“I lack the words to describe how I feel. It was really hard, but I was truly prepared to run my own race.”
Yesterday was a great day for the long-distance running community. For those unable to fathom our excitement, a new world record was set at the Berlin Marathon. Imagine stepping on a treadmill, setting it to 13 mph, and running at that pace for over two hours. Or let’s use the analogy given by BBC Sports – imagine running 100 mts in 17.2 seconds; or if that’s feels slow, try it and repeat for 420 times without a pause. That’s just what Eliud Kipchoge accomplished at Berlin yesterday – setting a new world record by completing the marathon distance of 26.2 miles (42.195 kilometers) with a timing of 2 hours, 1 minute, and 39 seconds.
The first time a marathon was run as an official race, was at the London Olympics in 1908, where American Johnny Hayes emerged victorious with a timing of 2:55:18. Of course, a lot has changed since then in terms of training and technology. Four years ago, Dennis Kimetto from Kenya had created a new record of 2:02:57 in Berlin. Fellow Kenyan Kipchoge broke this record on Sunday by 78 seconds – recorded to be the largest single improvement in a world record marathon timing in over fifty years. Australian Derek Clayton had knocked down 2 minutes 37 seconds way back in 1967.
Kipchoge, 33, has competed in eleven marathons, out of which he has won ten and finished second in one. He has won both, the Berlin and London marathons three times each, and holds course records at both places. His split times astonished viewers and runners, both amateur and elite, the world over. Kipchoge’s average speed on Sunday was 13 mph, an average pace of 2.52 mins/km for each kilometer of the 42.195 km race, or every 400 mts in 68.8 seconds. He clocked the first 10 kms in world record pace, as led by three pacers from the start.
Shortly after the halfway mark, all three pacers dropped out, leaving Kipchoge to run the remaining 21 kms alone. Rather than struggling or falling off the pace, he defied the odds and rather sped up, covering 30 kms of the race in 1:26:45, which is the fastest time ever recorded for that distance. He ran the first half of the race in 1 hour, 1 minute, 6 seconds, and went 30 seconds quicker in the second half. He ran from the 40k mark to the finish in 6 minutes, 8 seconds – the fastest known in any major marathon, without any obvious sprint. His overall pace was 4 minutes, 37 seconds per mile – for 26.2 miles. Jon Mulkeen from the IAAF (International Association of Athletic Federations) pointed out, “imagine running 200m reps in 34.60 seconds, and repeating that for 211 times with no rest in between”. That’s what Eliud Kipchoge did in Berlin yesterday.
Long-distance runners might remember the “Breaking 2 Project” of Nike last year – an unofficial race to break the sub-2 hour marathon, on a track at Monza. Kipchoge had created a world record of 2:00:25 at the time, guided by a team of pacers. The race did not qualify as an official time, and was seen as more of a project. Kipchoge, however, did show his frightening potential as a long-distance runner, which manifested itself as he obliterated the competition on Berlin’s streets on Sunday. “I believed he was capable of smashing the World Record. He delivered in outstanding fashion and rewrote history”, said Paula Radcliffe – former record holder of the women’s marathon. Roger Robinson from Runners’ World added, “I have watched great runners for seventy years, from Emil Zapotek to Haile Gebrselassie, and not since Abebe Bikila in 1964 have I witnessed a world marathon record set with such focused mastery”. “I felt very confident. I am grateful to those who worked with me”, Kipchoge said after the race. Impeccable pacing and the focus of a Zen master have sealed Eliud Kipchoge’s place as the greatest marathoner of all time.