fitness · running

Two new marathon records, two different sets of staffing requirements

This weekend, marathon fans were treated to not one but two new world records. One is official– Brigid Kosgei of Kenya broke the existing women’s marathon world record, clocking 2:14:04 in the Chicago Marathon. Paula Radcliffe of the UK held the previous world record of 2:15:25 since 2003.

Brigid Kosgei, new world record holder for women's marathon.
Brigid Kosgei, new world record holder for women’s marathon.

Just the day before, Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya also broke a record: he ran a marathon distance in less than two hours: 1:59:40. The sub-two-hour marathon has been the elusive white whale of running sports, and breaking that barrier is momentous news.

Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, crossing the line in Austria in 1:59:40.
Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, crossing the line in Austria in 1:59:40.

Important thing to know: Brigid Kosgei’s Chicago marathon time counts as a new world record, but Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon run doesn’t. Why not? Because Kosgei ran in race conditions (well, in an actual race), and Kipchoge’s run was not in race conditions. What do I mean by that?

Glad you asked.

Kipchoge’s run was set up to optimize on race course, weather, running conditions and nutrition so to maximize the chances of breaking the 2-hour marathon mark. Here are some of the features of the setup, as detailed by an article in the Atlantic:

The organizers scouted out a six-mile circuit along the Danube River that was flat, straight, and close to sea level. Parts of the road were marked with the fastest possible route, and a car guided the runners by projecting its own disco-like laser in front of them to show the correct pace. The pacesetters, a murderers’ row of Olympians and other distance stars, ran seven-at-a-time in a wind-blocking formation devised by an expert of aerodynamics.

Here are pictures of Kipchoge and his ominipresent rotating phalanx of world-class runners, all there with him to optimize his run time.

Kipchoge himself came equipped with an updated, still-unreleased version of Nike’s controversial Vaporfly shoes, which, research appears to confirm, lower marathoners’ times. He had unfettered access to his favorite carbohydrate-rich drink, courtesy of a cyclist who rode alongside the group. And the event’s start time was scheduled within an eight-day window to ensure the best possible weather. 

Brigid Kosgei also had pace runners with her for at least the first half of the marathon. Here’s more about how that works from the Chicago Tribune:

Because Kosgei runs so fast — and because she planned to go out for a women’s world record if conditions cooperated — those pacers were hard to find, according to a marathon spokesperson. Race commentators questioned whether they had gone out too fast and abandoned pre-race strategy.

There are two pacers who work for the elite women’s pack and four for the men’s pack — all accomplished runners themselves. They stay with runners up to the 35 kilometer mark.

Kenyans Geoffrey Pyego, who mainly works as a marathon pacer, and Daniel Limo, who has competed in marathons since 2006, led the way for Kosgei. Limo holds personal bests of 1:01:30 in a half-marathon and 2:08:39 in a marathon, winning the 2015 Los Angeles Marathon in 2:10:36.

They planned with Kosgei on Saturday night to get through the half-marathon mark at 1:08. She passed 13.1 miles at 1:06:59, which was also on pace to break the course record pace of 2:17:18.

Here’s Brigid Kosgei, on the course with a pace runner, and winning the Chicago marathon on her own.

I love watching marathons– I live in Boston and always try to watch the Boston Marathon either in person or on TV. It seems an impossible task to run that far that fast, and I am always in awe of the world class runners (while also admiring the thousands of non-professional athletes who do this as well).

I think it is super-tremendously awe-inspiring that Eliud Kipchoge ran a sub-2-hour marathon course. But, this two-day/two-records-sort-of brings two questions to mind for me.

Question one: I wonder how much faster Brigid Kosgei could run a marathon course if she had 1) her own rotating phalanx of world-class runners; 2) a pace car equipped with lasers to point out the best route on the course; and 3) a personal bike-riding specialized nutrition delivery person?

Question two: how much faster or stronger or better at their sports would women be if their training was at the level of men’s training? What would girls be like as athletes if we trained them and funded them and equipped them and surrounded them with a rotating phalanx of praise and support and encouragement?

Answer to question one: Not sure, but definitely faster. Right?

Answer to question two: Definitely faster. stronger. better at sport. happier. More fulfilled. Right?

Okay, final question to you, dear readers: Which would you prefer, if you could pick one:

  • a rotating phalanx of experts around you all the time?
  • A pace car with lasers to point you in the best direction in life?
  • A personalized-for-you special nutrition delivery person (bike optional)?

I’d like to hear from you…

3 thoughts on “Two new marathon records, two different sets of staffing requirements

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