The greatest of all time. It’s a fairly large accolade to bestow on any athlete, let alone a marathoner. Yet the 2018 London Marathon champion possibly fits the bill.
Marathon training is all about consistency, but how many runners actually consistently get it right on the day? How many elites start, struggle after half way and then sneak off to the side of the course. Or just have a bad day and jog to the finish.
From 10 marathons Eliud Kipchoge has clocked an average time of 2:04:44. That would rank as the 43rd quickest time ever run. Along with Wilson Kipsang, the Kenyan pair can each lay claim to four of the 20 fastest official marathon performaces. But it’s not just about times, it’s also about how you win on the day.
Winning when it matters
Of those 10 marathons, nine have been victories. If we were talking about horse racing he’d be the odds-on favourite for the Grand National.
That kind of dominance is unmatched in the history of marathon running.
The only race he failed to win was Berlin in 2013, where he clocked a not too shabby 2:04:05 to finish second to Kipsang, who is another fantastic marathon racer.
What about the world record?
But what of the world record? Isn’t it just simple maths that Dennis Kimetto is the greatest marathoner of all time because he has run the fastest? What else matters in the day and age…
Kipchoge has run the fastest unofficial 26.2 miles of all time, but only as part of the Nike breaking2 project. The swift 2:00:25 was short of the lofty goal and certainly not valid for record purposes, but many feel it’s simply a matter of time until Kipchoge is the proud owner of said record.
At the London Marathon, the pacemakers were asked to run a 61 minute half split. That in itself is well within world record pace but what about the early miles? The opening mile was a blistering 4:22 and the first 5k was 13:48.
That’s 1:56:27 marathon pace for the first 5 kilometres of the race on a day that was already spoken off as one of the hottest London marathons on record. When asked about this after the race, the response was simply: “well, we felt good.”
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When conventional wisdom for the marathon goes out of the window, that is when magical things happen. Yet it is being unfazed by conditions and challenges such as this that makes the Nike marathoner so great.
The pace drops people
Running with the Kenyans author Andarahand Finn tweeted a quote from Kipchoge that gives an insight into the man himself: “In a marathon, you don’t drop anyone. The pace drops people.”
However, when he races it is Kipchoge’s pace that does all the damage.
Maybe knowing that you have the physiological capability to run 2:00:25 gives you added confidence to run whatever pace is needed, but on April 22 Kipchoge rarely left the footsteps of the pacemakers. Whilst Mo Farah was remonstrating with the motorcyclists, Kipchoge was hitting the pace every single mile.
Others dropped back and forth, Farah especially, but there was never even a second of self-doubt or concern on Kipchoge’s face. The pace would drop them.
What about the shorter distances?
There may be cases for better athletes, with greater ranges like Kenenisa Bekele, Haile Gabresellasie or Farah, when he gets the marathon spot on. But when it comes to 26.2 miles, there is one standout athlete who conquers all.
Not that the 33 year-old doesn’t have a set of wheels on him for the shorter events. The 7:27.66 for the 3000m ranks as the 12th-fastest at the distance ever and his 5000m best of 12:46.53 ranks him as the fourth-fastest ever over that distance.
You may wonder if it was simply a lack of a ‘kick’ that stopped Kipchoge from dominating the shorter distances, but there is the 2003 World Championships 5000m gold were the 5ft 5in athlete outsprinted both Bekele and Hicham El Guerrouj. So he definitely does have a ‘kick’ in his arsenal.
The step up to marathon
Between 2003 and the end of his track career there were top performances at global championships, but not the top spot. Silver and bronze accolades meant Kipchoge was not a household name on the start line of his first marathon in 2013.
After some dabbling in the half marathon world, it was a seamless transition to the longer distance, with a 2:05:30 victory and course record in Hamburg. It was his subsequent race, in Berlin later that year, where we saw the sole ‘loss’ in his marathon career.
When you run the fifth fastest time in history (2:04.05) and finish second only to an Olympic marathon medalist, who happened to break the world record that day, it is difficult to call it a bad day at the office, but after that race, no man beats Kipchoge to the line.
The rest is history. Olympic marathon champion in 2016 after his second of three wins in London – where he ran the third fastest (2:03:05) time ever – two wins in Berlin and dominance wherever the finish line is 42.2km away from the start.
Would Kipchoge fair as well without the pacemakers ahead of him? That’s an interesting question and you would hazard a guess that the man would just set a high pace of his own, mile upon mile. Possibly not as quick, but still at an unsustainable level for those around him.
So is Eliud Kipchoge the greatest marathoner of all time? Yes, unless we include Yuki in the debate…