Eliud Kipchoge

Brigid Kosgei, Eliud Kipchoge herald new era of fast marathons

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Eliud Kipchoge‘s success in breaking the two-hour mark (final time: 1:59:40) for the marathon on Saturday was expected. He had come close before, and like Alex Honnold‘s unprecedented climb of El Capitan documented in the film Free Solo, the feat required meticulous planning — the ideal mix of pace-setters, course conditions and weather — to steer a once-in-a-lifetime talent to a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment.

Brigid Kosgei‘s world record at the Chicago Marathon on Sunday was a far greater surprise. Kosgei had run fast times before, but her time of 2:14:04 took more than four minutes off her personal best earlier this year in London, which is typically a faster race than Chicago.

MORE: Chicago Marathon results

The two feats had some common threads. Both runners are Kenyan, no surprise in an event in which the top 100 men’s performances of all time are almost exclusively Kenyan and Ethiopian and the top of the women’s all-time list is similarly homogeneous aside from the presence of British runner Paula Radcliffe, whose time of 2:15:25 had stood as the world record for 16 1/2 years until Sunday. Radcliffe was present in Chicago to greet Kosgei when her record fell.

Kipchoge and Kosgei also wore the same shoes, Nike’s ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%, thanks to Kosgei’s last-minute decision to switch. Earlier versions of those shoes, like the high-tech swimsuits that were eventually banned from competition or golf equipment whose advertising revels in their alleged illegality,

Both marathoners also had pace-setters running with them. Kipchoge’s effort took the concept to an extreme, with an all-star cast running pieces of the course in front of him, and will not be considered an official world record because it didn’t happen under race conditions. (The Atlantic ran a piece on the Kipchoge run with the headline “The Greatest, Fakest World Record,” though the piece itself was more inquisitive than judgmental.)

MORE: Kipchoge shakes off nerves to break barrier

Kosgei was running in an actual race and has already had her time touted as a world record by the international organizer IAAF, but because she was running in a mixed-gender race, she was able to run behind two hired guns, Geoffrey Pyego and Daniel Limo. They were easily distinguished from men’s race contenders by the singlets with the word “PACE” written in the space where a number or name would usually go.

But in general, marathoners are simply getting faster and faster. Perhaps it’s scientific, with specifically engineered shoes, pace-setters and refined training methods, or perhaps all the tinkering and lab experiments are simply a sign of increased focus on the race that traces its history to the myth of the Greek soldier Pheidippides running such a great distance to herald a momentous military victory before falling over dead.

Of the top 20 women’s times on the IAAF list, only five were run before 2012 — one by Catherine Ndereba, four by Radcliffe. Three were run in 2017, then six in 2018 (three in Berlin) and four this year. All 20 of the fastest men’s times have been posted this decade, eight of them in 2019 alone. Kipchoge, in addition to his unofficial best from this weekend, has the official record of 2:01:39 from the 2018 Berlin Marathon.

The all-time list also reminds us that, for all the controversy over the context of Kipchoge’s run, marathons aren’t really standard, anyway. Some courses are more difficult than others. Some races, like the Boston Marathon, aren’t eligible for record consideration for a variety of technical reasons. (Boston’s hilly course doesn’t lend itself to fast times, anyway — the men’s course record of 2:03:02, set by Geoffrey Mutai in 2011, would rank seventh all-time, but no other time would crack the top 100. The women’s course record is nowhere near the best ever.) London, Berlin and Dubai are the places to go for assaults on the record book.

No matter where the race takes place or how it was run, fast times in the marathon capture the imagination.

Purists may cling to romantic notions of long-haired, bearded runners pounding the Boston or New York pavement in shoes that didn’t even have a basic level of air cushioning. But the modern marathon era is built for speed.

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Eliud Kipchoge runs 1:59 marathon, first to break 2 hours

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Eliud Kipchoge ran a marathon in 1 hour, 59 minutes, 40 seconds, becoming the first person to break two hours for 26.2 miles in a special event in Vienna on Saturday morning.

“It has taken 65 years for a human being to make history in sport after Roger Bannister,” Kipchoge said, noting the Brit who became the first man to break 4 minutes for a mile in 1954. “I can tell people that no human is limited. I expect more people all over the world to run under two hours after today.”

NBCSN airs an exclusive replay of the Ineos 1:59 Challenge on Sunday from 3-5:30 p.m. ET and Monday at 2:30 p.m.

Kipchoge, the 34-year-old Olympic champion from Kenya, reached his goal in a non-record-eligible time trial event built just for him. He flashed smiles in the final mile, appearing confident he would meet the goal he’s had in mind since the Rio Games.

He pointed to both sides of the crowd, slapped his chest twice as he crossed under the finish banner. He found the arms of his wife, Grace, watching him finish a marathon in person for the first time, and children. Then he moved onto his career-long coach, 1992 Olympic 3000m steeplechase silver medalist Patrick Sang.

Kipchoge said the hardest hours of his life were between 5 and 8:15 on Saturday morning, up until the event began. He ate oatmeal for breakfast.

The bid, similar to Kipchoge’s sub-two-hour marathon attempt in Italy two years ago, featured packs of pacers from an announced group of 41 taking turns, a lead car beaming lasers out the back as a guide and special Nike shoes.

The final pace group shed from Kipchoge so he could run the final 500 meters alone. Kipchoge sped up, taking the projected finish down from 1:50:50 in the last mile.

Pacers included a Who’s Who of distance runners, from Olympic 1500m champion Matthew Centrowitz to five-time Olympian Bernard Lagat, who is 44 years old.

Kipchoge ran 2:00:25 in his previous sub-two attempt on a Formula One track in Monza, Italy. He holds the world record of 2:01:39, set at the 2018 Berlin Marathon.

“Berlin is running and breaking a world record,” Kipchoge said before the event. “Vienna is running and making history in this world, like the first man to go the moon.”

This event was held at the Prater, a central Vienna park, with fans lining the six-mile circuit.

Next year, Kipchoge can become the third person to win multiple Olympic marathons. He won his last 10 marathons over the last five years, a modern-era elite record streak.

Kipchoge, a 2003 World 5000m champion at age 18, moved to road racing after finishing seventh in the 2012 Olympic trials 5000m, failing to make the Kenyan team for the London Games.

“I’m a believer of a challenges and a believer if you climb one branch, look for the next branch,” he said.

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MORE: Galen Rupp supports Alberto Salazar ahead of Chicago Marathon

Eliud Kipchoge confident he will break 2-hour marathon; Ineos 1:59 TV, live stream info

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Eliud Kipchoge said he is more prepared for his second attempt and ready to become the first person to break two hours in a marathon in Vienna on Saturday.

Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA will air Kipchoge’s sub-two attempt, called the Ineos 1:59 Challenge, live on Saturday morning. The start time is 2:15 a.m. ET. The live stream for Olympic Channel subscribers is here.

“I am confident that I have been in that speed in the last two years,” Kipchoge, the Olympic marathon champion and world-record holder from Kenya, said Thursday. “So it’s not something that we’re thinking, oh, are we going to do it? I’ve been doing it for the first time, and the second time, I will get it.”

Kipchoge came close the first time, running 2:00:25 on a Formula One course in Monza, Italy, on May 6, 2017. Kipchoge’s world record is 2:01:39 from the 2018 Berlin Marathon.

Like Monza, the Vienna attempt will not be under record-eligible conditions. For instance, Kipchoge’s 41 pacers, including U.S. Olympic 1500m champion Matthew Centrowitz, are expected to shuffle in and out of the race.

He arrived in Vienna on Tuesday to get his first look at the course — a six-mile circuit of a stretch of flat road at The Prater, a historic park in central Vienna.

“To run in Berlin and to run in Vienna are two different things,” said Kipchoge, the youngest of four siblings raised by his mom, a kindergarten teacher, after the death of his father. “Berlin is running and breaking a world record. Vienna is running and making history in this world, like the first man to go the moon.”

Kipchoge, whose 10-marathon, five-year win streak is a modern-era elite record, gained confidence watching Ethiopian legend Kenenisa Bekele clock 2:01:41 in Berlin on Sept. 29, missing the world record by two seconds.

“Most people were saying no other human being can come close to [2:01:39],” said Kipchoge, who took 78 seconds off the previous world record in Berlin last year. “[Bekele’s run] is a good illustration that no human is limited.”

Kipchoge said he has been thinking about a sub-two-hour marathon since the Rio Olympics. After his Monza attempt, the man of metaphors said, “We are going up the tree … I have lifted a branch and I am going onto the next one. This is not the end of the attempt of runners on two hours.”

Kipchoge, who at 34 is three years younger than Bekele, would not commit to a third attempt if this one fails. He says to wait and see what happens on Saturday.

What’s clear is that Kipchoge sees this race as a positive for the sport.

“In a garden there is flowers and there are weeds,” he said when asked about track and field’s issues, from doping to small crowds at the recent world championships in Doha. “Vienna, we are talking about the flowers. Let us concentrate on the flowers.”

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MORE: 2019 Berlin Marathon results