Word Record Holder: Kelvin Kiptum ✍️
Photo: Johnny Pace | @pacephoto
Athens would have known about the victory at the Battle of Marathon a bit sooner had it been Kelvin Kiptum in Pheidippides’ position. (But with Pheidippides sporting the Nike Dev 163 prototypes, surely he’d have shaved a few minutes off, right?)
With Kiptum’s 4:36-paced performance, the 23-year-old relegates Eliud Kipchoge to “former world record holder” status after five years at the top. What a world we live in where Kipchoge’s 2:01:09 mark from Berlin last year is now just the second fastest marathon ever run! But is anybody really that surprised? Unlike in baseball, where we dare not even whisper about a potential perfect game until it happens, Kiptum’s potential was being shouted from the upper deck well before his first step on Sunday.
Kiptum simply hasn’t missed since last December when he first stepped to the 26.2-mile-long plate in Valencia and promptly became the fastest debutant ever, running 2:01:53 for the win. But it was his dominant 2:01:25 in London this past spring that brought Kiptum into the same conversation as Kipchoge and confirmed that he was for real. Has anyone ever been on a heater like this? Three marathons in ten months, with an average finishing time of 2:01:17.
It is one thing to run fast when everyone else is doing it – it’s another thing entirely to dominate an era where those times are being run. The margin of victory in Kiptum’s three performances was: 67 seconds, 178 seconds, and 207 seconds, over Gabriel Geay, Geoffrey Kamworor, and Benson Kipruto, respectively. Kiptum makes even studs look silly.
Dominance and times aside, what made Kiptum’s run so special was the way he did it with intent and intelligence. He made a decisive move at the first bottle station at 5K that resulted in a breakaway. The only non-pacer to come with him was Daniel Mateiko, Kiptum’s rabbit in London who was now making his own debut. Kiptum was like a conductor, instructing the three-man pack – which also included a pacer – when to speed up and slow down, and encouraging them to follow the blue tangent line painted on the ground.
They came through the first half in 60:48, the pacer stepped off, and Kiptum and Mateiko ran side-by-side until a bit past 30K. When Kiptum moves it is violent, and his aggressive shift immediately broke Mateiko’s spirit in a bid for the world record. Mile 22 was a 4:18, and then it was over.
Alright, now what? How do we digest this world record, while our stomachs are still full from all the meaty performances we consumed in Berlin?
Firstly, we cannot call Kiptum the G.O.A.T. yet. That’s not how this works. He boasts a small and mighty resume right now but in order to lay claim to the title of “best marathoner in the world RIGHT NOW,” he needs to beat Kipchoge straight-up. And to be considered the best marathoner of all time, he needs to win ten more World Marathon Majors and a couple of Olympics.
The Kenyan Olympic team should be Kipchoge, Kiptum, and Evans Chebet. It’s a shame that all three men chose to do different marathons this fall (Chebet’s racing in New York), but that’ll make the Olympics that much more exciting. And as is often the case, I agree with Michael Johnson’s assessment that we need to keep competition at the center of the conversation. Unfortunately with athletes racing maybe once every four months, and with the best not overlapping, that becomes increasingly more difficult. Until this summer, hypotheticals are all we’ve got!
The juxtaposition between us watching Kipchoge-the-marathoner grow up in front of our eyes like he’s the newest protagonist in The Truman Show, versus Kelvin Kiptum being dropped on Earth by a UFO visiting from outer space, makes for an intriguing storyline. Whereas Kipchoge was winning Worlds 15 years before ever breaking the marathon record, Kiptum hitting homers on the international scene seemed instantaneous.
How long until we start accusing Kelvin Kiptum of not being able to run over hills or bridges?
Although he was self-coached at the beginning of his career and was rumored to still be in London, it turns out he is not. That would have made for a really cool story though! Instead, it’s been shared that he is coached by Gervais Hakizimana, who competed for Rwanda and now lives in France.
According to this article, Kiptum runs upwards of 300km a week. (American math says that’s over 180 miles.) Like all good coaches, Hakizamana is worried about his athlete’s longevity: "I told him that in five years he'd be done, that he needs to calm down to last in athletics. "But imagine how good those five years will be!
We’ve seen the impact that Jakob Ingebrigtsen’s double threshold training methods have had on the track and field world. Could we be on the precipice of a similar shift on the roads? Right now, 120 to 130 miles per week seems like the sweet spot for a lot of American marathoners. But are we leveraging new shoe technology to its upper limits? And it’s not just about mileage, there is obviously intensity to it as well. I’m not saying a 4:18-late-race split means Kiptum is getting pulled by a bungee for overspeed training, but you don’t average 4:36 a mile for two hours without some turnover.
In so many ways, Kiptum still feels like a mystery. Hopefully, Nike will throw a PR campaign behind him so we can learn some more about the man. Like how has he never felt pain during a marathon and as a follow-up, how does it feel to live my dream?
Is there anything Sifan Hassan cannot do? 🤯
Photo: Johnny Pace | @pacephoto
If only the Chicago Marathon was a couple of weeks ago!
Just six weeks after Siffan Hassan competed in three different events at the World Championships in Budapest, she took to the streets and ran 2:13:44 to become the second-fastest woman ever at the distance. Had it not been for Tigist Assefa’s earth-shattering run of 2:11:53 in Berlin, then this would have broken the four-year-old mark of 2:14:04 set by Brigid Kosgei on these same Windy City streets.
In theory, the training required to earn World silver in the 1500m and to win a second World Marathon Major shouldn’t be too similar. But I suppose we should have listened when Hassan said she was doing post-race workouts because she was training through facing off against Faith Kipyegon. To my more impressionable readers, just because it worked for her does not mean it will work for you (maybe good advice when it comes to Kelvin Kiptum’s 180-mile weeks as well, now that I think about it)!
Now that Hassan has proven that she could run five minutes faster than her London debut, it puts her comeback victory there into perspective. Yes, she may have stopped to stretch on occasion, and though she fell off the pace, there was never a mile gap.
It’s quite glorious when the whispers of a world record attempt come to fruition – it creates a lot of anticipation, excitement, and celebration. But there is also risk there, like when it doesn’t happen. I hate myself for feeling even one ounce of disappointment in that moment when it became evident that Hassan was not going to dip below Assefa’s mark. As much as we like to pretend times are completely made up now and that great racing should be the primary focus, it’s still fun as hell to see an increasingly low time on that big clock. Maybe the day will come when I am numb, but that’s a problem for Future Kyle.
While on different courses, Ruth Chepngetich took out Chicago in 65:42 – considerably faster than Assefa, whose first half was 66:20 (Hassan was 65:48). In my preview before the race, I pleaded with Chepngetich to be more conservative. I checked. Unless she’s using a burner email account, she is not a subscriber to this newsletter. Putting time in the bank rarely pays off for amateur athletes, and this is one of those things that’s not too different for the professionals either.
Unlike in Assefa’s WR and many of the top female times in the marathon through the years, Hassan did not have a pacer run her to the line and was alone for the last 5-ish miles. Disappointingly but not surprisingly, there was a huge chunk of time in which the stream did not show the women’s race so it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when she embarked on the solo mission.
While 2:11:53 seemed like an incredible outlier just two weeks ago, it is only a matter of time before the gaps are all filled in. At some point, this incredible recalibration of fast times will have to decelerate and there will be a new norm established. Records are not going to be broken annually in perpetuity unless World Athletics loosens its current rulings on shoe limitations. There will eventually be what I assure you I will be repeatedly calling “The Great Stagnation,” and the dots on the scatter plot will fill out between what used to be considered fast and what is now.
Today, 2:13:44 is still fast as hell.
Two down, one to go for Team USA 🇺🇸
Photo: Johnny Pace | @pacephoto
On the count of three, all male American marathoners repeat after me, “Thank you Conner Mantz and Clayton Young!” But no one should be more thankful than the NBC commentary crew who won’t have to fully explain the nuances of the Olympic marathon selection.
It’s not that no American man could run under the Olympic standard, it is just that none of them had. Realistically there are maybe six-ish guys right now who on their best days could dip under 2:08:10. And between the hills and bridges of Boston and New York, which prove a siren song for American ‘thoners every damn year, there have been limited opportunities to get it done.
There are three theoretical spots for Americans on the starting line in Paris. This weekend only unlocked two. But that’s still better than zero. There’s a possibility that we can get that third spot in one of three ways: an American place in the top five in New York; an American running under 2:08:10 somewhere else; or an American winding up the top 64 on the descending order list.
It’s frustrating that the Road To Paris has not been published yet so we are operating on ~vibes~ more than data. However, Matt McDonald’s 2:10:34 in addition to his 2:10:17 in Boston seems promising. The downside of relying on ranking is that the third potential qualifier is going to have a very difficult time answering his Facebook friends who want to know if he made an Olympic team or not.
Furthermore, in order to qualify for the possibility of one of the three spots, an athlete has to have run under 2:11:30 during the window (since November 1, 2022). So if your name is not: Conner Mantz, Clayton Young, Galen Rupp, Sam Chelanga, Brian Shrader, Matt McDonald, Joel Reichow, Andrew Colley, Kevin Salvano, Lenny Korir, Elkanah Kibet, Futsum Zeinasellassie, Biya Simbassa, Elkanah Kibet, Zach Panning, Josh Izewski, or Teshome Mekonen, then you will need to do it ASAP or in Orlando.
Pray it’s not a scorcher! Though even on a hot day, it should hopefully take under 2:11:30 to qualify. For context, Jared Ward ran 2:13:00 for third all the way back in 2016. Admittedly there was less of an impetus for time back in the stone ages when men ran barefoot, drank flat soda for sustenance, and were fully convinced compression socks did something.
Japan’s Grand Championship Marathon 🇯🇵
Photo: Justin Britton | @justinbritton
The Japanese Olympic Marathon Trials are this weekend in Tokyo, and if you think the United States has difficult standards, then buckle up for this. The automatic qualifying times in Japan are 2:08 for men and 2:24 for women – athletes can also get in if the average of their two best times is 2:10 and 2:28, or by running fast and placing well at a select handful of domestic races.
According to user PraireFirePhoenix on Reddit – look, there’s not a whole lot out there on the Japanese Trials at the moment, which is nuts because it’s such a high quality event –there have only been 67 men and 29 women who have qualified. And our dear friend on /r/advancedrunning extrapolates out roughly how big the fields would be in the United States if a similar standard were applied.
Chicago helped fill out the field a bit, and it depends on which US races would be considered worthy of selection (I’d assume CIM and Grandma’s would make the cut) but there’d likely only be 10ish men and 25ish women if held to a similarly tough standard.
While I definitely am in support of smaller Trials, this is really small! In Japan, the nature of the race is truly about qualifying for the Olympics and not qualifying to participate in the qualifier. So while I am not ready to commit to this system just yet, Japan has 21 men at 2:08:10 or faster (and two more at 2:08:11), whereas the United States only has two. I’m just saying!
The craziest part of the Japanese system is that only the top two spots at Trials are guaranteed. But if someone comes in and runs faster than 2:05:50 or 2:21:41 at another race, then they could snipe that third spot. Oh, how interesting would THAT be for the US women!