The 2023 BMW Berlin Marathon on Sunday, September 24, 2023, did not disappoint in terms of being an exciting race for both the men and women at the elite level.
On the women’s side, Tigst Assefa shattered the women’s marathon world record by more than two minutes, becoming the first woman to ever break 2:12 in the marathon.
Pre-race hype was mainly focused on the highly-anticipated sixth appearance of Kenyan runner, Eliud Kipchoge, who has previously won the Berlin Marathon four times, setting the world record in two of those four victories.
His first stab at the Berlin Marathon was exactly one decade ago, in 2013, when Kipchoge was just one second behind the winner.
Part of the reason that there was a lot of excitement and intrigue to see how Kipchoge would fare at the 2023 Berlin Marathon was because the 38-year-old marathoner has not raced since the 2023 Boston Marathon back in April.
There, Kipchoge had a tough race and finished in a disappointing sixth place, a very rare occurrence for arguably the fastest marathon runner the world has ever seen and someone who is almost always extremely consistent.
However, running coaches and those who evaluate the performances of the fastest elite runners in the world often note that Eliud Kipchoge tends to run better on flat, fast marathon courses such as the Berlin Marathon.
Even Kipchoge, the two-time Olympic Champion, himself has said that the Berlin Marathon always feels like “coming home,“ pointing to the fact that he loves the Berlin Marathon race course, and has almost become part of the fabric of this particular Abbott World Marathon Major.
Well, Eliud Kipchoge certainly shone on his “home turf” (note that Kipchoge is not from Germany, but simply feels comfortable racing Berlin), as he became the first runner in history to win the Berlin Marathon five times.
Thus, while Kipchoge didn’t improve upon his current marathon world record, which he set at the 2022 Berlin Marathon, the BMW Berlin Marathon defending champion set a different kind of record, being the first runner in history to win the Berlin Marathon five times since its inaugural year in 1974.
This surpassed the record of winning the event four times, which he had previously tied with fellow Ethiopian marathon great, Haile Gebrselassie.
As one of the six Abbott World Marathon Majors, alongside the Tokyo Marathon, Chicago Marathon, New York City Marathon, London Marathon, and Boston Marathon, the Berlin Marathon is one of the biggest and most competitive marathons in the world and has continued to draw increasingly larger crowds and more competitive runners since its inaugural year in 1974.
The Berlin Marathon course is considered to be the fastest marathon course of all six World Marathon Majors, with the past eight men’s world records set on this course, and now, thanks to Ethiopian Tigst Assefa’s stunning performance in the women’s race on Sunday, the Berlin Marathon course is also where the current women’s marathon world record was set (2:11:53!).
A triumphant Eliud Kipchoge crossed the finish line of the 2023 Berlin Marathon yesterday, Sunday, September 24, 2023, with a winning time of 2:02:42.
The Kenyan broke the tape 31 seconds ahead of the men’s 2023 Berlin Marathon runner-up, fellow Kenyan marathoner, Vincent Kipkemboi, who finished in 2:03:13.
The third-place finisher in the 2023 Berlin Marathon men’s race was Tadese Takele of Ethiopia, who was 11 seconds off of second place, finishing in a time of 2:03:24.
If you look at the top 10 men at the 2023 Berlin Marathon, all but one are East African runners, hailing from either Kenya or Ethiopia, with the exception of the ninth-place finisher, Amanal Petros of Germany, who ran 2:04:58 in Sunday’s race in the capital city of his home country.
The East African dominance in the marathon distance is certainly not noteworthy in and of itself, as it is a well-known trend, but it is certainly interesting to see it actually play out in real-time during one of the biggest and most prestigious marathons in the world.
The BMW Berlin Marathon defending champion—Amos Kipruto, a Kenyan compatriot of the 2023 Berlin Marathon winner, Eliud Kipchoge—finished this year’s race in seventh place, with a time of 2:04:49.
One thing that was interesting about watching the 2023 Berlin Marathon is that the men’s and women’s races played out quite differently.
While the women stayed together in a pretty tight pack at least through the 15 km mark, the men spread out quickly from the gun.
Within the first three kilometers of the 42.16-km race, Kipchoge, Derseh Kindie, and three pacemakers had already opened quite a gap on the rest of the field with a chase pack somewhere behind them and then an even larger gap behind that.
Perhaps more of a stark contrast between the men’s and women’s 2023 Berlin Marathon races was the differences in pacing between top contenders of each respective gender.
While a good 15 women were well ahead of the world record pace through the 15 km mark of the 2023 Berlin Marathon, even Kipchoge and the pacesetters were already 16 seconds slower than marathon world record pace by 10 km into the race and a full 23 seconds off of marathon world record pace at the 16 km mark (where notably the women’s champion, Ethiopian Tigst Assefa, who went on to shatter the women’s marathon world record really started to break away in the women’s race).
In other words, the men were running slowly.
Kipchoge and Kindie were able to make up a bit of time over the next several kilometers to the halfway mark (13.1 miles), dropping the deficit from the world record pace by to 13 seconds, hitting the half split in 1:00:22.
Reportedly, at the 26km, Kipchoge actually spoke with the one remaining pacemaker, Hillary Chepkwony, about trying to pick up the pace.
Kipchoge did start to ratchet up the pace over the second half of the marathon, and while Kindie hung with Kipchoge for a good portion of the Sunday’s Berlin Marathon, by about the 30 km mark, Kipchoge had dropped everyone and was running alone.
While Kindie faded over the last 12 km of the race due to the aggressive start and then dropped out, the chase pack made up some distance, somewhat tightening the gap on Kipchoge.
However, it just wasn’t enough to even really question whether Eliud Kipchoge was going to be unable to cinch the victory and set the record for five total wins at the Berlin Marathon.
You might think that Kipchoge would be elated by winning the prestigious 2023 Berlin Marathon and sealing his fate as becoming the first runner to win the race an unprecedented five times in its nearly 40-year history.
However, truly demonstrative of his competitive drive, the 38-year-old, two-time Olympic gold medalist, Eliud Kipchoge, expressed dissatisfaction in his overall performance despite winning the 2023 Berlin Marathon, saying:
“It didn’t go as expected but that’s how sport is,” noting that he thought that he would break the marathon world record and that that was indeed one of his key goals. “I’ve learned lessons. I have won but I’ve not broken the world record. Every race is a learning lesson.”
Most likely, many distance runners can relate to the feeling that you should be thrilled with your performance in a race if you achieve something that is likely impressive to almost everyone else, but runners tend to have extremely high expectations and a competitive spirit themselves, which makes us disappointed when we are unable to check off every goal in a race that we have established.
That said, as Kipchoge clearly embodies what it means to be tenacious, the indomitable Kenyan marathon runner also noted that he will use the lessons and “experience“ that he garnered in the 2023 Berlin Marathon to inform his training and performance at the Olympic Marathon in Paris next year.
Eliud Kipchoge has stated that his big goal for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris is to become “the first human to win for the third time in history.”
Although Kipchoge is turning 39 on November 5 this year, it seems like age isn’t slowing Eliud Kipchoge down and has certainly done nothing to quell his determination to be the best marathon runner in history and be the best runner he can be himself.
You can find the full results of the 2023 Berlin Marathon here.