The men’s marathon world record has been very newsworthy with Kenyans breaking the mark twice in the last three years and the debate of whether a sub-two-hour marathon is possible.
But what about the women’s record?
Great Britain’s Paula Radcliffe‘s best from 2003 still stands — 2 hours, 15 minutes, 25 seconds at the London Marathon.
It came in a mixed race with male pacesetters and was briefly invalidated in 2011 when the IAAF decided women’s road race records could only be set in women’s-only races. The IAAF later decided to let the record stand since it came before the rule.
Radcliffe, 39, is the only woman to break 2:18, which she has done three times, according to IAAF records of official times. Her top time finishing separately from men is still better than any other woman — 2:17:42.
Radcliffe hasn’t beaten 2:23 since 2011. The top woman after Radcliffe, all time, is Russian Liliya Shobukhova, 35, who won the 2011 Chicago Marthon in 2:18:20.
The absence of East African women from the top of the list is interesting given the top 34 men’s marathoners of all time are Kenyans and Ethiopians.
Kenya’s top women wonder the same thing.
“Why can’t we do like our men?” Florence Kiplagat, whose personal best is 2:19:44, told Agence France-Presse. “Though I was privileged to win the women’s (Berlin Marathon) race on both occasions (in 2011 and 2013), the men turned out to be the big heroes.”
Kiplagat was referring to the last two men’s marathon world records set by Patrick Makau in 2011 and Wilson Kipsang last month, both in Berlin.
When Radcliffe set her world record in 2003, the men’s record was Morocco-born American’s Khalid Khannouchi‘s 2:05:38. As Runner’s World pointed out, 16 men ran faster than 2:05:38 in 2012 alone, yet Radcliffe’s times remain untouched.
“The time has come for us Kenyan women to make the attempt,” Kiplagat said. “It is difficult for one person to manage alone, but with teamwork we can succeed. Four of us have all managed to run under 2:20, and if we plan well and run as a team, it can be achievable.”
Edna Kiplagat (personal best 2:19:50) and Priscah Jeptoo (2:20:14) are the top Kenyans in the New York City Marathon field Nov. 3, but New York is not known for record times. No woman has run sub-2:22 there.
“I believe it can be achievable if we take a joint approach to a particular race like the Berlin or London Marathon,” said Jeptoo, mentioning two 26.2-mile events whose flat courses are more prone to faster times. “There will have to be a collective responsibility for all of us to select a race to compete in, and, in the end allow one person to go for the record.”
As AFP notes, it could be tough to get the Kenyan women together in a race and work for the victory of one. Race wins and World Marathon Major points are crucial for their income.