Will Kenenisa Bekele race the marathon and how fast will he go?

November 24, 2013 1

© Copyright – 2013 – Athletics Illustrated

Will Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele, the world’s greatest runner over the 5000 and 10000 metre distances, move up to the marathon before the 2016 Rio Olympic Games? And if he does, theoretically-speaking, how fast can he run the distance?

He is one of the most successful distance runners in history with a world-class range from 1500 metres to the half-marathon, he has also demonstrated dominance in cross-country. At the world cross-country championships he won gold six consecutive years, while five of those in a row, he won both the short and long races.

His 1500 metre best is 3:32.35. He may be best known as a 5,000 and 10,000 metre talent having run 12:37.35 and 26:17.53, respectively – both of which are Olympic and World records. He won double gold at the 2008 Summer Olympics; he also won the 2004 Olympic gold medal over 10000 metres. Bekele has earned 19 gold medals between the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, World Track and Field Championships and Olympic Games. At the 2012 London Olympic Games he finished fourth in the 10000m event, having finished in 27:32.44 behind his brother Tariku, Galen Rupp of the US and Mo Farah of Great Britain who won in 27:30.42.

He gained a level of retribution at the 2013 Great North Run half-marathon where he out-kicked 2013 Olympic double gold medallist Farah for the win in 60:09, The Great North Run was Bekele’s debut in the half-marathon. Bekele bided his time behind Farah and countryman Haile Gebrselassie for roughly half of the 21.1 kilometre race, in the first 10k; they ran just under 29 minutes. Bekele told Runner’s World, “I wanted the race to become faster and I did not see this happening while we were all together, so I dropped back, hoping that they would try to increase the pace.” Farah, known for his kick, delivered, but Bekele was the better runner on the day. Considering he held back for over 10 kilometres indicates he could have run a much faster time. If he fulfilled projections from the Daniel’s VDot tables, he may have been able to run the half-marathon distance (at the height of his fitness) in 57:50 – a world record time.

His 5,000m and 10,000m personal bests are equal in performance and indicate, according to Daniel’s VDot tables, the capability of running the marathon in approximately 2:01:00. The current world record at the distance is 2:03:23 by Wilson Kipsang of Kenya. Will Ethiopia once again retain the world record in the marathon? Gebrselassie previously held the record for Ethiopia twice, the latest at the age of 38 in a time of 2:03:59.

Bekele grew up playing a lot of soccer and living a fairly typical lifestyle of rural Ethiopians. He expressed and recognised his running talent as a teenager, “I think I was 15 years old when I discovered I have strong running talent,” the 31-year-old told Athletics Illustrated. He added, “Bokoji where I grew up is a very small village in Arsi Zone of the Oromia Regional state in rural area. My life there as a child was just a life any rural children lived in that village.”

Bekele will be 34-years-old at the Rio Olympics, still young enough to perform at a high level however, other than Gebreselassie’s performance, the fastest marathon runners now seem to be in their 20s when they set standards. Asked if he is hoping to race the 10000m in Rio or perhaps the double 5000m and 10000m, Bekele replied, “It is really early to talk about my decision on the Rio Olympics, I haven’t yet decided whether I am going to race the marathon or 10,000m and 5,000m. So it is better to keep this answer for the future.

There is nothing left for Bekele to prove at the shorter distances, he is already the greatest runner in the world over 5,000 and 10,000 metres. Asked if he would prefer one distance over the other he said, “I love both 10,000m and 5,000m, but if I am forced to choose one, I would say 5000m.”

He will need to increase his training volume to take on the marathon, as he said, “I run about 130 kilometres per week (80 miles).” This shouldn’t be an issue, as he thoroughly loves the sport, “I love athletics very much; I will keep running as long as my health permits,” he said.

Whether Bekele will move up to the marathon remains a decision for a future date however, he ran well after coming back from injury, to better Farah at the half-marathon distance. He even indirectly predicted the win by saying to the media before the race, “when I am in shape I am faster than Farah.”

Below is a comparison of the current top-11 men’s marathon times, with projections based on Daniel’s VDot tables. There was rounding off and assumptions made with some projected outcomes. The comparison demonstrates that the half-marathon can be a fairly accurate predictor of marathon performance, while the 10km and 10000m race numbers that are available, appear not to be an accurate predictor, partially because the younger marathon runners of recent years tend to not put in years of competition at the shorter distances therefore their potential in the 10000m is not realised, as they seek to do well in the marathon.

Bekele has only run the half-marathon once and not at his best, so his time does not predict what his 5,000m and 10,000m times indicate. The average difference in projected outcome for the half-marathon was calculated removing the two largest outliers: 6:52 and 2:22.

Age on
Marathon Vdot Proj Vdot Proj
Athlete Course Marathon 21.1k 10k 10000m Day 21.1k   Diff. 10k/10000m    Diff.
Wilson Kipsang Berlin 2:03:23 58:59:00 27:32:00 27:37:00 31 2:03:40 + :17 2:06:17 + 2:54
Patrick Makau Berlin 2:03:38 58:52:00 27:27:00 29:31:00 26 2:03:35 - :03 2:06:20 + 2:42
Dennis Kimetto Chicago 2:03:45 59:14:00 28:30:00 29 2:04:20 + :35 2:11:50 + 8:05
Emmanuel Mutai Chicago 2:03:52 60:03:00 27:51:00 28:09:00 29 2:06:00 + 2:08 2:09:15 + 5:23
Haile Gebrselassie Berlin 2:03:59 58:55:00 26:22:00 27:02:00 38 2:03:35 - :24 2:01:20 - 2:39
Eliud Kipchoge Berlin 2:04:05 59:25:00 28:11:00 26:49:00 29 2:04:30 + :25 2:03:40 - :25
Lelisa Desisa Dubai 2:04:45 59:30:00 27:57:00 27:12:00 23 2:04:45 0:00 2:05:10 + :25
Andualem Belay Shiferaw Dubai 2:04:48 60:10:00 27:54:00 21 2:06:10 + 2:22 2:09:25 + 4:23
Tadesse Tola Dubai 2:04:49 59:49:00 27:48:00 27:04:00 25 2:05:10 + :21 2:04:55 + :06
Endeshaw Negesse Dubai 2:04:52 62:40:00 30:23:00 23 2:11:45 + 6:52 2:20:00 +15:08
Bernard Koech Dubai 2:04:53 59:49:00 27:54:00 24 2:05:30 + :37 2:09:25 + 4:18
Avg: 27  Avg diff: + :35
Kenenisa Bekele 60:09:00 27:47:00 26:17.5 2:06:10 2:01:05

One Comment »

  1. Kipkoech.K. November 24, 2013 at 1:32 pm - Reply

    He is a long time from his records. I don’t think so. Now Kenya is too strong for Ethiopians.

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