© Copyright – 2014 – Athletics Illustrated

The onset of autumn brings about anticipation of two exciting disciples in running, the cross-country and marathon seasons. While cross-country is an important part of training and racing and is exciting to watch, it is the marathon that brings out the most vocal of prognostications.

The big three IAAF Gold Label Marathon events happening this fall that should produce the fastest times are the BMW Berlin Marathon, Bank of America Chicago Marathon and the TCS New York City Marathon. Additionally, there are two IAAF Silver Label marathon events, which are the TCS Amsterdam Marathon and the BMW Frankfurt Marathon. There are countless other marathons taking place throughout the world this fall, however, for this article, let’s focus on the men in Berlin.

Although all eyes will be on the Chicago marathon with the great Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia attempting the world record, the Berlin Marathon happens first on Sunday, September 28th, versus Chicago’s date two Sunday’s later. Berlin features an outstanding elite field that includes a few athletes who may very well be seeking the marathon world record too; the record could conceivably fall in both events.

The record stands at 2:03:23 by Kenyan Wilson Kipsang, who also owns the third-fastest time ever (2:03:43); he is the only marathon runner to twice run under the 2:04:00 benchmark. To run the world record, Kipsang averaged a pace of 2:56.5/km for 42.195 kilometres or 4:42.3/mile for 26.2 miles.

The Berlin event has produced six of the 10 all-time fastest results as well as seven of the top-11, if you don’t include the two outright fastest times that were both run on the B.A.A. Boston Marathon course in 2011, which are deemed ineligible for world records by the IAAF; they are 2:03:02 by Geoffrey Mutai and 2:03:06 by Moses Mosop, both athletes are from Kenya.

In Berlin, Kenya’s Geoffrey Kipsang, the 2014 IAAF World half marathon champion will be up against 2013 Chicago Marathon champion Dennis Kimetto who is also from Kenya, two-time London Marathon winner Tsegaye Kebede of Ethiopia as well as 2011 London Marathon champion, Kenyan, Emmanuel Mutai.

Only seven men have run a marathon faster than the 2:04:00 benchmark including the two non-eligible results from Boston in 2011. Wilson Kipsang broke the threshold twice, once in Berlin and once in the Frankfurt Marathon in 2011. Kimetto and Mutai have also managed to run in the 2:03’s. They currently hold the six and seventh fastest times, respectively, which are 2:03:45 by Kimetto and Mutai’s 2:03:52, both from Chicago 2013.

The 30-year-old Kimetto owns the world record over the lesser-known distance of 25 kilometres, which he has run in the time of 71:18, this result matches well with his half-marathon best of 59:13, but indicate a marathon best only of 2:06:28 according to the IAAF Scoring Tables. Kimetto’s second best marathon performance is also well ahead of his shorter races in terms of performance at 2:04:15, which he ran in Berlin and matches, performance-wise closer to Daniel’s VDot tables. Kimetto is likely a pure marathon runner if there is such a thing, as his performances over the range of distances get better, the longer they are.

Mutai’s two best marathon performances are the previously mentioned 2:03:52 as well as 2:04:40 from London 2011. His personal bests from shorter distances are also slightly slower than Kimetto’s except for his 30k best, which is 1:27:49, which is in a multi-way tie for fourth best results all-time. Head-to-head Kimetto has the edge; however, their results are close enough that the differences are basically a wash. It is anyone’s guess who would finish ahead of the other between these two.

The upstart

Watch out for the 21-year-old Geoffrey Kipsang from Kenya. His list of personal bests don’t appear as impressive as the other athletes until you look at his half-marathon time that he ran at the half championships earlier this year. His best at the distance already surpasses the two 30-year-old athletes Kimetto and Mutai. Kipsang appears to be another in a long line of young East Africans who move into the marathon distance at a young age. He has run 2:06:12 as a 19-year-old and at the age of 18 he ran the 10,000m distance in 27:06.35. His half-marathon best from February 2014 – three months after his 21st birthday – is an international-level 58:54.  It is tied as the 10th fastest in history, behind only six other men. Remarkably this performance is faster than marathon world record holder Wilson Kipsang’s on the same course, by five seconds. The younger Kipsang looks to be a real threat in this race, as well as the world record at some point during his career, if not in Chicago 2014.

What may influence the finish order could have much more to do with how the Kenyans decide to deal with their long-time arch rivals the Ethiopians. As it stands the only (at press time) Ethiopian able to run the distance in this race with the Kenyans is Tsegaye Kebede.

Kebede ran quite a few marathons before he nailed one at this level, with his 2012 Chicago performance of 2:04:38, good enough for the win. His 2011 London and Fukuoka performances were legitimately excellent results being 2:05.18 and 2:05:19, respectively. His performances at shorter distances do not compare to the Kenyan’s mentioned above, perhaps like Kimetto, he is more suited to the marathon.

If the Kenyans try to make the pace fast early, to run the legs off of Kebede, then Kebede will be lucky to finish fourth, he will have to run his own race. It is anyone’s guess who would win in an all-out battle between the four athletes; however, the younger Kipsang appears to have the potential to surprise, reminiscent of the great countryman Sammy Wanjiru.

Predicted order of finish (caveat, adverse weather aside):

Geoffrey Kipsang – 2:03:30 – 2:03:45
Dennis Kimetto
Emmanuel Mutai
Tsegaye Kebede

One caveat about comparing performances from shorter distances to longer distances is in how much time and effort the athletes spend racing the shorter distances. For East Africans, who race primarily for prize purses, the marathon provides the biggest payday opportunity. The shorter distance events such as the 20K, half-marathon, 25K and 30K are excellent opportunities to test one’s fitness without incurring the muscle damage and general fatigue of the longer 42.195K marathon. The shorter races may be used more for training purposes, as the marathon is the ultimate goal. Additionally, Kenenisa Bekele, for example owns the world records for both the 5,000m and the 10,000m distances. Most East African marathon runners that are 30-years of age or younger, have spent much less time in this realm; hence it is often difficult to compare the two.

In regards to the Boston Marathon and its status as an illegal course for official record keeping purposes, it drops 140m from start to finish, which is outside the allowable net drop of 42m or 1m drop per km in distance. The course is laid out point-to-point, which means that on a favourable wind day, the runners are aided throughout.