:30 in Valencia. After DNFing the Olympics, Kipruto was second behind Kipchoge at the 2022 Tokyo Marathon, running 2:03:13 despite being part of the lead pack that took a wrong turn at 10k (Kipchoge also took the wrong turn). He followed that up by winning the London Marathon last fall (2:04:39) before DNFing at 2023 London in April.

He’s also training partners with Evans Chebet and Benson Kipruto, who have combined to win the last three Boston Marathons and went 1-3 in Boston ahead of Kipchoge in April. If Kipchoge were not in this race, Amos Kipruto would be the clear favorite.

The case for Andamlak Belihu

The 24-year-old, who ran the 10,000 at Worlds as an 18-year-old in 2017 (10th) and 20-year-old in 2019 (5th), is a talent. He’s broken 60:00 in the half seven times in his career and he has a 58:54 half pb.

Belihu finished 4th in Berlin last year in 2:06:40, but that result does not tell the whole story — he was actually with Kipchoge through halfway at 59:51 before fading over the second half. (Frankly, it’s impressive he did not blow up more than he did). Clearly, Kipchoge was on another level last year, but it was also clear Belihu could have run a lot faster with splits that were closer to even. Dude has guts. Can you imagine going out in a marathon 59:51 when you’ve only run one before in your life and you only ran 2:09:43 (Valencia 2021)?

Belihu has only raced once in 2023 (and he’d only raced once before last year’s race as well), running 60:01 for 7th at the RAK Half in February, but the talent is there and Belihu showed last year he’s not afraid of Kipchoge.

Will Eliud Kipchoge win the 2023 BMW Berlin Marathon?

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How fast will Eliud Kipchoge run in Berlin

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3) Can Tigist Assefa repeat?

Last year, Ethiopia’s Tigist Assefa showed up in Berlin and stunned the running world with a 2:15:37 victory that took more than two minutes off the course record. The time by itself no longer seems as crazy after Ruth Chepngetich ran 2:14:18 in Chicago and Amane Beriso ran 2:14:58 in Valencia later that fall, but the fact that it came from Assefa — who before last year was best known as an Olympian at 800 meters — remains remarkable.

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Since her victory in Berlin, however, Assefa has only raced once, a 67:40 win at the Bahrain Night Half Marathon in December 2022. She was part of the London Marathon field in April but withdrew due to injury, meaning we don’t have much to gauge her current fitness. Race organizers are targeting the course record, and Assefa did say in a press release that she believes she can run a pb on Sunday. We’ll soon find out how serious that talk is.

Beyond Assefa, last year’s third- and fourth-placers Tigist Abayechew (2:18:05 pb) and Worknesh Edesa (2:18:51 pb) are both back, and they’ll be joined by Dubai Marathon champion Dera Dida (2:21:11 pb). Hitomi Niiya, who ran 2:19:24 to win the Houston Marathon in January, is also running and will likely be targeting the 2:19:12 Japanese record of Mizuki Noguchi, set on this course in 2005.

However, Assefa’s biggest rival figures to be a Kenyan, Sheila Chepkirui. Last year, Chepkirui ran 64:36 at the RAK Half — #7 on the all-time list — then ran one of the fastest marathon debuts ever in Valencia at 2:17:29. She followed that up with a 2:18:51 for 4th in London in April. The time could be right for Chepkirui’s first World Marathon Major victory in Berlin.

4) Can any American men get the Olympic standard?

Zero American men currently have the 2:08:10 Olympic standard, so a number of them are heading to Berlin’s famously fast course to take one last shot before the US Olympic Trials in February. The American with the best shot at doing it is Scott Fauble (2:08:52 pb), and we wrote about him at length earlier this week: LRC Scott Fauble Is Aiming for the Olympic Standard at Berlin Marathon. Here’s what you need to know about the others crossing the Atlantic to take their shot at the standard — or at the very least, the quota replacement time of 2:11:30.

  • Teshome Mekonen (2:11:05 pb): Mekonen has humongous potential — he ran 60:02 in the half marathon in 2018, a time only four Americans have bettered (Mekonen, born in Ethiopia, became a US citizen last year). But he has yet to put it all together over 26.2 miles: in three marathon starts, he has never run faster than 2:11:05. That time came from Houston in January, where Mekonen’s bottles were misplaced, meaning he ran most of the race without fluids.
    Mekonen has spent the last few months training in Colorado Springs alongside Kenyan John Korir, who finished 3rd in Chicago last year in 2:05:01. Mekonen’s coach Haron Lagat said Korir came away very impressed with Mekonen’s potential — but knows Mekonen still has to prove it on race day.
    “John was telling him, I don’t know why you’re [only] a [2:11] guy,” Lagat said. “That gave him a lot of confidence…The workouts have been going really well. But it’s a marathon.”
  • Jared Ward (2:09:25 pb): Ward was 6th at the 2016 Olympics and ran 2:09 back in 2019 but has failed to break 2:14 in his last four marathons. Most recently, he was 11th at the US 20k champs on Labor Day.
  • Jake Riley (2:10:02 pb): In May 2018, Riley underwent right Achilles surgery to correct a Haglund’s deformity and made the Olympic team 21 months later. In July 2022, Riley underwent the same surgery — this time on both Achilles — and will be hoping for the same outcome in Orlando in February. Riley hasn’t raced a marathon since surgery #2, and at 35 years old, his chances of a similar comeback are not nearly as good. But if he’s got anything left, we’ll start to see it in Berlin.
  • Tyler Pennel (2:12:16 pb): Pennel has historically done well in tough conditions, finishing 5th at the 2016 Olympic Trials in Los Angeles, 4th at the brutal 2018 Boston Marathon, and 11th at the 2020 Olympic Trials in Atlanta. He’s 35 now but is coming off a pb of 2:12:16 in Houston in January and will look to go even faster in Berlin.
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