Kipsang on a marathon song

The Kenyan champion sets the bar higher after smashing the world record in Berlin

Kipsang on a marathon song

Berlin has become a kind of autobahn for marathon running, with seemingly no limits on speed, no strictures on the swift wonder of putting one foot in front of the other for 26.2 miles faster than any competitor who has come before.

Last Sunday, Wilson Kipsang of Kenya set a world record of 2 hours 3 minutes 23 seconds at the Berlin Marathon. He shaved 15 seconds off the previous record of 2:03:38, set two years ago in Berlin by his countryman Patrick Makau, who did not participate this time because of injury.

This was the sixth time the men’s world record has been set since 1998 on a Berlin course known for its flatness, cool and dry weather and the orchestration of record attempts.

When Makau ran his fastest time in 2011, pacesetters formed a V-shaped wing ahead of him that suggested migrating geese. Twice, the women’s world record also has been set in Berlin since 1999 on a looped course that begins and ends near the Brandenburg Gate.
Paul Tergat of Kenya won in Berlin in 2003 in a then-record 2:04:55. Kipsang, 31, said he had watched that race and dreamed of his own record victory.

“And now I have achieved the dream,” Kipsang said and revealed that he knows Tergat closely.

“I know him very well, we are from the same area, almost family. When he broke the World record here ten years ago, I was just starting training.

“He talked to me a lot, advising me on how I should train, how I should discipline myself, and I really tried to follow what he said.”

Kipsang patiently hung near the rear of the lead pack of 8-10 runners, assured in knowing that the pacesetters were part of his training group. They reached the halfway point in 1:01:32. At about 35 kilometers, or 21.7 miles, with the pace about 20 seconds slower than Makau’s record time, Kipsang surged to the front and eventually subdued all challengers. After two years of trying, he had the world record to himself.

“You need a leader,” Kipsang said about the training group and his role in it. “When you have a group of people, they disagree, so I say, ‘guys, we’re going to do an hour and ten minutes, and this is the route’. For those guys to accept your opinion, you need to have done it yourself and been successful. Then leadership comes automatically.”

In 2011 at the Frankfurt Marathon, Kipsang, running elegantly and carrying his arms low, challenged Makau’s record. But he missed by only four seconds with a finish of 2:04:42. At the time, it was the second-fastest marathon ever run.

Kipsang then won the 2012 London Marathon and became a favorite at the London Olympic Games. But the Olympic race came on a hot and humid day on a course with so many turns it must have seemed at times like a Formula One race. Kipsang settled for a bronze medal while Stephen Kiprotich, a Ugandan who trains in Kenya, won the gold.

Kipsang was scheduled to run the 2012 New York City Marathon last November and had arrived in the city along with tens of thousands of other runners, only to learn that the race had been canceled after Hurricane Sandy. Elite marathon runners generally run only two marathons a year, which means each race is hugely important to their potential earnings. Kipsang was attempting his third marathon in an Olympic year. He missed out on a chance at the $130,000 prize for first place.

“I was a little disappointed when there was no race, but we saw on TV that there was a lot of destruction and loss of life,” Kipsang said in an interview at the time. “We understand.”

In Berlin Kipsang won $54,000 in prize money and $68,000 in bonus money for the world record. And he prevailed in front of previous world-record holders from Berlin on hand to mark the race’s 40th year.“Looking at my marathon progress and career so far, I still think I have the potential to run faster,” Kipsang said. “Anything under 2:03:23 would do. I will try my best to still break the record, but I will also go for a World or Olympic title,” he said. “Whichever comes first.”

After his world record run, Kipsang is certain to get plenty of invitations from big races around the world.

 “Now everybody wants me to run their race, but after a three-week rest my manager will look at the invitations to shorter races and then we’ll decide. And my next marathon will probably be next year in April.”

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