Kahana, Maui – The 2019 marathon year is all but complete, and it has been historic, to say the least. While the men’s world record withstood a strong challenge by 37 year-old Kenenisa Bekele in Berlin where the Ethiopian superstar seemed to finally get serious about the distance, coming within two seconds of Kenyan rival Eliud Kipchoge’s 2018 mark of 2:01:39, the once seemingly untouchable 2:15:25 women’s record by England Paula Radcliffe set in London 2003 came crashing down in Chicago beneath the weight of Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei’s mind-numbing 2:14:04.
And for his part, 34 year-old Kipchoge kept adding to his own ne plus ultra career by winning again in London in the spring before delivering history’s first sub-2 hour 26.2 miler at the INEOS Challenge exhibition in Vienna in October.
But those three weren’t alone. In 2019 it seemed like everyone and their kid brother took the once proud marathon distance to the woodshed, as technology, talent, youth, and God knows what else delivered the following comparative numbers.
Year Sub-2:10s Primary Nations
2016 150 Ken 98; Eth 39
2017 186 Ken 113; Eth 41
2018 164 Ken 76; Eth 41
2019 293 Ken 123; Eth 98
As the data suggests, Ethiopia is on the rise, while their Kenyan neighbors to the south have seen their once wide margin in depth whittled down considerably. As to why, I will leave to you, dear readers. That’s a stone for us to turn over on another day.
But the number that stands out like an outrigger bunion is the 293 men’s sub-2:10s, a staggering 129 more than in 2018, with Ethiopians improving by 57 year over year, while the Kenyans added 47 more in 2019 than in 2018.
As the latest New York Times story on the role of shoe technology says, Nike’s Fastest Shoes May Give Runner’s a Bigger Advantage Than We Thought. Yes, we have crossed the Rubicon and entered a whole new territory where new judgements and new expectations will make old marks seem as quaint as hoop skirts by comparison.
The top American time of the year came in Amsterdam where Leonard Korir finished 11th in 2:07:56. His time represented the 124th best of 2019 worldwide. Scott Fauble’s 2:09:09 seventh place (#220 globally) and Jared Ward’s 2:09:25 eighth in Boston (#240) showed again that Americans tend to be better pure racers than paced time trialers.
To round out the ledger, Morocco posted 11 sub-2:10s; Bahrain, Japan, and Eritrea notched 8 each; Uganda 7; USA, France and Turkey 3; Great Britain, Switzerland, Belgium, Netherlands, China, and Israel 2; with Canada, Peru, South Africa, Italy, Spain, New Zealand, Tanzania, South Korea, and Norway 1 each.
I will do a women’s breakdown in the coming days.