The greatest marathoner of all-time can now call himself the fastest of all-time. Eliud Kipchoge, the 2016 Olympic champion from Kenya, broke the marathon world record on Sunday morning with a 2:01:39 win at the Berlin Marathon.
“I had a great belief that I would run a world record,” Kipchoge told the TV broadcast. “But I didn’t know I’d run 2:01. I didn’t know that what I was believing translated to 2:01 but I’m happy for it.”
Ahead of the race, Kipchoge was more reserved about his expectations and told reporters that he was simply aiming to lower his personal best of 2:03:05. He was not necessarily targeting Dennis Kimetto’s world record of 2:02:57, which was set on the same course in 2014. The world record is no stranger to Berlin as it has been set in this race in the last six times that it had been lowered before Sunday.
Kipchoge revealed that he planned on crossing the half marathon mark in 61 minutes. Former world record holder Wilson Kipsang of Kenya was considered Kipchoge’s biggest challenger and opted to stick with his own pace crew to run 61:30 through the half. The hope was that a conservative start would pay off, if Kipchoge blew up from the aggressive pace. That never happened.
Kipchoge, 33, and a team of three pacers took off and passed through the first 5K in 14:24 and then 10K in 29:21. Just after the 15K mark, pacers started dropping off. Kipchoge was left with Josphat Boit, who owns a personal best of 59:19 for the half marathon, as his lone rabbit. Boit took him through the halfway mark in 61:06 but then dropped out by 25K.
“It wasn’t the plan because I thought I would go with my first pacemaker through 30 kilometers,” Kipchoge said. “It was unfortunate but I had to believe.”
It was up to Kipchoge to run the final 17 kilometers alone and maintain the cushion of time that he built up to get under the world record. It was a stark contrast to Kipchoge’s run during Nike’s Breaking2 attempt in May 2016. While trying to shatter the two-hour marathon barrier, Nike devised a plan for Kipchoge to race under optimal conditions where temperatures were nearly perfect for the Formula 1 track in Monza, Italy and he could be assisted by an alternating cast of pacers nearly every step of the way. Kipchoge ended up running 2:00:25 but the time is not world record eligible due to the pacing strategy alterations.
Once he was alone on Sunday, Kipchoge ended up speeding up. He hit the 35K mark in 1:41:02 and started to get close to the 2:02 barrier. As he he’s done in his other major victories, Kipchoge smiled through any signs of pain by the time he hit 40K in 1:55:32. His second half was run in 60:33.
What was different about Kipchoge as he passed the Brandenburg Gates and approached the finish line was his display of excitement. Usually stoic and reserved, he pumped his arms and crossed the finish line in 2:01:40 to cut one minute and 17 seconds off Kimetto’s record. According to the IAAF, that is the largest improvement on the marathon record since Derek Clayton cut two minutes and 23 seconds off the world record in 1967.
Kipchoge did not stop running at the finish line but accelerated. He threw his arms up on his head in disbelief and then jumped into the arms of his longtime coach, Patrick Sang. The celebration continued with Kipchoge taking pictures and embracing fans while the next runner would cross the finish line four minutes and 44 seconds later.
“"I've run 2:00. I have run 2:01. The next is actually to run 2:02 so I have 2:00, 2:01, 2:02, 2:03, 2:04 and 2:05,” Kipchoge joked after the race.
Kenyans swept the men’s and women’s titles as Gladys Cherono became the fourth-fastest woman in history and defended her title with a 2:18:11 course record victory. Ruti Aga (2:18:34) and Tirunesh Dibaba (2:18:55) rounded out the women’s podium, which marked the first time in history that three women dipped under 2:19.
Below are Kipchoge's complete splits from his world record:
5K – 14:24
10K – 29:01 (14:37)
15K – 43:38 (14:37)
20K – 57:56 (14:18)
HALF MARATHON – 1:01:06
25K – 1:12:24 (14:28)
30K – 1:26:45 (14:21)
35K – 1:41:01 (14:16)
40K – 1:55:32 (14:31)
FINISH – 2:01:39