London Marathon: Who will win Eliud Kipchoge or Kenenisa Bekele?

Putting aside fitness speculation, the question could be, if both are in the same shape and if all else is equal, who will win? This is an almost impossible question to answer. Bekele is older by three years at 38 to Kipchoge being 35. Bekele has arguably run a better marathon at 2:01:41 because the weather in Berlin in 2019 was not as favourable as the weather was for Kipchoge in 2018.

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Eliud Kipchoge and Kenenisa Bekele, the two greatest marathon runners of all-time, will toe-the-line October 4, 2020, in London. They will race over a one-mile loop that their agent Jos Hermens said is likely faster than the London Marathon course. It apparently measures approximately 1.9-kilometres or 1.18-miles. The loop would have to be run just over 22 times.

Eliud Kipchoge KEN, at the Iffley road running track on the 30th April 2019.
Photo: Thomas Lovelock for london marathon events

The two have run the marathon within two seconds of each other. Kipchoge’s best is 2:01:39 from the 2018 Berlin Marathon, while Bekele followed the next year with a 2:01:41.

Hermens told Let’s Run.com, “If we would have done [the INEOS 1:59 Challenge in] London, this would have been the lap. The weather was too insecure, that’s how we ended up in Vienna.” (Now That Kipchoge vs Bekele is Set, The Question Is — Are They in Shape? Jonathan Gault, Aug. 10, 2020).

Hermens goes on to say, “it’s a very good lap” and that it should be faster than the regular London Marathon course. Faster, perhaps, even than Berlin. But he stops short of predicting any sort of record, a note of caution in his voice.

“We have to see the shape of the athletes,” Hermens says.

Who Will Win?

Putting aside speculation on fitness, the question could be, if both are in the same shape and if all else is equal, who will win?

This is an almost impossible question to answer. Bekele is older by 2.5 years at 38 to Kipchoge being 35. Bekele has arguably run a better marathon at 2:01:41 because the weather in Berlin in 2019 was not as favourable as the weather was for Kipchoge in 2018, for their respective bests.

Additionally, the way Bekele ran the marathon was good but was not optimal. He finished the second half in the time of 60:36, which is just three seconds shy of Kipchoge’s second half, but he had to drop a furious effort to get out of the hole that he was slipping into. At one point, he was 13 seconds outside of the goal of 2:01:39 well after the half and sitting in third place behind Birhanu Legese and Sisay Lemma.

Kenenisa Bekele sporting the NN Running Team kit after finishing the 2019 Berlin Marathon in 2:01:41

They ran their respective performances similarly until after halfway. The first 5K was the same 15:24. At the half, they were one second apart, 61:05 and 61:06. At 30K, Bekele was back by 10 seconds at 1:26:55 to Kipchoge’s 1:26:45. At 40K, Bekele was ahead by two seconds 1:55:30 to 1:55:32. It was that push between 30-40K that did Bekele in (if you want to call being done in when running a 2:01:41).

On a day comparable to 2018 and perhaps racing against Kipchoge, Bekele would have likely run faster than he did, perhaps much more than the two seconds left to get the record. Saying this, Kipchoge may have run faster too, that is if he had Bekele to deal with until the finish line.

A Little History

Kipchoge is the only person to run under two hours when he did so in Vienna in a time trial effort that was highly orchestrated with multiple world-class pacers, a pace car, the perfect route and perfect conditions.

Kipchoge has won eight consecutive major marathons after 2013 including Chicago once, Berlin three times and London four times.

Ten times he has run 2:05:00 or faster and owns the 1st, 3rd, 9th and 15th fastest marathons all-time. The 15th fastest was run in the time of 2:03:32.

Bekele currently owns the second-fastest at 2:01:41 and the 8th fastest at 2:03:03 and continues to own the world 5,000m (12:37.35) and 10,000m records (26:17:53) from 2004 and 2005, respectively.

He is an 11-time World Cross Country Championships gold medallist. Six times the long race and five the short.

Head to head, Kipchoge has defeated Bekele all four times in the marathon distance.

There is no telling who will prevail on Oct. 4 in London. Should the two race to the end, right down the final finishing stretch, Bekele just may have the edge. However, if Bekele doesn’t channel Kipchoge’s Buddha-like calm and pacing, there may be no finishing sprint to watch. Let’s hope they both get themselves into very good shape.

St. James Park loop. To the left is Buckingham Palace. The loop is approximately 1.9K or 1.18-miles

SHOESTRINGS: The map shows the loop at St. James Park in London. There are three sharp 90-degree-like turns and three soft turns, which means that over the 22.20 laps, the runners will have to navigate 66 near 90-degree turns and 66 softer turns.

The regular London course has approximately 26 sharp turns, while Berlin has 24.

While a loop course will provide repetitive splits to work against, the slowing around corners could in theory add time. The physical act of turning could cause a yet-to-be-determined amount of added effort.

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