Berlin Marathon 2009: Live splits and first report
Haile Gebrselassie has won the Berlin marathon, but no world record this time. His time was 2:06:08, which was the result of a dramatic slowing of the pace over the final 10km, and particularly, the final 5km. The record was on, all the way to 35km, but the wheels came off, and a 15:57 5km split between 35km and 40km saw Geb end well short, in what is actually his slowest marathon in 5 attempts.
The numbers tell a story - the table and graph below illustrate just how the race unfolded. I will look much more closely at these numbers in the coming days, and look to compare this race to the 2007 and 2008 races, where the record did fall.
But for now, take a look at the table and graph:
In the graph below, I've plotted the 5km interval times, and in green, the projected marathon time based on the split time. The dashed line at 14:41 shows the pace that was required at the start in order to sneak inside the world record - it represents a pace of 2:56.2/km, and it's clear that Geb was under it (by some margin) for 30km, and then over it (by an even bigger margin) for the final 12km.
How the race unfolded
It's pretty obvious from the numbers how this race unfolded. The early pace was pretty much bang on - they'd requested something around 61:35 at halfway, and so when the mark was reached in 61:44, it suggested the record was on - if anything, they were slightly slow.
Then the pace really picked up - the 15km interval between 15 and 30km was covered in 43:46 (the 10km interval was 29:10!), which projects a marathon time of 2:03:04. That searing pace accounted for Duncan Kibet, who was dropped before halfway, in a very disappointing outing for him.
It meant that Gebrselassie would have only pacemakers for company, and when the last pacemaker fell out just after 32km, the race against the clock was on.
Unfortunately, the clock would be the winner. You'll see from the chart that Gebrselassie fought bravely. He fought to hold the pace together between 30 and 35km, but that split was considerably slower than anything before, and at 14:53, it suggested that the record was starting to slip away. He was still on course, based on his 35km time, but the true story is that had he maintained 14:53 pace for the rest of the race, he would have missed the record by 1 second!
As it was, we didn't see that sprint against the clock, because the split from 35km to 40km was where it all ended. 15:57 for the interval, and the record was very clearly gone.
In the end, the time of 2:06:08 meant that the final 7.195km were covered in 23:31, a pace of 3:16/km, and when you consider that the pace required was 2:56, then you appreciate just how big the slowdown at the end was.
The pacing strategy: Too fast in the middle?
Overall, it shows just how fine the margins are between a good day out and a blowout. It's hypothetical, of course, but what would have happened if Gebrselassie had covered the 15km stretch in the middle in 44:00 instead of 43:46? He'd still have been on course for the record - you will see in the table above that his projected time was well under the 2:03:59 he ran last year.
He hit 30km a full 41 seconds faster than last year, and given how close to the limit he was, this was simply too quick (easy to say in hindsight, I know, but I felt it was ambitious even before). Could have have given up 30 of those seconds and finished faster? Probably not, I think he the record would have eluded him anyway, but the fast pace pushed him out to the very slow finish, I have no doubt.
Of course, perhaps it was just a bad day. There are many ifs and buts, but we saw one thing confirmed today - this record of 2:03:59 is pretty close to the limit for Haile Gebrselassie, and probably ever other man currently racing. That's not to say it can't be broken, and maybe Sammy Wanjiru will be able to edge it down by a few seconds in Chicago, but the days where we expect to see up to a minute cleaved off a time are gone.
I remember back in 2007, when he broke the record for the first time, people waxed lyrical about how it was a matter of time before 2:03 would be broken, and even 2:02. Some people even spoke about a sub-2 hour marathon. I think what Berlin 2009 has shown is that 2:03 is mighty close to the limit, at least for the current generation, and unless everything is perfect, even running 2:04 is a mountain.
As for the pace, I think it was too ambitious. Given the tiny margin for error, setting off at 14:30 pace, and then hitting halfway in 61:44, projecting a 2:03:28 and a record by 30 seconds, that's too ambitious. Of course, some may disagree, but I think the middle of this race was too fast - 2:03:04 pace for 15km in the middle, and that time is paid back with interest at the end!
Nevertheless, a great attempt, very courageous, and maybe there'll be another for Gebrselassie. Age may count against him, and this is the second marathon in a row where he's fallen away at the end, and it's his slowest in 5 outings, but he showed enough in the first 30km to suggest he's still in the kind of condition to run 2:04-something. Whether he has another record in him, time will tell...
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