If there was any doubt remaining, Haile Gebrselassie confirmed that he is indeed the greatest current distance runner, probably the greatest in history, by breaking the 4 year old marathon world record in Berlin!
His time? 2:04.26, which eclipses the old record of his rival Paul Tergat (2:04.55) by 29 seconds.
Some notable splits from the ‘race’ (for want of a better word – it was more of a “paced time-trial” for Geb and a race for the others!) include a first 10km split of 29:25, which was too fast, projecting a 2:04.07 finishing time! They then slowed down over the next 10km, eventually reaching halfway in 62:29, which projects a finish time of 2:04.58. More worrying was that the pace had dropped by almost a minute, and so something drastic had to happen in the second half to reverse this trend, and it did…
At this stage, it was touch and go, because in his world record of 2003, Paul Tergat ran an astonishingly fast second half – sub 62 minutes! And so Gebrselassie was running from the ‘ghost’ of Tergat as he pressed on over the second half. The pace-makers survived up to 30km, before leaving Gebrselassie alone for the final 12km in his quest to crack the world record which he had threatened often before today.
It was during this period, from 30km to about 35km that it seemed the chances for a record had gone. Gebrselassie just did not look like he had it to press on, though reports from the IAAF suggest that his fastest kilometer was between 30 and 31km. Won’t argue with that, though it was during this period that Gebrselassie seemed to either to easing off and relaxing, or he was struggling, as the ghost of Tergat effectively narrowed the gap on him. At 30km, he was 28 seconds ahead of Tergat’s split, a gap which narrowed over the next few kilometers. But once he reached 35km, he found an extra gear and then reeled off a sequence of five 1km splits in well under 3 minutes each.
This may have been a deliberate tactic, for last year, Gebrselassie cracked over the final 5km, and lost over a minute on Tergat’s record time. He said after the race that his hard efforts between 30 and 35 km had cost him the record, and today, he clearly held back during that period. But once he hit 35 km, he shifted up and found a tempo that even Tergat would have struggled to hold onto in his world record. With 5km to go (I had his unofficial split at 37.2km as 1:50:10 – anyone’s guess whether the TV odometer is accurate!), he needed to run the final 5km in 14:44. He ran it in 14:16! The second half of the race was run in 61:57! Those splits (unofficial for now – TV times only) will be dissected over the next few days.
And with that, Gebrselassie finally got the marathon right. It is harsh to say that, but he himself admitted in a press conference that he felt his previous marathons were not yet perfect.
The truth is, neither was this one – too fast in the first 10km, dropped off a little in the middle and then found something incredible at the end. It does suggest there is more to come, because we do know that even pace is the way to run these races. And then there was the lack of competition over the last 30 minutes of the race, so Gebrselassie may yet see his dream of 2:03-something realised.
We’ll bring you more detailed splits and analysis over the course of the next few days!