Home > The Scene

8 of 12 fastest marathons in history have been run in the past year

A closer look at this new era of marathon times

One week ago we saw one of the most exciting marathons in history. Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia ran two seconds outside of the marathon world record last Sunday morning in Berlin, after one of the greatest running comebacks in marathoning history. He finished in 2:01:41, the world record of 2:01:39 was set on the same course by Eliud Kipchoge one year earlier. Second place in that race went to Birhanu Legese who ran the third-fastest marathon of all time, finishing in 2:02:48.

RELATED: A side-by-side comparison of Kipchoge and Bekele’s Berlin Marathons

Marathoners are improving at a shocking rate, possibly the fastest en masse improvement in history. Of the 12 fastest marathon times ever, eight of them have been run in the past year.

IAAF men’s marathon all-time lists.

Kipchoge’s run remains the fastest, Bekele’s second and Legese’s third. All three of those marks are under one year old.

Sub 2:05 was once the holy grail of marathoning, but now, you have to scroll the number 50 on the all-time list to find a 2:05:00 runner (Evans Chebet). Of those 50 fastest-ever times, 20 are from either 2018 or 2019. That’s 40 per cent of the top 50 improved in the last 24 months.


The oldest mark in the top 50 is Paul Tergat, who won the 2003 Berlin Marathon in 2:04:55. To find a time run in the 20th century, you have to scroll all the way to performance 100, that’s Ronaldo Da Costa from 1998 who won Berlin in 2:06:05.

Excellence breeds excellence, and Kipchoge’s 2018 Berlin marathon where he ran the current world record was certainly inspiring. In the coming days, the Kenyan runner will attempt to become the first person to run under two hours for the marathon in the INEOS 1:59.

Given this long list of marathoners who are collectively running unprecedented times, it feels increasingly likely that the historic barrier will fall soon.

In the event that Kipchoge doesn’t run the fastest marathon of all time next week, there’s a chance that Bekele (once he recovers from Berlin) could respond with his own attempt. Bekele is the 5,000m world record holder, the 10,000m world record holder, the second-fastest marathoner of all time and owns 16 world titles. If Kipchoge is unsuccessful, there’s a list of runners who are quickly improving who might be able to make history.

RELATED: Introducing Eliud Kipchoge’s 41-person team of INEOS 1:59 pacers