Readers Roundtable: Kipchoge or Kosgei?

GavelIn case you missed it, this was a pretty all-around amazing weekend for running.

First, Eliud Kipchoge bettered his own time to become the first human to run a marathon in less than two hours. Then Brigid Kosgei smashed the long-standing women’s world record in the marathon by running 2:14:04 in Chicago.

Which is more impressive?

You be the judge.

Let’s lay out the facts of the two runs.


The background:

  • Ran 1:59:40 early Saturday morning in the INEOS 1:59 Challenge, a non-record-eligible time trial event
  • Current world record holder (2:01:39, set in the 2018 Berlin Marathon)
  • Previously ran a 2:00:25 in Nikeโ€™s Breaking2 project in 2017; not a sanctioned record
  • Instead of a traditional fall marathon, opted for a tailor-made exhibition event designed specifically to optimize conditions for breaking that 2 hour barrier.

Yes, but… he had the benefit of all of this:

  • A flat 9.6-kilometer circuit in Vienna, chosen after a worldwide search using software to find locations that have ideal parameters in temperature, humidity, air pressure, wind speed, elevation, and precipitation at this time of year
  • A race date and time determined based on optimum conditions (oh, how lovely that would be!)
  • Mobile fueling from a cyclist
  • Alternating cast of 41 pacers, including Olympic medalists

The above means that this will NOT be recognized as a world record by IAAF.


The background:

  • Repeated top honors in the Chicago Marathon Sunday, running 2:14:04 for a new women’s world record in the marathon
  • ICYMI, that would be a world record by 81(!) seconds
  • Won the 2018 London Marathon in 2:18:20
  • Oh, and BTW, her second-half split of 1:06:42 in that race was the fastest in history
  • Won last year’s Chicago Marathon in a then-PR of 2:18:35

Yes, but…

  • Kosgei ran with two dedicated (male) pacers for much of the race
  • The record she broke? 2:15:25, set in 2003 in London by Paula Radcliffe. This record has sat virtually unchallenged for 16.5 years
  • When we say “virtually unchallenged”, like, for real real. No other women ran sub-2:17, let alone sub-2:16.
  • Over the years, there have been doping allegations against Radcliffe. She was cleared of them in 2015, but the record still seemed suspicious to some in the running community.
  • Represented by Federico Rosa. Many of his biggest stars (Rita Jeptoo, Jemima Sumgong, Asbel Kiprop) have been busted for doping. Like the questions circling around former Nike Oregon Project athletes due to the recent AlSal ban, this leaves a bit of a uncertainty in the air.

They both wore the same unreleased Nike shoes.

What do you think? Which feat is more impressive? Or do you have doubts?

Southern transplant who loves 90s boy bands, outdoor adventures and college basketball, although not necessarily in that order. Recovering running perfectionist.

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  1. Kosgei actually wore the pink Vaporfly Next Percents which were available to the public on Oct. 10th – a few people (not sponsored elites) had them at a half I ran on Sunday.

  2. Kipchoge โ€” and his pacers โ€” also had a laser line on the road that basically kept them on pace. The on-the-road equivalent of setting your treadmill to a speed and just staying with it. It’s a phenomenal athletic feat, to be sure. And I’m glad it’s inspiring a bunch of people. I’m just … not one of them. I’ve thought 2 hours was possible since Haile Gebrselassie went under 2:04 in 2008 โ€” and I would’ve been way more excited to see it happen in an actual race.

    Radcliffe’s women’s WR has always perplexed me, for lack of a better way to describe it. There’s no evidence it’s not legit other than the fact it’s REALLY FAST and nobody has touched it for a long time. But, before this weekend, when people would contemplate what a women’s equivalent experience to breaking 2 might be, I felt like 2:17 was really the starting point. A focused effort to see if multiple women could run multiple 2:17s on different courses at different times. Consistent 2:17 performances. There’s been such a gap between Radcliffe’s WR and the top times over the past 16+ years. Closing that gap seemed like a worthwhile endeavor for both athletes and sponsors. And you know what? I still think that. Like Radcliffe, there’s speculation around Kosgei … but no proof. But I’d be more excited to see a bunch of women popping under 2:18 โ€” and we’re in such a strong place with our American women right now I’d love to see some focused efforts at Kastor’s record … even though I love Deena!

  3. Sadly, I am suspicious about every extreme running performance. How is anyone supposed to believe any of these athletes arenโ€™t doping?

    1. Yes, agree. I am just, in general, suspicious of both womenโ€™s records. And, with the full crew of pacers etc for Kipchoge, itโ€™s cool, but not in the way that it would be if it had been at, say, Chicago. Perhaps this makes me a huge Debbie downer?

    2. Yep, I agree, too. Cynical or just realistic? Sometimes I really think, welp, now we know what humans can do with the right combination of banned substances in their bodies.