Once upon a time, there was a small runner named Eliud Kipchoge. He went for many runs in the city of Berlin, five in all. From his debut there in 2013 (2nd, 2:04:05), he has improved with each subsequent appearance. He won each of his next three Berlins, scrubbing 5, 27, and 113 seconds (WR 2:01:09 in 2018) off his previous wins.
In his 2018 world record effort, he passed halfway in 61:06. After his world record, he said “this pace was too cold.“ His second half fell in 60:33. He knew he had left some meat on the bone.
So he trained once again for another chance after establishing a new exhibition record of 1:59:41 in Vienna, Austria in 2019, and taking a second Olympic gold medal in Tokyo 2021.
In Berlin 2022, he declared himself to be in top form and went through halfway in 59:51. After his new world record 2:01:09, he exclaimed, “this pace was too hot.“ His second half slowed to 61:18.
At age 37, with the traditional old races of Boston and New York City still on his menu, both slow, meaning no pacers, unpredictable weather, and hilly courses, he is more likely to try Berlin one more time, looking for his Goldilocks pace, not too cold, not too hot, but one that’s just right.
(Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge breaks his own marathon world record in Berlin by 30 seconds – photo africa.ctgn.com)
Perhaps it lies something between 2018 and 2022, like at 37 seconds at the half. That would bring him to 21.1km at 1:00:28. Times two equals 2:00:56.
We often over adjust from our previous efforts, knowing the deficiencies and determined to correct them. Sometimes we over correct.
Based on age, the variability of race conditions, hard to imagine better conditions than Berlin 2022, and his two world records at Berlin, what are the odds that at age 38 or more Kipchoge can squeeze out two seconds per mile more from his training?
The 59:51 on 25 September 2022 put him on history‘s doorstep. But after 25km, the pace proved too taxing to maintain. Now we can assume his best lies somewhere under 2:01, but not below 2:00,most likely on the tall side of 2:00.
Not that the Berlin field was designed to truly challenge him, if that is even possible these days. Is anyone truly in his class? The spring and fall calendars are also so littered with events, critical mass is hard to achieve at such a breathtaking pace.
The Berlin race broke down quickly, with Eliud steely eyed and rock steady behind his three pacers. Defending champ Guye Adole and newbie Andamlak Belihu of Ethiopia were holding on as best they could, but clearly over their comfort zones.
If we compare Kipchoge’s splits from 2018 with those from 2022, here’s what we learned.
At 10km (28:22), he was 28 seconds ahead of 2018 pace. At halfway (59:51), he was 69 seconds ahead. By 30km (1:25:40), he had dropped to just 49 seconds ahead of the world record pace, and at 40km (1:54:53), he was 26 seconds up. He broke the full distance record by 30 seconds.
His 30 to 40km split this year was 29:13. In 2018, it was 28:50, 23 seconds faster. His last 2.2km this year was 6:16. In 2018, it took 5:50, 26 seconds faster. He faded to the line today (by his lofty standards).
So the Goldilocks pace, at least for Kipchoge, is somewhere between 59:51 and 61:00 at the half. Someone else we don’t even know will come along and rewrite those marks. For now, we have begun to fully define the limits of Eliud Kipchoge, the undisputed marathon GOAT.
There’s still some unfinished business to attend to in the German capital before Boston or New York gets their shot. Next time, he will try to get the porridge just right.