The fall road racing season is off to an early start this year. The Berlin Marathon, which typically takes place on the last Sunday in September, is this weekend. Once again, the question leading up to the planet’s fastest marathon is: Will we see a new world record? After all, the last six times that the men’s mark was set, it happened in Berlin.
In the past, I’ve argued that too much to-do about fast times is not a winning formula when it comes to getting people excited for a race. I still feel that way, but this weekend, I’m also rooting for a new world record. This isn’t because I have a speed fetish, or because I’ve guzzled the marketing Kool Aid. No, I want to see a world record because I think it’s the only way that Eliud “Boss Man” Kipchoge, the Kenyan who is the greatest marathon runner in history, will ever run another competitive marathon in the U.S.
Kipchoge won the Chicago Marathon in 2014, when he was still solidifying his claim to the 26.2-mile throne. It was his first win in a Marathon Major and, after that, he never looked back, winning six consecutive Majors and counting. However, so far, Kipchoge has shown little interest in racing the two marquee marathons on this side of the Atlantic, Boston and New York. It’s no mystery why this is. Kipchoge wants the world record and that’s not going to happen in hilly, un-paced races like we have on the East Coast. (Boston, as running nerds will be quick to point out, isn’t a world record-eligible course anyway.) But if he can run faster than Dennis Kimetto’s current mark of 2:02:57 this Sunday in Berlin, there’s reason to hope that Kipchoge will be more inspired to run a victory lap through the five boroughs, or to take on the world’s oldest annual marathon.
There’s a precedent here, and his name is Haile Gebrselassie. Like Kipchoge, the two-time Olympic gold medalist is a top contender for the title of “best-distance-runner-ever.” At various points in his career, Gebrselassie held the world record in the 5,000-meters, the 10,000, and the marathon. However, it wasn’t until he had set two world records in the latter distance (in Berlin, of course) that Gebrselassie finally decided to run the New York City Marathon in 2010.
It didn’t go so well. Gebrselassie was 37 years old when he made his NYC debut, and he ended up dropping out of the race. Kipchoge, meanwhile, turns 34 in November. The best-case scenario is that he manages to sustain his already astounding level of dominance for two or three more years. The guy is so good, and it’s so much fun to watch him race—it would be a waste if we only got to see him compete in rabbited races on flat courses for the remainder of his career. Sure, there’s always the Olympics, but Tokyo 2020 is a long way off.
We never got to see what Gebrselassie could really do in New York. He was only lured over here by what must have been a princely appearance fee at a point in his career when his powers were clearly on the wane. It would be a shame if Kipchoge’s story followed a similar script. (To be fair, Gebrselassie still threw down a couple of insane performances after that DNF in New York, including an over-40 half-marathon world record that still stands.)
So here’s to hoping that the marathon gods are generous in the German capital. A few days out, the weather looks decent—around 60 degrees at the start. With any luck, Kipchoge will have some competition to push him late in the race, perhaps from ex-world record holder Wilson Kipsang, or a surprise challenger like last year’s Guye Adola—the Ethiopian marathon debutant who nearly pulled off the upset of the decade in 2017.
Of course, even if he does manage to break the world record on Sunday, there’s another factor when it comes to getting Kipchoge to run an American marathon: when your name is “Boss Man,” you don’t race for free. The BAA and the NYRR should be prepared to splurge in an effort to coax Kipchoge to our shores. You know that saying about how you only get so many chances at the marathon? It goes both ways.