A New World Marathon Record Almost Defies Description

Vernon Loeb for The Atlantic

We were packed into our corrals on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sunday morning, waiting to start the Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon, when the announcement came: Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya had just set a new world marathon record across the world in Berlin. One of the thrills for me of running in Philadelphia and the other big half marathons and marathons is just being in the same race with world-class runners like Kipchoge, even though I usually only catch a glimpse of them at the start.

Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge celebrates after winning the Berlin Marathon alongside a clock showing his World Record breaking time REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Somewhere around mile 7 of my race along the Schuylkill River, I found myself marveling at what the great Kenyan distance runner, almost unquestionably the greatest marathoner ever, had just pulled off. He hadn’t just set a new marathon record; he’d shattered the old one by a minute and 18 seconds, running the fast Berlin course in 2:01:39.

Consider what that means: The 33-year-old Kipchoge, who is 5 foot 6 and weighs 115 pounds, had run 26 straight, blazingly fast, 4-minute and 38-second miles. I’ve always said of world-class marathon times like this that if I didn’t know it could be done, I wouldn’t believe it was possible to run that fast for that long. “It was a performance so far superior to anything we’ve seen before that comparing it to another marathon feels inadequate,” the running-news website LetsRun.com said of Kipchoge’s new record. “This was Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in basketball, Usain Bolt’s 9.58 in the 100-meter dash.”

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