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2019: the fastest year of marathoning in a decade

The number of men and women running under 2:10 and 2:27 respectively has doubled since 2016. That's nearly 100 per cent improvement in four years

Running times have hugely improved over the past decade, and looking back over the World Rankings from 2010 to 2019 proves that. With the exception of a couple of outlier years (2013 and 2014 for the women and 2016 for the men), marathon times have been quickly improving. These times are improving so quickly that twice as many men and women ran under 2:10 and 2:27 respectively in 2019 over 2016. That’s nearly 100 per cent improvement in not even four years.

Sporting Life 10K. Photo: Zoom Photo

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Is it the world records?

The top end of women’s marathoning took an enormous leap in 2019 thanks to Brigid Kosgei, who shattered the world record. While there wasn’t a world record in 2019 on the men’s side, there was a mark shattered. Eliud Kipchoge became the first person to run under 2:00 for the marathon, finishing 42.2K in 1:59:40 in October. Just a few weeks earlier, Kenenisa Bekele had threatened Kipchoge’s ratified record, running 2:01:41 in Berlin.

Success breeds success and Kosgei, Bekele and Kipchoge are three runners who have certainly encouraged marathoners worldwide to elevate their game.

Is it the shoes?

But it’s unlikely the these top runners are entirely responsible for this nose-dive in marathon times.

The New York Times repeated last week, with a larger sample size, the study of the Nike Vaporfly that they conducted in 2018. Their updated study included the Nike Next%, and the findings were surprising. We knew the Vaporfly and Next% were some of the best shoes on the market, but the NYT finds that their current dominance is undeniable.

The study founds that “The Zoom Vaporfly 4% or ZoomX Vaporfly Next% — ran 4 to 5 per cent faster than a runner wearing an average shoe, and 2 to 3 per cent faster than runners in the next-fastest popular shoe.” The name four per cent was born out of Nike’s finding that the shoe could make the wearer four per cent more efficient–efficiency translates to less effort at the same pace, which means runners can go faster. So the claim that the shoe makes a runner faster, as opposed to simply more efficient, is new.

Another key finding was that men had a 73 per cent chance of running a personal best in the shoes, while women had a 74 per cent chance: “In a race between two marathoners of the same ability, a runner wearing these shoes would have a significant advantage over a competitor not wearing them.” The Times also reports, “In the final months of 2019, about 41 per cent of marathons under three hours were reported to have been run in these shoes (for races in which we have data).”

And it’s not just Nike who has released carbon-plated shoes. Nearly every shoe brand has a carbon-plated model about to drop or newly released.

The data

The standards below were chosen based on the World Athletics (formerly IAAF) scoring tables, where the women’s equivalent marathon time based on points (1,162) is 2:27:00 to a men’s 2:10:00.

RELATED: Kosgei and Farah ran the same pace for part of Chicago Marathon


Fastest woman: Atsede Bayisa, 2:22:04

Fastest man: Patrick Musyoki, 2:04:48

Women under 2:27:00: 43

Men under 2:10:00: 144

New York City Marathon Preview
Photo: courtesy of NYRR


Fastest woman: Mary Keitany, 2:19:19

Fastest man: Patrick Musyoki, 2:03:38

Women under 2:27:00: 65

Men under 2:10:00: 133

2012 – Olympic year

Fastest woman: Mary Keitany, 2:18:37

Fastest man: Geoffery Mutai, 2:04:15

Women under 2:27:00: 73

Men under 2:10:00: 170

RELATED: Drug cheat Rita Jeptoo has ban extended, officially stripped of Boston and Chicago titles


Fastest woman: Rita Jeptoo, 2:19:57 (since banned for EPO)

Fastest man: Wilson Kiprotich, 2:03:23

Women under 2:27:00: 61

Men under 2:10:00: 148


Fastest woman: Tirfi Tsegaye, 2:20:18

Fastest man: Dennis Kimetto, 2:02:57 (WR)

Women under 2:27:00: 52

Men under 2:10:00: 145


Fastest woman: Gladys Cherono, 2:19:25

Fastest man: Eliud Kipchoge, 2:04:00

Women under 2:27:00: 65

Men under 2:10:00: 136

2016 – Olympic year

Fastest woman: Tirfi Tsegaye, 2:19:41

Fastest man: Kenenisa Bekele, 2:03:03

Women under 2:27:00: 67

Men under 2:10:00: 112


Fastest woman: Mary Keitany, 2:17:01 (women’s-only WR)

Fastest man: Eliud Kipchoge, 2:03:32

Women under 2:27:00: 72

Men under 2:10:00: 145


Fastest woman: Gladys Cherono, 2:18:11

Fastest man: Eliud Kipchoge, 2:01:39 (WR)

Women under 2:27:00: 100

Men under 2:10:00: 160


Fastest woman: Brigid Kosgei, 2:14:04 (WR)

Fastest man: Kenenisa Bekele, 2:01:41

Women under 2:27:00: 137

Men under 2:10:00: 217

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