News30 Dec 2013

2013 end-of-year reviews – road running


Wilson Kipsang at the 2013 BMW Berlin Marathon (© Victah Sailer / organisers)

Statisticians A Lennart Julin and Mirko Jalava look back on the best road running performances of the year with Julin covering the men’s events and Jalava the women’s.

Men’s marathon

After the spectacular 2011 marathon ‘revolution’, 2012 had an Olympic focus rather than a record focus for the top runners from superpowers Kenya and Ethiopia; but in 2013 it was back to pushing the absolute limits again.

For the fourth time in the last seven years, the Berlin Marathon was a world record stage. Following Haile Gebrelassie’s 2:04:26 and 2:03:59 in 2007 and 2008, as well as Patrick Makau’s 2:03:38 two years ago, it was Wilson Kipsang’s turn to revise the record books and on 29 September the Kenyan reached the finish line at Brandenburger Tor in 2:03:23!

Since 2007, over a minute has been trimmed off the world record, but where has that minute been found? Interestingly, the second halves in all four record races were almost identical varying between 1:01:57 and 1:01:49, so the improvement has been that the runners have dared to start faster and faster, and found that they could still survive through the second half of the race

It is also worth noting that Kipsang ran his last 2.195km from 40km in 6:11, that’s 1:59-pace for the full distance!

Two weeks later, Kipsang’s compatriots Dennis Kimetto and Emmanuel Mutai also dipped under 2:04 in Chicago with times of 2:03:45 and 2:03:52 respectively which means that, and disregarding the Boston marks in 2011, three runners are now less than half-a-minute from the new world record.

Although Kipsang’s run was hugely impressive that time seems far from untouchable. Will we see 2:02-something by someone in 2014?

This year saw nine men go under 2:05 and another four more under 2:06. However, nowhere in that list of 13 runners can be found Uganda’s Stephen Kiprotich, who added the World title to the Olympic crown he won in 2012, when he triumphed in hot conditions in Moscow in 2:09:51.

Kiprotich’s best time in his seven marathon outings still remains a relatively modest, at least by the standards of Kipsang and the other leading Kenyans, his national record of 2:07:20 set in the Dutch city of Enschede in 2011.

Men’s half marathon and other distances

This is an event that in recent year has developed a profile of its own with a growing number of specialists, i.e. not 10,000m runners stepping up or marathon runners stepping down.

Consequently, it is no great surprise to find that the top 20 of 2013 on record legal courses includes only one runner featuring in the top-20 at 10,000m and another two belong to the top-20 at the marathon.

It appears that the duration of one hour – rather than half an hour or two hours – is a niche physically and mentally that is perfectly suited for some runners.

The most obvious example is Eritrea’s world record holder (58:23) and five-time World champion Zersenay Tadesse, who has never been able to find similar success at other distances.

The half marathon not being part of the Olympic programme obviously hasn’t stopped runners from specialising in this event and the number of attractive competitive opportunities on offer and the fairly short time needed for recovery between races has probably compensated for the lack of potential Olympic glory.

This saw three more runners – all Kenyan – dip under 59:00 to bring that all-time total to 12.

The trio: Geoffrey Kipsang, Stanley Biwott and Geoffrey Mutai all did so at the super-flat and quick Ras Al Khaimah race in February.

Overall, 10 men ran under the hour on record legal courses.

The ‘bunching’ suggests that a sub-58 time, which means keeping 27:30-pace for two straight 10km races plus another 1.1 km, is achievable on a perfect day.

Who will do it is anybody’s guess. However, with a high probability it will be a runner from Kenya as they occupy the top six and 12 out of top 13 on the 2013 world list.

The fastest man over 10km on the roads this year is Ethiopia’s Adugna Bikila, who ran 27:30 in the Moroccan city of Taroudant and he showed it was no fluke by also running 27:36 in Ottawa.

Kenya’s Leonard Komon, the world record holder over both 10km and 15km on the roads, was the fastest man in the world this year over the longer distance with the 42:15 that he clocked at the famous Nijmegen race in November, the same course that he set the world record of 41:13 in 2010.

Women’s marathon

The main name in the women’s marathon in 2013 was Jeptoo.

Kenyans Rita and Priscah Jeptoo won a total of four races out of four over the classic distance out of four with Rita ending up as the world’s fastest runner this year with a personal best of 2:19:57, clocked when winning in Chicago back in October.

The 32 year-old Rita also won the Boston Marathon in April, but Priscah probably has to be considered the number one marathon runner in 2013. The 29 year-old recorded wins in London in April, with a 2:20:15 season’s best, and then in New York in November and this double can be strongly argued to be a bit stronger than the Boston/Chicago combination by Rita.

Neither of Jeptoos, who are also training partners, participated at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow, so it was left for other athletes to decide the world title.

Despite a strong challenge from the surprising 37-year-old Italian Valeria Straneo, who has an incredible life story including a rise to the world top only after a serious medical condition lead to the removal of her spleen in 2010, the 34 year-old Edna Kiplagat was able to retain her World title from Daegu 2011.

The Kenyan policewoman also finished second in London in a 2:21:32 season’s best, but did not do well in New York where she was ninth, with Straneo this time beating her by finishing in fifth place.

There was a new name close to the top of the 2013 marathon lists as Kenya’s 28 year-old  Jemima Jelagat lowered her pre 2013 personal best by almost nine minutes to finish second in Chicago in 2:20:48. (She had already run 2:23:27 for the win in Rotterdam, but her previous best was 2:29:41 in 2007.)

Women’s half marathon and other distances

The best half marathon result in a non-aided course was run by Kenya’s Lucy Kabuu, who won the Ras Al Khaimah race in in 1:06:09 back in February. Priscah Jeptoo was second in that race in 1:06:11, a very good and Rita Jeptoo third in 66:27.

Another two women also ran under 67 minutes this year on record legal courses, and seven more went under 68 minutes, but Priscah Jeptoo can claim the honour of being the fastest half marathon runner this year after her 1:05:45 outing on the slightly downhill Great North Run course in north east England.

Overall the half marathon belongs to Kenyans and Ethiopians, there is only one other country represented in the world top 20, under any conditions and that is The Netherlands thanks to Hilda Kibet, who was born in Kenya.

The 2013 IAAF World Championships 10,000m winner, Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba, was also the fastest on the roads over the same distance as her Moscow victory.

She clocked a 30:30 national record in Tilburg in September, after already setting one national record in May in Manchester with 30:49.

Dibaba also ended the year as the fastest women over 15km after winning the Nijmegen race in 48:43.

A Lennart Julin and Mirko Jalava for the IAAF