Every so often, an athlete will come along and change EVERYTHING. Usain Bolt, Simone Biles, Serena Williams, Michael Phelps, Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, and now, Eliud Kipchoge.
The men’s marathon world record has now been broken 8 times this century, and 7 of them have happened in Berlin. It seems unlikely that this is coincidence. Whilst there are many other flat courses, Berlin is fairly unique in its lack of twists and turns. Cornering takes both energy and time. Not very conducive to world record attempts, although I’m sure Paula Radcliffe might argue otherwise! September is also a reasonably reliable month for cooler temperatures. London this year hit highs of 24 degrees, whilst Boston recorded minus 1 to go with the driving rain and gusting wind. Delightful!
There’s something poetic about Kipchoge’s unbelievable time of 2:01:39, which by the way, I’ve always considered a fairly respectable HALF marathon time! Not only did he obliterate the existing world record by 78 second, the biggest chunk in more than 50 years, but he leaves a round 100 seconds to break that elusive 2 hour mark. The holy grail of men’s marathon running. It feels like the stage has been set for the next chapter.
Statistically speaking, Kipchoge ran a near perfect race. The Nike breaking2 project in 2017, where Kipchoge ran an illegally assisted 2:00:25 demonstrated the importance of pace makers, formations and negative splits. In Berlin, he ran a 61.06 first half, and everyone started to get excited. Then he blasted his way to a 60.33 second half. And, well, we know the rest.
One of the problems with being the fastest marathon runner in the world by such a margin though, is that even your pacemakers struggle to keep up with you. Perhaps, the most impressive part of his negative split, was that he was forced to run the second half entirely on his own. For me, that’s remarkable for two reasons. Firstly, his ability not to give up when his plan started to fall apart. And secondly, the strength of his belief in his own ability.
I have no doubt that although he said his focus was a PB, last Sunday he set out to break the world record. And I’m pretty sure (although he’s remarkably modest!) that he genuinely believed he could. When his pacemakers dropped away early, it would have been easy to drift off pace, admit that circumstances were no longer in his favour and just cruise home for the win. I cannot tell you how much admiration I have for the mindset, determination and courage Kipchoge displayed by not deviating from his target. I find that more inspirational, and more impressive than his new world record time. The moral? Your body is capable of so much more than your mind lets it achieve. Never give up.
Having said all that, it’s hard not to be in awe and have frankly, a little disbelief for the times that Kipchoge was clocking up. To give it some perspective, this is what his new WR pace equates too over some shorter distances:
100m- 17.30 seconds
200m- 34.60 seconds
400m- 69.19 seconds
800m- 2 mins 18 seconds
1Km- 2 min 53 seconds
1 mile- 4 mins 37 seconds
5KM- 14 mins 21 seconds
10KM- 28 mins 50 seconds
Half marathon- 1 hour 50 seconds
I would have to sprint flat out to hit a 17.30 for 100m. It’s just insane. How long would you last in a race against Kipchoge pace? I once heard someone say that during elite track meets there should be a lay-person in each event, just to show how incredible some of these performances really are. I’m starting to think that isn’t a bad idea.
There’s something that really sets Kipchoge apart though, in addition to his work ethic, mindset and training. Oh, and I’m guessing there’s some, okay, a lot of good genetics. He surrounds himself by nothing but positivity. One of the most striking things that hit me when I listened to one of his recent interviews, was that he has a good team of good people around him. Everyone, coaches, friends, family and training partners all bring out the best in him. Running might often feel like a solo effort, but no man is an island, and that support is critical. I think it’s testament to this that there have been no allegations of illegal substance use in his pursuit of last Sundays record. He appears to train with honest people, using honest methods that undoubtedly make him the best.
So, I guess only one question remains. Do I think that a sub 2 hour marathon is possible? Put simply, yes I do. I think the bigger question, is when? And I believe that depends entirely on whether Kipchoge remains healthy and injury free over the next 3 or 4 years. Other factors will come into play. The course, adequate pacers, weather conditions, advances in shoe technology, but no one else is even in the race. So in my opinion, it’s him, or someone we don’t even know about yet. Because the likes of Kipchoge, the outstanding game changers of a sport. The ground breaking ones who make decades of progress happen in just a few years. They only come along once in a generation. And that’s if your lucky.
Personally, I’m rooting for Kipchoge. 100 seconds to go, and the count down has already begun.