Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge again proved himself to be the pre-eminent marathon racer of recent years when he won the BMW Berlin Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, in a world-leading time of 2:04:00 on Sunday (27).
Kipchoge, the 2003 5000m world champion on the track, took his record to five wins out of six marathon outings since his victorious debut over the classic distance when he won at the 2013 Hamburg Marathon.
Since then, he has notched up triumphs at world famous marathons in Rotterdam, Chicago and London before his win on Sunday in the German capital, where he also suffered his only marathon loss when finishing second in the 2013 race.
The finishing time wasn’t the world record that everyone had hoped for, and was the main talking point before the race after two successive world records in the 2013 and 2014 Berlin races, but that shouldn’t detract from what was a magnificent performance from Kipchoge, who also had to battle with shoe problems from early in the race.
Both insoles from his bright yellow racing shoes had worked their way out by the 16th kilometre and were flapping around his ankles with every step.
“It wasn’t a good day for me in these shoes, although they’re actually very good," said Kipchoge. "I tested them in Kenya but just had bad luck on the day. I had problems from the first kilometre."
The problems with his shoes are something that will undoubtedly have cost him time, although how much will be a source of much debate among the running community.
"My goal was the world record but it wasn’t to be today," he added. "Nevertheless I’m delighted with this win and a personal best. I would love to return to Berlin and improve my time."
Kipchoge’s time was a personal best by five seconds, his previous best also having come in Berlin, and the ninth-best performance ever on a record-valid course.
Proving Berlin’s reputation as the place to go for fast times, six of those performances have come on this course.
After splits of 29:19 at 10km, 43:53 at 15km and 58:39 at 20km, the six men who had been together at the front from almost the start – the Kenyan quartet of Kipchoge, Emmanuel Mutai, Eliud Kiptanui, Geoffrey Mutai, and the Ethiopian pair of Feyisa Lilesa and Tamirat Tola – after separating themselves from the rest of the field just a couple of kilometres into the race, went through the halfway point in 1:01:53.
Outside world record pace
This was a little shy of the 1:01:30 planned by race director Mark Milde but a world record was still feasible considering that Dennis Kimetto passed the halfway point in 1:01:45 en route to his time of 2:02:57 on the same course 12 months ago. The previous year in Berlin, Wilson Kipsang clocked 1:01:32 during his former world record run.
Tola was the first to crack, drifting off the back of the pack at 24 kilometres while Geoffrey Mutai was the next to lose contact just before the 30km checkpoint.
The four-man group of Kipchoge and Emmanuel Mutai – the pair predominantly pushing the pace once the last of the pacemakers, David Kogei, had stepped to one side at about 29 kilometres – Lilesa and Kiptanui passed 30km in 1:28:10 with Geoffrey Mutai four seconds in arrears and Tola now 39 seconds behind the leading quartet; although there was then a yawning gap of almost three minutes to any other runner.
However, in the 32nd kilometre, Kipchoge decided that he had bided his time for long enough, and that the paced had slowed a little too much, and he threw in a change of pace which almost immediately splintered the leading group.
The 2015 London Marathon winner passed 35km in 1:42:33 – by comparison Kimetto’s split was 1:41:47 – 24 seconds ahead of Kiptanui with Lilesa third, just a couple of strides behind the Kenyan.
The gap continued to grow over the next five kilometres.
Even though Kipchoge slowed slightly after his four fast kilometres between 31km and 35km, his rivals were slowing further.
Kipchoge went through 40km in 1:57:29 with Kiptanui 1:04 down the road and Lilesa now almost two minutes behind the winner.
Kiptanui finally goes faster
The pair crossed the line in second and third place, Kiptanui clocking a personal best of 2:05:21 and finally improving his long-standing personal best which had stood since 2010 by 18 seconds while Lilesa came home third in 2:06:57.
Emmanuel Mutai, the second-fastest man ever with 2:03:13 to his name after finishing second to Kimetto in 2014, this time had to settle for fourth place in 2:07:46.
Kenya’s world half-marathon champion Gladys Cherono almost stole the show from Kipchoge a little more than 15 minutes later when she won the women’s race in 2:19:25, only her second competition over the distance.
Her winning time moved her up to seventh on the women’s all-time list and it was the 11th-fastest performance ever.
The race developed into a duel between Cherono and Ethiopia’s Aberu Kebede from 18 kilometres.
The pair passed 20km together in 1:06:37 and then the halfway point in 1:10:15 with Kebede’s compatriots Tadelech Bekele and Meseret Hailu – who had been up with the leaders during the early stages of the race going through 10km together in 33:28 and then 15km in 50:04 – running side by side but eight seconds behind the leading pair.
Cherono and Kebede passed 30km in 1:39:40 but shortly before 35km, Kebede started to find the pace too much and began to struggle just slightly.
The Kenyan went through 35km in 1:56:00 with Kedede two seconds back, and Bekele in third was almost two minutes behind.
Chasing a course record
Cherono kept on her almost metronomic quick pace, which put her on course for a time below 2:20:00, for the next five kilometres while Kebede lost an average of nine seconds per kilometre on her rival.
At 40km, which Cherono passed in 2:12:28 with Kebede 48 seconds in arrears, it was now a question of not who would win but how fast would she run.
Cherono’s last kilometre of 3:07 was her quickest of the race but she just missed out on Mizuki Noguchi’s course record of 2:19:12, set in 2005, by 13 seconds. She did, however, clock a personal best by 38 seconds, her previous best coming when finishing second in this year’s Dubai race.
Kebede took second in 2:20:48, 18 seconds outside her best set when she won in Berlin three years ago, with Hailu coming through for third in 2:24:33.
No fewer than 41,224 runners from 131 nations entered this year’s race.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF