Are marathoners stupid?⏱
Lap 112: Sponsored by IRONMAN
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Turning it up to 373 degrees — Kelvin Kiptum! 🧯
It is hard to believe that Kelvin Kiptum and the rest of us are operating on an even playing field – did he have to get up at 5:40 am to squeeze in a 25-minute run before heading into the office to kick off the week? If you’re the most talented marathoner of all time – and this 23-year-old might just be that – then maybe having a bad case of the Mondays simply doesn’t impact performance.
Leading up to the Boston Marathon my go-to quip when discussing the favorites was, ‘is Valencia a real place?’ in reference to Amane Beriso’s 2:14:58 there, which seemingly had come out of nowhere. Well, Bersio’s performance was further validated when she finished second to Hellen Obiri, granted it was in a time seven minutes slower than what she ran in Valencia. Compared to most major marathon courses that are designed to run past major tourist attractions, or to hit every borough, this seaside Spanish city was seemingly built with elite runners in mind.
The Valencia Marathon is responsible for five of the top 15 fastest times ever on both the men’s and women’s sides. But it hasn’t historically attracted the big names, instead operating more like a minor league testing ground. The formula goes: prove yourself in Valencia, then get your appearance fee from a major. That’s what 2020 champion Evans Chebet did after running 2:03:00, at least.
Kenya’s Kelvin Kiptum only had one marathon to his credit entering Sunday’s London Marathon, but it was a doozy. Prior to winning his debut at the distance in Valencia last December in 2:01:53 – the third fastest marathon ever – 99% of you would have never heard his name. He appeared seemingly out of thin air in 2018, bypassing the track entirely, with his first result (according to the World Athletics database) being a win in 1:02:01 at the Eldoret Half Marathon. Not a bad start for the then 18-year-old!
Before Kiptum’s debut, he had run six half marathons under the hour mark, with a best of 58:42 (in Valencia – where else?). And although he did beat the defending world champion Tamirat Tola, it wasn’t the full field of a World Marathon Major. That was the storyline heading into the London Marathon: he’s run fast, but aside from a big name here or there, hasn’t beaten a top-tier field.
One of the many excuses that Kipchoge-heads came up with after Boston was that the Nike rubber didn’t grip well in the rain in comparison to the Adidas tire-inspired tread. With wet conditions in London, that theory would be put to the test and ultimately dispelled. At one point in the broadcast, I overheard the commentator mention that London is not considered a fast course – which is false. It’s not Valencia, but the world record has been run there on seven occasions!
And when a pack of eight came through halfway in 61:40, it was clear something special – Valencia-level special, even – was happening. Around mile 19, Kiptum missed his bottle and responded by throwing down a violent surge to break away from the field. Like, imagine you're a marathoner. You're prancing along. You get thirsty. You spot a little water table. You put your little runner lips to the cool clear water… bam! A fucking bullet rips off part of your head! That’s what happened.
Kiptum ran 27:50 for that 10K, and it was never more obvious that he is self-coached than it was at that moment. He would not stop looking back and there was no old Italian man waiting to yell at him afterward for doing so. It was also demonstrative of how inexperienced he is in the marathon. A seasoned veteran would know there won’t be a soul coming with you en route to a 59:45 second half. Notably, 2:01:25 is the second fastest time ever, and Kipchoge’s world record of 2:01:09 was set in a much different way; his second half was 61:18.
Now just one week after I felt quite certain about Evans Chebet being the world’s best marathoner, Kiptum has cast a whole lotta doubt over that belief. We only have two points of reference for Kiptum, and as much as we want to use head-to-head wins as the driving data point, it is hard to ignore the pure sex appeal of a career batting average of 2:01:39.
The margin of victory over Geoffrey Kamworor (2:04:23) was almost three minutes, which is significantly greater than Chebet’s 10 seconds over Geay. Now Kamworor hasn’t been in this form since winning New York in 2019, but his body of work is certainly more impressive. My highly scientific Twitter poll found that 52% of track fans give Kelvin Kiptum the edge, and 48% favor Evans Chebet. The debate will press on until the two finally meet, perhaps in Berlin. The winner will undoubtedly be the best marathoner in the world, and likely the fastest ever.
How Sifan Hassan accidentally won London 😧
While the best runners in the world are all clearly talented, every once in a while you see something that reminds you that even at the top of the heap, there’s a range of ability levels. In 2019 we got our first true glimpse of the Sifan Hassan show, and even compared to the cream of the crop, she was just built different. Winning double gold happens on occasion, but it’s extremely rare to do so in events as far apart as the 1500 and 10,000m.
The tools one must simultaneously possess to run 3:51.95 in a third round of a championship to out kick Faith Kipyegon are vastly different from the aerobic strength required to run away from Letesenebet Gidey in a 10,000m. In one fell swoop, Hassan defeated the biggest and baddest final bosses on their respective home turf.
But things got even crazier in Tokyo when she strolled into the Olympic Games with the chutzpah of a D1 recruit being forced to use a high school dual meet as a workout. Although Hassan walked away with two gold medals from the 5,000 and 10,000, and a bronze at 1500, the most viral moment of her career – up til now – followed after a fall with 400m to go in the semi-final. You almost certainly know how it ends, but it’s worth the 60 seconds to watch it again.
If nothing else, it’s a good reminder that if anyone can come to a complete stop in against the best in the world and still pull off a win, it’s Sifan Hassan. Before the race Hassan was a quote machine designed to throw any potential bookmakers off her scent. She had made it quite clear that this was not a permanent move up in distance and that training for 26.2 was not to interfere with her summer track plans.
“It is my first marathon so I can’t really say how I will do. I don’t have a time in mind, or a place. I just want to finish the race and see what happens.”
Not exactly the sort of calm confidence you would expect from the reigning Olympic 10,000m champion. Maybe it was the fact that she had been running 120 mile weeks during long periods of fasting for Ramadan. Or that the London Marathon was being touted as the deepest women’s field ever assembled, with the likes of Brigid Kosgei (who would drop out in the first few minutes), the Olympic champion Peres Jepchirchir, and the defending champion Yalemzerf Yehualaw all headlining.
Halfway into the race, as the leaders came through in 1:08:29, Hassan was about 50 meters behind as she had stopped to stretch her quads multiple times. Generally, that would be the death knell for a successful marathon But in this case, it gives the rest of us plebes permission to do something similar. Need to walk to get down some water at mile 20? Don’t be a tough guy! If Siffan Hassan can stop for a stretch and still earn her 26.2 bumper sticker, then so can you.
Despite falling as far as 25 seconds behind the lead group, Hassan clawed her back as they unknowingly took their feet too far off the gas pedal. With less than two miles to go and on the wrong side of the road, Hassan took a sharp right turn and b-lined it to the drinks station. She then casually offered a sip to Yehualaw – kill ‘em with kindness, I guess!
As the contenders came around Buckingham Palace, everyone who used a VPN to watch the race was on the edge of our seats (okay, I was half asleep in bed), contemplating the advantages of owning a 1:56 800m personal best in a final sprint. And to much surprise, but also none at all, Sifan Hassan won the London Marathon in 2:18:33.
The most endearing aspect of Sifan’s race is how seemingly human she came across despite achieving something that is so far from ordinary. Her glee and disbelief in her post-race interview were so charming and relatable, and this effort will likely turn her into a bigger cult hero than any on-track medal ever could.
"I’m so stupid. Why am I playing this kind of game? Why the hell am I thinking that I want to run a marathon? What is wrong with me?"'
That’d make a good coffee mug.
In partnership with BANDIT Running
Bandit was founded by members of the NYC running community in October 2020. Together with the growing support of runners from all different clubs and crews from around the city and beyond, Bandit grew into the brand it is today. Bandit is and always will be community-first. As a result, Bandit is inherently inclusive of all runners regardless of pace or experience.
The most polarizing topic I’ve written about since starting up The Lap Count was my own marathon training ahead of the New York Marathon. (If you were on team “stick to sports… well, sports that don’t involve you specifically,” don’t worry, this won’t turn into that.) But about a month ago my friends at Bandit offered their tentative support for any racing plans I might have this spring. My long-winded response was that while I would be racing, I wouldn’t be racing all that seriously.
Allow me to explain.
I will never be the runner that I once was. Accepting that has afforded me many great nights of sleep – or as great of sleep as you can have with a one-and-a-half-year-old in the house. Surely there are readers of this newsletter that have found some similar, sport-specific peace after reflecting on an idealized college version of themselves then the lifetime of injuries that person is still subjecting them to.
After enjoying a well-balanced build-up last fall, leading to two mediocre and not fully satisfying results, I made the decision to take the winter off.
Okay, so not completely off. I still ran most days. But for the first time in my life, I stopped being cruel to myself for missing days. It isn’t the most unique personality trait to hate running in the cold, but only real daylight lovers – real sun heads – know that it’s the winter darkness that really crushes your soul.
There is such a big difference between a 7am pre-work winter run in the dark and a post-two beers summer night jog around the neighborhood that they might as well be two unique sports. So I made the choice to stop forcing runs and to go by feel, which basically meant, “two miles will have to do, because this sucks.” But occasionally I would get suckered into a workout of substance by a friend or because the sun was out.
So I signed up for a local half marathon in hopes that it’d relight the spark. No dice.
After averaging 30 miles per week for three months, standing on the starting line, fitness was a huge question mark. The pace started out conservatively but once I could sense the finish line, I rallied to close things down. But still, my ass was properly kicked. I finished in the second half of the field in 69:00, and was handily beaten by many athletes who have never had to piss in a cup for USADA. (Which draws many question marks about the legitimacy of those performances!)
My transformation from the self-obsessed professional runner with delusions of Olympic medals to a guy who is just happy to have not thrown up is just about complete. It is kind of like reading an Animorphs book backward. I have stopped placing limits on myself – not in a cool Kipchoge way, but more in like a, “it doesn’t really matter what happens here because the result isn’t important to me anymore” way.
It was enlightening to finally be detached from the number next to your name. I was buzzing afterward just for being part of that atmosphere and seeing so many friends in one place in a single morning. And I know for some readers this probably seems like an obvious and dull epiphany, but I have always approached this sport from the perspective of it being solely performance-based. And I have finally tasted the satisfaction of receiving a participation medal, and I didn’t hate it.
This weekend I’ll be running Broad Street in Philadelphia because every review I have ever heard about it has been overwhelmingly positive. To set myself up for the best experience possible, the goals are soft and attainable. Maybe that’s a defense mechanism. Maybe that’s just the healthiest way possible to enjoy a lifelong relationship with the sport. If I figure it out while running 10 miles in a perfectly straight line on Sunday, I’ll let you know.
USATF Road Mile Champs 1️⃣
While I have made a career of complaining about there being too many USATF road championships, I’m willing to concede that the mile can stay. Road miles create the perfect intersection between community runners and elite track and field athletes. Unlike races of 5 kilometers or longer, a mile is short enough that it can be broken up into heats so that the hobbyists can stick around after their own race to enjoy the professionals.
It is not easy to convince recreational runners who enjoy a weekly road race to move to the track – trust me, I have tried. Although, Long Islanders are known for their fierce stubbornness and enjoying thinly cut chicken cutlets. So this is a great example of meeting potential fans where they are at.
From a logistical standpoint, shutting down one mile of downtown Des Moines is significantly easier than an entire city for a marathon. And thanks to mass participation and relatively low costs to put on the race, there are nice incentives for participants through appearance fees, or if you’re now two-time winner Nikki Hiltz, $5,000 for the win plus an additional $2,500 for running 4:28 to break the course record.
Additionally, distance runners love to dust off the cobwebs on the roads because it’s low pressure, and it’s pretty easy to convince yourself that the winners only beat you because they got lucky by not stepping into that pothole.
Now these milers aren’t exclusively in town to hit a road mile and try to get a photo op with a cow made of butter. No, plenty of these athletes were going to be in Des Moines anyway this weekend for the Drake Relays. And that’s how you get a loaded field to partake in a race like this – fit it around their already hectic travel schedule.
And the last reason I give my seal of approval for the road mile championships is because unlike the 25K, this is now an official World Athletics event. Not only does it count towards 1500m runner’s rankings, but the first edition of the World Athletics Road Running Championships (which includes the mile, 5k, and half marathon) will be taking place in Latvia at the end of September.
In fact, World Athletics will certify an official World Record for the road mile once someone breaks 3:50* on an approved course (not Fifth Avenue). Unfortunately, Sam Prakel’s winning time of 4:01 in Iowa didn’t quite make the cut – two missed World Records in one week… Hopefully, that fourth US title is a source of emotional comfort for him during these difficult times.
*I could not find any literature about this on the Internet, but it was said on the broadcast.
Kids these days! 😵💫
How fast is 0.6 meters per second, really? Because if the wind was moving just the tiniest bit slower, then Issam Asinga’s 100m time would have DESTROYED the high school national record of 10.00. The Montverde Academy senior ran 9.83 (+2.6) in Florida this weekend, and it sent ripples across the track world.
The time itself is of course incredible, but the man in second was none other than the American record holder over 200m, Noah Lyles. Now 9.92 seconds in a bubble is a great time for a professional in April and sets the World Champion up well for the postseason. (A race that’s only viewable via footage from an iPhone should hardly be considered the championship season.)
Of course, when you are the best in the world, the trolls are going to take every opportunity possible to be dismissive. There were already question marks about Lyles’ ability to do the 100m/200m double in Budapest, and even a breakthrough 6.51 performance in the 60m wasn’t satisfying for all. And Noah, being a fellow Internet guy, heard those comments and answered via Instagram:
“I’ll say this once…Issam Asinga is very talented and he is peaking for states which is coming soon. I’m peaking for worlds in August 19th.”
Asinga indirectly responded in a story that the goal has been Worlds the whole time. Doesn’t this all feel familiar? It was only a year ago that Erriyon Knighton, then in high school, ran 19.49 during April with every critic with a Twitter account writing off Lyles as the best gold medal hope for the US. Granted, Erriyon held on quite well for bronze!
But there is a difference between saying that you are training to peak at Worlds and having done it many times before. Only time will tell how it unfolds, but two things are for certain: Lyles is exactly where he needs to be right now in his own build-up. This performance surpasses where he has been at this point in the season in years past. And whether or not Asinga runs faster this year, let alone wins a medal at Worlds – he is the real deal.
Now the question remains: who does Issam represent there? If you want to know how an 18-year-old is running so fast, then look no further than his Olympian parents. His father, Tommy, was an 800m runner for Suriname, and his mother, Ngozi, was a 400m runner for Zambia. Get this kid in a 600 – and in a US singlet please!
Rapid Fire Highlights 🔥
Kelvin Kiptum’s total prize money directly from the London Marathon totaled $230,000, not including any potential appearance fees or contract bonuses. However, despite wearing a full Nike kit on Sunday he is currently in a contract dispute with the Chinese shoe company Qiaodan Sports.
In her first race since joining Puma Elite, Konstanze Klosterhalfen doubled back after notching a 2:05 result in the 800 to win the Wake Forest Invite 1500 in 4:06.39, over Angel Piccirillo (4:07) and Katelyn Tuohy (4:08).
Although Keira D’Amato was initially scheduled to race the London Marathon prior to an injury, she still raced close to home, winning the Monument Avenue 10K in 32:47.
The World Indoor Championship standards for Glasgow 2024 have been announced. Seems like a good opportunity for Americans to head over to sample some haggis.
Unfortunately, Eilish McColgan was a late scratch due to a knee injury from her long-awaited marathon debut in London. In her announcement, she had a curious line about how organizers told her that she wouldn’t be allowed to race due to a sponsor conflict. Apparently, the conflict was between Lucozade and her personal affiliation with Science In Sport. Both are great options for fueling, but have you ever tried OLIPOP? (Use code CITIUS25)
The University of Washington and Canada’s shared athlete Kieran Lumb, whose personal best is 3:52 for the mile, has signed a contract with On.
Australian Olympian Jess Hull shared that she will no longer be representing the Union Athletic Club or be based in the United States, as she plans to make a permanent move back home. Her post was full of class as she parts with the team on good terms.
The 2012 Olympic gold medalist and 17x US pole vaulting champion Jenn Suhr is returning to her alma mater, Roberts Wesleyan University, to coach. Fun fact: Suhr started vaulting when she was 22 and just ten months later was a national champion.
Look, we all have been a leg of a much-hyped-up 4 x mile team at some point in our lives and thought we’d finally be the ones to crack the World Record of 15:49.08 set in 1985. (Those guys didn’t even have super shoes!) But an ex-Duck all-star team ran 16:07.83 at the Oregon Relays, proving once again that this is the most unbreakable record in all of sports. And while I appreciate the lights person at Hayward Field’s attempt to innovate, the non-stop strobes throughout the two-day meet made this event borderline unwatchable and was a hazard to those plagued with the mildest cases of epilepsy.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen! The Payton Jordan Invitational used to be THE place to run fast 10,000m races but this year there was just one woman who finished. The 5,000m wasn’t quite what it used to be either, depth-wise, although Argentina’s Federico Bruno (13:11) and Venezuela’s Joselyn Daniely Brea (15:05) each ran the fastest time in the world this outdoor season and set national records.
Kenya’s Bernard Koech (2:04:09) and Dorcas Tuitoek (2:20:09) won the Hamburg Marathon. The finish of the women’s race was as dramatic as they come, as eventual runner-up Tiruye Mesfin stumbled over a timing mat while in the lead with thirty seconds left in the race.
Aleia Hobbs started out the weekend hot, lowering her season best to a new world leading time of 10.86 (+1.9), but later that day Shericka Jackson posted a 10.82 (-0.1) in Jamaica.
If you are considering bidding on the 2027 World Championships then may I suggest reading this evaluation of the investment for Oregon? The event had an economic impact of $153M, while the state of Oregon saw roughly a 2:1 return on the $40M investment in terms of media exposure. I don’t know what to make of these numbers that some consulting agency got paid to guesstimate. But for reference, this year’s Super Bowl had over $600M of economic impact. The biggest takeaway should be that the US only had the fifth most hours watched behind Japan, China, Great Britain, and Nigeria.
World Champion Brooke Andersen threw the hammer 79.80m for the third farthest mark in history. Only DeAnna Price and Anita Wlodarczyk are ahead of her, meaning the three best to ever do it are currently active.
WHAT TO WATCH 📺
PENN RELAYS (4/27 - 4/29) - Flotrack - Results
DRAKE RELAYS (4/26 - 4/29) - RunnerSpace - Results
GABORONE CONTINENTAL TOUR (4/29) - Normally this would be on Flotrack but it’s not listed on their schedule…Isn’t following track and field fun! I’ll tweet it out (@TheRealMerb) when I figure it out.
Thank you to IRONMAN for sponsoring this week’s newsletter! I am not feeling super confident in my ability to swim 2.4 miles right now, but maybe one day…