Tigst Assefa Shatters Women’s Marathon World Record in Berlin


In the lead-up to the 2023 Berlin Marathon that occurred on Sunday, September 24, 2023, most people were honed in on watching how the Berlin Marathon men’s race would unfold.

After all, there tends to be somewhat of a bias towards greater interest or viewership in men’s running vs women’s running (or most men’s vs women’s sports at the elite level, for that matter).

But even more so than this gender bias, the 2023 Berlin Marathon men’s race was going to be particularly exciting given the fact that the Kenyan superstar marathon runner, 38-year-old Eliud Kipchoge, was taking a stab at winning his fifth Berlin Marathon, an accolade that no other runner has yet accomplished.

Arguably the best marathon runner in history, Kipchoge has truly become a household name among both recreational runners and everyday individuals who have an interest in running or sports alike.

However, while the 2023 Berlin Marathon men’s winner was indeed the indomitable Eliud Kipchoge from Kenya (you can read our coverage of Kipchoge’s victory at the 2023 Berlin Marathon here), the women’s race at the Berlin Marathon was equally exciting, if not potentially more impressive in some regards.

Ethiopia’s Tigst Assef ran an incredible new marathon world record for women, with a time of 2:11:53.

This lowers the previous women’s marathon world record of 2:14:04, which had been set by Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei at the 2019 Chicago Marathon, by a whopping two minutes and 11 seconds, and works out to an average marathon pace of just over five minutes per mile (about 5:01 per mile)!

Tigst Assefa ran an incredible race at the 2023 Berlin Marathon, showing a level of poise, racing experience, and fitness that blew her competition out of the water (winning by over six minutes!) and seemingly belies her young age of 26 years.

Although most people were shocked by just how amazing Tigst Assefa’s 2023 Berlin Marathon winning strategy and new world record marathon performance unfolded, this wasn’t 26-year-old Assefa’s first Berlin Marathon victory.

In fact, Tigst Assefa was also the 2022 Berlin Marathon women’s champion, so she was there to defend her title amongst a strong field of other female competitors this year.

However, the other women simply could not keep pace with Assefa’s dominance in the race.

It was interesting to see how the men’s and women’s 2023 BMW Berlin Marathon races unfolded in very different racing styles.

While the men strung out quickly and were slower than the world record pace, the opposite was true for the women.

For the first 5K of the race, there was a very large group of women who hung together in the front pack, crossing the 3.1-mile mark around 15:58. 

Even 10 km into the 42.26 km (26.2 mile) race, there were still about 13 women in potential contention for the lead, passing through the 10 km in 31:45.

The women were all ahead of the world record pace.

The front pack began to spread out a little bit over the next 5 km, with fellow Ethiopian compatriots, Assefa and Workenesh Edesa coming through the 15km of the fast Berlin Marathon course slightly ahead of the rest of the group.

Chasing somewhat behind was Sheila Chepkirui from Kenya and two more Ethiopian women, Senbere Teferi and Zeineba Yimer. 

Teceri was Ethiopia’s 2015 world 5000m silver medallist.

Still, 15 km into the race, there was still a group of about 12 women who were trailing the then leaders, somewhat strung out, but all running faster than the marathon world record pace.

At this point, Tigst Assefa truly began to show her command of the 2023 Berlin Marathon, as she continued to run under world record and pace while even her most formidable rivals started to fade.

Between kilometers 15 and 16 into the race, Assefa dropped a 2:59-km split, and kept on pushing the pace and widening the gap on the field of opponents.

By the time Tigst Assefa passed the 17km mark in Sunday’s Berlin Marathon, she had a decisive margin over her nearest female competitors.

When Tigst Assefa hit the halfway point in the 2023 Berlin Marathon, she was not only alone (aside from some male pacers), but her 1:06:20 half marathon split put her on track to break the marathon world record by over a minute and was currently 42 seconds ahead of world record pace.

Seemingly, seeing that her half marathon split was indeed ahead of where it needed to be to break the marathon world record for women catapulted Assefa to run even faster, much like a magical energy gel.

Indeed, Tigst Assefa only began to run faster and faster over the second half of the Berlin Marathon.

Ultimately, Ethiopia’s Tigst Assefa ran impressive negative splits (running the second half of the race faster than the first half) en route to breaking the marathon world record, covering the second half of the Berlin Marathon course in 1:05:33. 

As the defending champion of the Berlin Marathon—and sort of a surprising winner at last year’s race—Tigst Assefa dropped her 2022 Berlin Marathon winning time of 2:15:37 by nearly four minutes with this year‘s victorious performance.

In a post-race interview, the 2023 Berlin Marathon women’s champion, Tigst Assefa, said:

“I knew I wanted to go for the world record but I never thought I would do this time. It was the result of hard work.”

What’s amazing about Assefa’s new marathon world record time (pending ratification from World Athletics) of 2:11:53 is not just that it smashed the previous women’s marathon world record by over two minutes, but the fact that Assefa’s winning time would have won the first 11 editions of the Berlin Marathon outright, beating all of the men in the race as well.

Another super impressive aspect of Tigst Assefa’s 2023 Berlin Marathon race performance is that for the final 2 km of the race to the finish line (2.195km to be exact), Assefa’s split was only four seconds slower than Eliud Kipchoge’s (the 2023 Berlin Marathon men’s winner) split for the same exact part to the finish.

That is really amazing and goes to show how strong Assefa finished the marathon and chased down the world record marathon time.

To this end, Tigst Assefa likely has more leg speed than many of the top women marathoners in the world due to her track vs marathon running background.

Aside from her win at the 2022 Berlin Marathon, Ethiopian runner Assefa really only had notable race performances at the international level at shorter track distances.

Tigst Assefa was previously most well known for taking the gold medal at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio in the 800m, and she has a blazingly fast 800m PR of 1:59.24.

However, after winning the 2022 Berlin Marathon in what many people called a surprising upset, Assefa has actually only run one other race prior to toeing the line at the 2023 BMW Berlin Marathon yesterday (the Bahrain Royal Night Half Marathon last December, which she won in 1:07:40).

Tigst Assefa was planning to run the 2023 London Marathon in April, but she pulled out prior to the event due to injury, making her 2023 Berlin Marathon performance even more unprecedented. 

Behind the Ethiopian champion, Assefa, Sheila Chepkirui of Kenya took second place, with a time of 2:17:49, and Magdalena Shauri of Tanzania was third in 2:18:41. 

Charlotte Purdue of Great Britain was the first non-East African finisher in the 2023 Berlin Marathon, cracking the top 10 women by finishing ninth in 2:22:17.

Another cool thing is that the top eight women in the 2023 Berlin Marathon all ran under 2:20.

You can find the full results of the 2023 Berlin Marathon here.

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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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