Eliud Kipchoge (the G.O.A.T.) is DEBUTING at the Boston Marathon at APPROXIMATELY 38 years old, compelling OUTSIZED DRAMA from OVEREXCITED pundits: WATCH
That 2:01:09 is too recent to have allowed for serious unraveling, and the men's and women's course records should fall if the weather is merely decent
Eliud Kipchoge’s impending presence at the Boston Athletic Association Marathon—the world-record-holder's first shot at a race set to unfurl its 127th hallowed parade—is probably the biggest advance story infusing any of the forty or so Boston Marathons I've paid attention to since the early to mid-1980s.
It can't not be. Kipchoge is the all-around-greatest distance runner ever to ply the lonely trade, but has to be nearing the end of his career. This is a man who twenty years ago ran 12:52 for 5,000 meters twice in the same summer, the second such effort winning him a gold medal at the World Athletics Championships in Paris at the tender age of about eighteen.
It should be remarkable enough that Kipchoge ran indoor times of 8:07 for two miles and 12:55 for 5,000 meters almost nine years later. But all of these marks and accolades have been obliterated by the thing Kipchoge is known for, which is running marathons and being practically unbeatable at them, not only freezing time for himself alone but operating by a cosmic clock running slowly in reverse.
Kipchoge set his most recent world record over 42.195K in October in Berlin, clocking 2:01:09 to knock 30 seconds from his own 2018 record at the same venue (and putting more daylight between himself and all-time number-two Kenenisa Bekele, who ran 2:01:41 in Berlin in 2019).
Kipchoge wants to keep going through the 2024 Olympics, when he'd be 39-ish, and secure a third gold medal to add to his 2016 and 2021 Olympic Marathon wins. This probably means 2023 will mark his only lifetime appearance at the Boston Marathon, although making predictions with this guy never gets easier.
World records can't be set on the Boston course because it's considered aided by World Athletics owing to its start-to-finish elevation drop and its significant straight-line start-finish separation. The second condition is all but assured by the first, but even flat point-to-point courses are record-ineligible owing to the possibility of a net tailwind. And subway lines.
Although Boston drops about 450 feet between Hopkinton and Boston Common, most of the fastest times on the course have been run in “tailwind years.” 1994 was one such felicitous year; 2011 was another, and resulted in Geoffrey Mutai's current course record of 2:03:02. That was then the fastest marathon time ever, almost a minute under Haile Gebrselassie's 2008 world record (2:03:59).
Since then, thirteen men have bettered 2:03:02 on legal courses. Three of those men will toe the line on April 17: Kipchoge and the two slowest members of this “club,” Evans Chebet and Gabriel Geay, both of whom have run 2:03:00, the former in December 2020 and the latter this past December (meet the 2023 pro Boston field).
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Most Boston veterans contend that in neutral-wind years, the specific topography of the layout more than negates the elevation drop, producing times slower than a flat loop course. Along with salty personal anecdotes, they refer to the pattern of slow winning times in relation to the field's collective credentials, year after year, even when the weather is relatively favorable.
The second phenomenon can be explained by the lack of serious incentive for the leaders to attack fast times. With world records not in play and no official pacesetters in the mix, eventual winners are never flat-out until late in the race.
As for the argument that the topography fends off wind-neutral personal bests, I'm not entirely sure I buy that. And I say this as someone whose fastest time, 2:24:17, came on that course, despite me losing perhaps a minute to an ultimately ass-rending string of portable-toilet stops, mostly on Commonwealth Avenue.
While it's true that a personal best is a lower-percentage shot than it is on a flat layout offering uniform splits and a far lower chance of late-race leg cramps, that doesn't mean it's not possible given the right execution, the right preparation, and that “right day” resolve that feels like magic. And if those sound like grim odds, well, doesn't any day that produces a personal record have to be exceptional from the standpoint of the success story? There are no recent Powerball winners on losing streaks.
Anyone intent on running a given pace for the Boston Marathon should run the first four sharply downhill miles at that pace and absolutely no faster. The course still drops enough after that to make up the difference if you're on your game and have the mileage base to tolerate the “gentle” descent to the finish over the final four miles.
If more people would stick to this, more people would run fast times at Boston. The opportunity is there, but the margin for pacing error is negligible.
I do think that modern carbon-fiber-plated racing shoes have lifted some of the cost of an overzealous start from this race. When C.J. Albertson led the first 20 miles of the 2021 race, he didn't fade completely when the pack caught him, and Albertson actually moved up a few places into 10th in the final stages.
Albertson, who slipped to 13th in the 2022 race but improved his time from 2:11:44 to 2:10:23, considers himself the best downhill runner alive. But he may have folded like a napkin in pre-2016 road flats.
I believe that Kipchoge can run 2:03:01 on a windless day in Boston with a 2:03:30 effort. And he's probably not the only one intending to try.
If Kipchoge unspools an effort aerobically identical to his 2:01:09, and enjoys a net following wind of 8 to 10 miles an hour, he could break two hours. I don’t think either of these things will happen. But I think a 2:02:30 is likely if the weather is acceptable.
The YouTube channel Total Running Productions produced a video on Sunday detailing Kipchoge’s recent training.
2:25 to 2:35 for 40k is a pace range of 5:50 to 6:14 per mile. That's in Eldoret, so at sea level, the altitude-born Kipchoge might see these times improve to around 5:40 to 6:05.
Given that Kipchoge's marathon pace is 4:37, these are not close to “tempo runs” by any traditional definition, being over 20 percent slower than a pace he could hold for two hours. This would be like a 2:24:17 guy calling long runs at 6:40 pace “tempo runs.” Even over rolling terrain, these are just long runs.
Either way, Kipchoge will be ready to break the course record. And the women's course record, 2:19:57, seems even more assured of falling (I'll get to that topic sometime before race day).
In writing this, I discovered that in 2021, a New Hampshire-based runner ran faster than my 2001 time of 2:24:17 for the first time since I ran it. Finally! There's a wrinkle for purists, though, as Thomas Toth and his 2:21:01 belong to the Maple Leaf.
Last year, the top New Hampshire runner was Sam Fazioli, who is indisputably a New Hampshire resident. Fazioli’s time? 2:24:17.
My 2001 gun time was 2:24:25 and my chip time was 2:24:17, so I probably got displaced in both years. If I knew who to properly congratulate with an unexpected phone call, I would have done so already. Luckily, however, there are more exciting Boston course records with which to concern ourselves* now.
Boston is where my PR resides. The thing is, if you get to 21 and have your legs under you, the crowd really gets behind you...if you can get on gas. Never have had this experience anywhere else. Imagine what I could have done on wine and punch access.