To nobody’s surprise Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge will make a world record attempt this September 24th at the BMW Berlin Marathon, site of the last six men’s marathon world bests dating back to Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie‘s 2:04:26 in 2007. That Kipchoge would run in Berlin this fall was always one of the probabilities coming out of Nike’s Breaking2 Project from this past May in Monza, Italy where the 2016 Olympic Marathon champion completed the marathon distance in a remarkable 2:00:25 in an unratified attempt to break the two hour barrier for 26.2 miles.
Kipchoge came so close to the sub-two hour barrier in Italy in May using a rotating stream of 30 even-tempo pacers, that a sub-62 first half in Berlin will seem modest by comparison. In essence Breaking2 will have been a speed session for Berlin.
In the past the magic first half number for a marathon world record has been 62. When Haile Gebrselassie ran 2:03:59 in Berlin in 2008 to break his own world record from the previous year, he split the race in halves of 62:05 and 61:54, almost perfectly even. Since then, the record has been bettered three more times, and each time back-to-back halves of sub-62 minutes were achieved, though four men have done it – Emmanuel Mutai finished Berlin 2014 just 16-seconds behind Dennis Kimetto’s 2:02:57 world record, as both men split the first half in 61:45, with Kimetto closing in 61:12 and E. Mutai in 61:38. Patrick Makau (Berlin 2011 – 2:03:38, 61:44/61:54), and Wilson Kipsang (Berlin 2013 – 2:03:23, 61:32/61:51) are the two other sub-62 both half men.
More often than not, however, a sub-62 first half has produced a late race fade. We witnessed this most infamously in London 2009 when 2008 Olympic marathon champion Sammy Wanjiru of Kenya and seven others split 10K in 28:30 (2:00:26 marathon pace), then the half in 61:35, only to falter to a 2:05:10 finish (63:35 second half). But now that Kipchoge has gone sub-60 through the first half in Monza, Italy, and been able to nearly duplicate it in the second half, he’s broken the psychological barrier that is often the primary inhibitor to any new territory attempt. It’s almost like that Star Trek opening line, “Going where no man has gone before.”
Well, Kipchoge has already gone there now. And he isn’t looking for a sub-2, but a sub-2:02:57. Which means if he can duplicate the training schedule he adhered to before Monza – and from what we read Coach Patrick Sang’s training methodology for Kipchoge was confirmed throughout the Breaking2 Project rather than altered, as was the case with the other two primary Breaking2 athletes Lelisa Desisa and Zersenay Tadese – and if Berlin director Mark Milde can assemble a pacing crew that can utilize the lessons in arrow-shaped configuration that the Breaking2 wind-tunnel tests indicated was the primary benefit in the Monza performance, Kipchoge should be almost certain to break Dennis Kimetto’s world best marathon time, which was set in Berlin in 2014.
What’s more, Kipchoge, 32, has experience on Berlin’s fast track, having won in the German capital in 2015, notching a 2:04:00 with his insoles infamously sliding out of his shoes over the last half of the race. He also experienced the only loss of his marathon career in Berlin, taking second to Wilson Kipsang’s 2:03:23 world record in 2013.
Further suggesting the time is ripe for a new record is that since Brazil’s Ronaldo da Costa (2:06:05, Berlin `98) broke Ethiopia’s Belayneh Dinsamo‘s ten-year old world record (2:06:50) from Rotterdam `88, no men’s marathon record has stood longer than four years (Haile’s 2:04:26 in Berlin 2007 taking down Paul Tergat‘s 2:04:55 from Berlin 2003). And Dennis Kimetto’s 2:02:57 is now graying at three years.
Certainly, remaining uninjured and getting lucky in given-day weather conditions will be critical factors in Kipchoge’s attempt, as well. But in many ways the psychological barrier no longer exists. And often it is the belief which must always precede the act.