Kenyan runner sets amazing marathon record in Berlin

I once thought that two hours for a marathon (26.2 miles) was beyond the limit of human achievement. No more. In the Berlin marathon today, Kenyan runner Eliud Kipchoge, 33 years old, ran that distance in 2 hours, 1 minute, and 39 seconds, breaking the world record by a full minute and 18 seconds. If Kipchoge could do that, then it seems possible for someone to break his record by about the same time, taking it near two hours even. (See the excerpt below: Kipchoge’s come close under optimal and non-record-qualifying conditions.)

Further, Kipchoge ran the last ten miles without anybody near him. The second-place finisher, Amos Kipruto, also from Kenya, finished nearly five minutes behind: 2:06:23.

To see what an achievement that is, Kipchoge’s time is the equivalent of running 26 straight 4 minute, 38 second miles (see the Atlantic for more about his win and other remarkable ultra-athletes). A snippet from the Atlantic:

“Kipchoge’s run was so remarkable it’s hard to give it its proper due,” said LetsRun.com. “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 41 years, and he ran the last 10 miles by himself.”Kipchoge, who won the gold medal in the marathon at the 2016 Olympics, has dominated marathon running like no one before him over the past five years, winning nine of 10 marathons he had entered since 2013 going into Sunday’s race. In a profile published on Saturday, The New York Times’ Scott Cacciola called him “a man of immense self-discipline” who keeps meticulous running logs and has never had a serious injury. He is also marathon running’s “philosopher king,” according to Cacciola, distinguishing himself as much with his motivational speaking as he does out on the course. “Kipchoge is the type of person,” writes Cacciola, “who says stuff like: ‘Only the disciplined ones in life are free. If you are undisciplined, you are a slave to your moods and your passions.’ And: ‘It’s not about the legs; it’s about the heart and the mind.’ And: ‘The best time to plant a tree was 25 years ago. The second-best time to plant a tree is today.’”

It was little wonder two years ago that Nike chose Kipchoge as the runner around whom to build an experiment aimed at breaking two hours in the marathon, which the company called “Breaking2, an innovation moonshot designed to unlock human potential.” Nike optimized Kipchoge’s months of training.  Conditions during the race itself, which was held on a racecar track in Monza Italy, were optimized, as well. And the experiment almost worked: Kipchoge ran the marathon in an incredible 2 hours, 25 seconds.  It did not count for world-record purposes.

Here’s a video of Kipchoge’s finish.  Look at that speed!

36 Comments

  1. Randy Bessinger
    Posted September 16, 2018 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    Remarkable!

  2. ploubere
    Posted September 16, 2018 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think I’d be capable of walking 26 miles in a day, much less running it in 2 hours.

  3. Randall Schenck
    Posted September 16, 2018 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    I’m guessing a very flat course and maybe perfect Temperatures. But still, he did not break the record, he killed it. That one may hold for a while…

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted September 16, 2018 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

      The course is flat & fast, but all of the last six male marathon records were at this Berlin course as it is currently laid out:

      2003: 2:04:55
      2007: 2:04:26 [ 19 seconds improvement]
      2008: 2:03:59 [ 27 seconds]
      2011: 2:03:38 [ 21 seconds]
      2013: 2:03:23 [ 15 seconds]
      2018: 2:01:39 [104 seconds]

      99 seconds to go

  4. Posted September 16, 2018 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    Some people maintain that genes have nothing to do with athletic success, despite the evidence that all these elite distance runners come from East Africa, and most reportedly come from the same valley. And why should all the best sprinters have a West African ancestry? Some people just can’t come to terms with the implications of natural selection.

    • Teresa Carson
      Posted September 16, 2018 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

      Kipchoge comes from Eldoret, Kenya, which is situated on a plateau above the Rift Valley at 7,000 feet above sea level. Living (and running) at that elevation gives the people there a definite advantage over the folks at lower elevations. I remember the concerns that athletes had when the Olympics were in Mexico City. A lot of people were training in Colorado just so they would be able to cope with the altitude. No matter where he lives, this man has obviously trained and worked hard to accomplish this feat. Bravo!

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted September 16, 2018 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

      To expand on Teresa Carson’s comment. It is known that peoples with a long history of living at altitude have genes that are selected for more efficient take up of oxygen in the blood.

      It is interesting that nature found this solution in humans a number of different ways – Tibetans, Andeans & Ethiopians are each different. On top of that we have the lanky build of Ethiopians. On top of that we have the terrain being runnable whereas it isn’t so good in the Andes & Himalayas. On top of that we have a running culture in Africa that’s extended from their means of making a living [following prey over long distances, going on migration with the domestic herds they manage**]

      ** This one is my wild assumption – I don’t know if the tribes that do this travelling with their herds also live at high altitude & I can’t look it up today [on my crap phone].

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted September 16, 2018 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

        “means” should read “historical means”

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted September 16, 2018 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

      Who says genetics have nothing to do with it?

      • Posted September 17, 2018 at 4:55 am | Permalink

        Jonathan Marks, the prominent (and noisy) anthropologist for one. E.g. here
        https://anthropomics2.blogspot.com/2014/
        (There are other examples but his blog post has no search facility and I’m tired–try looking for his review of Epstein’s Sports Gene of you are interested)

    • Posted September 17, 2018 at 7:51 am | Permalink

      I heard a lecture on Radio 4 by an ex champion British table tennis player (unfortunately, I forget his name), but he pointed out that most of Britain’s top table tennis players came from one small district near Birmingham. The reason was not genetics but that the local club had an exceptional coach.

      So don’t be to quick to dismiss environmental factors.

    • mikeyc
      Posted September 17, 2018 at 9:30 am | Permalink

      Good grief. It’s both genetics and environment (training, early childhood development, etc) that go into developing the top runners in the world. All the training in the world could never have made me run like Kipchoge (my best marathon time was a 2:46:20). Without the right suite of genes there is no 2 hr marathon.

  5. Posted September 16, 2018 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    LOL…and I just about killed myself running a 3:38 marathon in 2000.

  6. Nick
    Posted September 16, 2018 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    There’s a 3.8km track around Melbourne’s Botanical Gardens that I run on every week. I remember the first time. I went under 14 minutes, I covered the final 200m in a frantic 35 seconds to squeeze under 14 mins. I collapsed over the line a quivering mess.

    I later realised that my final 200m was the AVERAGE pace of the then marathon world record. It’s now even faster. I can only dimly comprehend how it’s possible to run that fast for 121 minutes. And to make it look, if not effortless, at least not frantic.

    • Nick
      Posted September 16, 2018 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

      Not sure why that full stop between “first time” and “I went under 14 minutes” is there. It should be one sentence – I certainly didn’t break 14 on my first time.

  7. Ken Kukec
    Posted September 16, 2018 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

    I once thought that two hours for a marathon (26.2 miles) was beyond the limit of human achievement.

    Once upon a time, a long time ago, our parents’ generation thought the same of the four-minute mile. Then along came Roger Bannister in the 1950s.

    • mikeyc
      Posted September 17, 2018 at 9:34 am | Permalink

      Yeah, well, that was then. Training methods have improved tremendously since, but these days we are looking at marginal returns.

      Two hours really is going to be a tough barrier to crack. It will be eventually, but the 4 minute mile record is not the right benchmark. High schoolers have broken the 4 minute mile.

  8. Ken Kukec
    Posted September 16, 2018 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the vid. Haven’t seen a Kenyan run that hard since Obama beat McCain. 🙂

  9. Posted September 16, 2018 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

    There are people that run much longer distances than that of the standard marathon. So-called ultramarathons can be as long as 100 miles.

    Bruce Dern, actor in such movies as Silent Running and Nebraska, is/was an ultramarathoner.

    Long distance running is something at which the human species excels.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted September 17, 2018 at 1:11 am | Permalink

      “Long distance running is something at which the human species excels.”

      Most of us must be sub-human, then. 😉

      cr

      • Posted September 17, 2018 at 10:30 am | Permalink

        Individual results may vary.

        • Zetopan
          Posted September 20, 2018 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

          So your mileage may vary?

    • Mark R.
      Posted September 17, 2018 at 1:31 am | Permalink

      Obviously, Bruce Dern was a better runner than space-botanist. I think it took the better half of Silent Running for the protagonist (Dern) to figure out all the plants were dying because the ship was drifting away from the sun. ! C’mon man, that’s bio 101! And a lot of the flick’s “tension” was based on the space food flora dying for some confounding reason. Anyway, it wasn’t Bruce’s fault that the writing was weak. He’s a fine actor and human being.

      • Zetopan
        Posted September 20, 2018 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

        “He’s a fine actor and human being.”

        And he even knows how to reprogram robots with an IC wire bonder!

    • Adam M.
      Posted September 17, 2018 at 2:36 am | Permalink

      Long distance running is something at which the human species excels.

      I’ve always wondered about that. Good human runners have undergone a lot of training. The average human isn’t all that good at distance running. To compare with other species I think we’d have to subject them to an equally demanding training regime.

      • darrelle
        Posted September 17, 2018 at 7:40 am | Permalink

        There have been some studies over the years that make a pretty good argument for humans generally being well adapted for long distance running. I don’t remember all of the features we have that give us this ability but I recall that one of them is heat management. There aren’t many animals that can manage their body heat, specifically dumping excess heat, as well as humans can.

      • Posted September 17, 2018 at 11:58 am | Permalink

        Yes, that’s a good point. But I always remember seeing nature shows where some tribe (or tribes) in Africa regularly hunt deer/antelopes by chasing them until they are exhausted. Let’s choose them to represent our species in the Inter-species Olympiad.

  10. Geoff Toscano
    Posted September 17, 2018 at 1:04 am | Permalink

    Whatever the underlying reasons for this achievement, the efficiency of Kipchoge’s running action is incredible. There’s not the slightest waste; legs lift to just the right height for stride length, no splaying whatsoever of the feet. It’s also interesting that running cadence, at any level, varies little from 180 steps per minute. That means that every stride Kipchoge takes is well in excess of two yards, appearing almost to be long jumping as he blazes along.

    • darrelle
      Posted September 17, 2018 at 7:50 am | Permalink

      I recall seeing a documentary a while back that featured a segment about a study on the mechanics of running. Sprinting in this case. But, just as you said regarding distance runners, the stride frequency was virtually identical among sprinters. So what accounts for differences in speed? The length of the stride seems an obvious thing, but what is the underlying thing that results in differences in stride length? There is of course differences in physical size such as leg length but the variable that this study found that correlated most directly with differences in speed was the force that the feet struck the ground. Makes sense.

      • mikeyc
        Posted September 17, 2018 at 11:00 am | Permalink

        Studies have shown that almost none of the advantage elite sprinters have over even untrained athletes is the speed at which they move their legs. As you say, many studies have shown that it is stride length and the time it takes to get to maximum stride length that matters – longer strides over the same time interval = greater speed and the fastest to get to maximum stride length = victory.

        So how do they accomplish this? Strength, mostly. Technique in the starts of short sprints is important too, as speed to maximum stride length is critical.

        Since there is little difference in pace between people (one study showed that world class woman sprinters move their legs marginally faster than world class men, but that neither was significantly faster than healthy untrained athletes) the difference between Usain Bolt and the rest of us is his strength; he can get to maximum stride length faster than everyone else.

        • darrelle
          Posted September 18, 2018 at 10:59 am | Permalink

          Very interesting. The documentary I referenced also showed that strength was a key (makes perfect sense too), which in turn is also a major factor in the force of the feet hitting the ground. One of the types of data they collected on their subjects was leg strength which they measured on a machine that involved a leg extension movement.

          It could be as much my interpretation as anything specifically said, but what I took away from the documentary is that parameters like strength and physical dimensions (leg length) did not correlate as consistently with faster times as the force of the feet hitting the ground because differences in skill / training make more of a difference with respect to those metrics than with respect to the force of the feet hitting the ground. For example, good form plus strength results in higher force of the feet hitting the ground and same strength but worse form results in lower foot-to-ground force.

          I do clearly recall how in early high school when running sprints, when going all out after the acceleration phase and trying to maintain speed, I always felt like I was about to fall flat on my face because my legs couldn’t keep up. Then I began taking a class that involved 3 days a week of serious weight training with very good instruction. Before the year was over I felt almost like Superman when sprinting. I never had that about to fall on my face feeling. My legs felt rock solid all the way, as if they had strength to spare. And my time in the 40 yard dash dropped from 5 + seconds to consistent mid 4’s which, back then, was a good time for professional athletes like NFL backs.

  11. Posted September 17, 2018 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    On seeing the news my mother (75) said “I couldn’t cycle 26 miles in that time”. When I was young and fit and did a bit of cycling, I used to use 10mph as a rule of thumb when planning cycling trips.

    Now I’m sure that I could have got round a 26 mile track that was almost completely flat and devoid of traffic at an average speed of more than 13 mph (probably not now though), but it gives some idea of the achievement.

    Moreover, they guy did not even look tired after he crossed the line.

    • Sarah
      Posted September 17, 2018 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

      His daily work out is crazy, he runs miles and miles, everyday in Eldoret. Very disciplined.

  12. Posted September 17, 2018 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Impressive!

  13. Posted September 18, 2018 at 4:53 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on jtveg's Blog and commented:
    A true champion! 🥇

  14. Posted September 18, 2018 at 4:54 am | Permalink

    A true champion 🥇


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