For the first time, the world record in the marathon is now under 2 hours and 3 minutes, after Dennis Kimetto of Kenya tore through the course at Sunday's Berlin Marathon. Kimetto, 30, says he wants to set a new record next year.
"I feel good because I won a very tough race," Kimetto said after the finish. "I felt good from the start and in the last few miles I felt I could do it and break the record. I believe I can improve it further. I'd like to return and try to break it again next year."
Kimetto's time of 2:02:57 sliced 26 seconds off the world record set by Wilson Kipsang in the same race last year. And it turned an extraordinary race by Emmanuel Mutai – who also set his own world record, with a 30km split time of 1:27:37 – into a second-place finish. Mutai's time of 2:03:13 also bested the previous world mark in the marathon.
Conditions in Berlin were favorable, with clear sunny skies and temperatures around 46 degrees Fahrenheit at the race's start. Conditions like that, and the course's overall flatness and good surface, help explain why the world mark has been set in Berlin more often than at any other marathon.
In the women's race, Ethiopia's Tirfi Tsegaye finshed first with a time of 2:20:18. American Shalane Flanagan came in third at 2:21:14, in a race that had been seen as a chance for her to break the U.S. record of 2:19:36.
The men's marathon mark fell despite early splits that were well off world-record pace before the pack of leading runners ramped it up. That set up a thrilling finish, as Runners World describes:
"At the 30-kilometer mark, the pacers stepped aside and the real race for the title began, with Emmanuel Mutai quickly ratcheting up the pace. Kimetto was the only one to properly cover the move, advancing swiftly into Mutai's slipstream.
"The pair covered the next 5K in a scorching 14:10, and by that point it became a question not of whether the world record would go, but by how much, and to whom? How incredibly refreshing it was that a race which has so often been built around one athlete chasing a fast time had morphed into an actual contest — two athletes out there on the road, head to head, with so much more than just the Berlin Marathon title at stake."
The world record now rests with Kimetto, who famously hadn't run seriously until just a few years ago, when he stopped working as a farmer and started training.
As The Chicago Tribune reported when Kimetto set a new Chicago marathon record last year, "Kimetto said he had been growing maize and tending a few cows until he began running about four years ago."
If you're curious about How One Kenyan Tribe Produces The World's Best Runners, you should read the story of that same name by NPR's Gregory Warner, from last November.