The marathon has long been considered one of the highest athletic accomplishments for any individual to complete. A grueling, exerting 26.2-mile run is not easy for anyone, but some make it look like they are walking on air.
Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya has been the undoubted king of the marathon since he broke the world record with his 2:01:39 performance at the Berlin Marathon on Sept. 16, 2018. Kipchoge’s 2018 showing shattered Dennis Kimetto of Kenya’s previous record by one minute and 18 seconds: an astounding feat considering there had not been a world record break of over a minute in the marathon since Derek Clayton of Australia broke his own record in 1969 by one minute and three seconds.
Kipchoge’s record appeared to be untouchable when he ran the Berlin Marathon again on Sept. 25, 2022 and broke his own world record by 30 seconds, coming in at a time of 2:01:09. However, Kipchoge had recorded a faster time than that already. He became the first-ever human to record a marathon time faster than two hours on Oct. 12, 2019, finishing the 26.2 miles in 1:59:40.2, but Kipchoge’s infamous breaking of two hours is not ratified by the International Association of Athletics Federations as a world record due to the performance involving pacemakers and water delivery coming from coaches throughout the race. As of Oct. 7, 2023, the standing record was Kipchoge’s 2:01:09 performance at the flat coursed Berlin Marathon in 2022.
Thought to be untouchable, Kipchoge’s marathon time seemed to be unreachable by the current field of the world’s most elite runners, but Kelvin Kiptum of Kenya had more to say. Kiptum, at 23 years old, was sure to be a star when his marathon debut at the Valencia Marathon in December of 2022 resulted in him becoming just the third man to ever break two hours and two minutes in the marathon. Kiptum’s second marathon at the London Marathon saw him vault to a 2:01:25 mark: the second-fastest time in history. However, it was Kiptum’s third career marathon that wrote the 23-year-old into the record books.
Kiptum traveled to Chicago for the infamous Chicago Marathon: a race that tends to land in the top three annually of total finishers of all marathons worldwide. On Oct. 8, 2023, Kiptum lined up next to the world’s most elite runners at the start line, but it was he alone who crossed the finish line having made history. Kiptum marked a time of 2:00:35 with an average mile time of 4:36, making him the first man to go below two hours and one minute in an official marathon and effectively shattering Kipchoge’s previous world record by 34 seconds. Kiptum’s astounding mark made him the new world record holder of the fastest marathon time while also making history in more ways.
For the first time since 2002, the world record marathon time was broken somewhere other than at the Berlin Marathon. Kiptum becomes the first runner since 1999 to break the world record somewhere other than Europe while becoming the fifth straight Kenyan to hold the record, breaking the United States’ record of four straight runners to hold the title. A Kenyan runner has held the record since 2011 which is the longest time for any country to hold the record since an Australian runner held the record for 17 years from 1967 to 1984.
Kiptum officially joins running royalty with his impressive performance and has launched talk of who will break the record next and when it will be. More than anything, Kiptum’s race brings the record closer to the first ever breaking of the two-hour barrier in a record-eligible race. Fans have already begun theorizing which race it will be. Most running fans’ eyes look to the Berlin Marathon on Sept. 29, 2024, as Kiptum is yet to run Berlin: the home of 13 world record-setting marathon times. Kiptum has set a new precedent for marathon runners after reaching and surpassing, what most thought to be, an untouchable record set by Kipchoge as the world waits for the two-hour barrier to be officially broken.