I Believe Eliud Kipchoge Can Fly

I thought I ran pretty fast. No. Eliud Kipchoge is fast.

This past weekend, I ran my first organized race since breaking my foot back in May. I successfully avoided being bitten by a seagull, and also had a pretty good run. During the ~200 mile multi-person relay, I ran 3 separate legs, completing 19.11 miles in 2 hours, 11 minutes, and 58 seconds.

Pretty good, pretty good

As you can see, that works out to a pace of 6:54 per mile. After losing three entire months to my injury, I’d only been back to running for about six weeks, so I was pretty pleased with this. Then, however, I heard about Eliud Kipchoge’s weekend. At Saturday’s Berlin Marathon, the Kenyan distance runner set a new world record when he ran 26.2 miles in 2 hours, 1 minute, and 39 seconds.

Oh. Oh, I see.

Kipchoge ran over 7 miles farther than I did, and he did it in substantially less time. That’s ridiculous. Look at that pace! He ran a mile in 4:38, and then did it 25 more times after that, and then still ran another 2/10ths of a mile! The mind reels.

You probably know a 4:38 mile is fast, but just how fast is it? Well, it would require laps of just 70 seconds around a 400-meter track, which I don’t believe I could manage even once. It’s also 17.5 second 100-meter dashes, which I suspect is around the limit of what I could pull off a single time, at a full-on sprint. My most recent half-marathon placed me in the 98th percentile for speed in the world, yet even as fairly fast distance runner, I could only manage to sustain Kipchoge’s marathon pace for a handful of seconds. The chasm between elite distance runners and the rest of us is vast and humbling.

But even among the elites of the world, Kipchoge seems to be in a class by himself. Setting a new world record is a tremendous accomplishment, but Kipchoge actually managed to obliterate the old record in spectacular fashion. As a record time gets lower, it should naturally be harder to break, and it should be broken by smaller and smaller increments. Instead, Kipchoge’s time shattered the old marathon record by a full 78 seconds, the biggest drop by any man in over half a century. Vernon Loeb had a great Atlantic piece discussing the beauty of this run, which is well worth a read for what it says about human achievement. Eliud Kipchoge is a marvel. His performance shows us the incredible things humans are capable of, while simultaneously making me only just a little ashamed to label myself a “runner”.

But hey, at least both Eliud Kipchoge and I are both faster than Massachusetts traffic.

A traffic sign showing it'll take 78 minutes to drive 11 miles
That’s a pace of over 7 minutes per mile. In a car.
[Photo courtesy of P. Kafasis]