No One Can Even Come Close to Brigid Kosgei in the Marathon

Cathal Dennehy
·6 mins read
Photo credit: RICHARD HEATHCOTE - Getty Images
Photo credit: RICHARD HEATHCOTE - Getty Images

From Runner's World

In a year of uncertainty, this was a definitive statement by Brigid Kosgei. No one can touch her over the marathon distance; no one can even get close.

On a cold, wet morning at the London Marathon on Sunday, October 4, the world-record holder once again stamped her supremacy with a victory in 2:18:58. This gives her back-to-back titles in London, adding to her back-to-back titles in Chicago.

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At the finish, the 26-year-old Kenyan raised her arms, slowed to a stop, and blessed herself. She then took a series of long, searching looks behind her to spot the second-place finisher.

It was three minutes before Sara Hall arrived, with the U.S. star breaking new ground with a come-from-behind charge to take second in 2:22:01, four seconds clear of world champion Ruth Chepngetich.

On Thursday, Kosgei had played down her fitness, citing how the pandemic restrictions in Kenya had interfered with her training, though in recent months she had still been running 110 to 120 miles a week at her training base in Kapsait.

The goal today was simple: To attack the women’s-only marathon world record of 2:17:01, set by Mary Keitany in 2017. But on a damp, cold and dreary day, that soon looked unrealistic.

It was an early start for the elite women, with the race setting off in near darkness at 7:15 a.m. BST (2:15 a.m. EDT). Some competitors had set their alarms for 2 a.m. local time, doing their pre-race shake-out on the grounds of the meet hotel outside London before catching the bus to the course at 4:30 a.m.

The rain pelted down at the start line, forcing the runners to keep as many layers on as possible until the last moment, and the opening miles of the race were suitably controlled.

“The weather affected us today, there was some wind and rain all the way, which made our muscles colder,” Kosgei said. “No one could warm up.”

The first 5K was covered in 16:26, with Kosgei tucked in behind a wall of pacemakers. The next 5K was quicker, in 15:59, which had them on course for sub-2:17 through the opening 10K. Then they sped up again. At halfway, reached in 68:11, the race had been whittled down to the two big contenders: Kosgei and Chepngetich.

The world record holder versus the world champion. Who would break first?

At this point, Hall was back in ninth, passing halfway in 70:27. That strategy of running within herself would pay huge dividends later.

With six of the 19.6 laps around St James’ Park remaining, Kosgei threw in her first surge, upping the pace for a few hundred meters before relenting when she saw it had done nothing to shake Chepngetich. At this point, the leaders started to slow, their 5K splits between 15K and 30K telling the story: 16:04, 16:42, 17:01.

They reached 30K locked together in 1:38:18, and Kosgei waited one more lap before making her decisive move after 20 miles. The effect was immediate, Chepngetich unable to go with her.

Kosgei said later the move had not been planned. Through the closing miles she appeared unruffled by the rain-soaked surface, opening almost three minutes on Chepngetich with 5K splits of 16:42 and 16:41 taking her to 40K.

Chepngetich, meanwhile, was starting to fall in a hole.

Hall was starting to smell blood as she charged past Ashete Bekere of Ethiopia into third shortly before 40k. She still had 40 seconds to find on Chepngetich, but she had closed that gap by the time they passed Buckingham Palace for the last time and turned for home on The Mall.

Hall sprinted past Chepngetich with 100 meters to run and hit the line, exalted, in 2:22:01, with Chepngetich third in 2:22:05.

“Seeing the world champion on the last lap, it motivated me to give it my all,” Hall said. “I’m in shock, to be honest. I was alone quite a bit of the race so that was a really challenging way to run but when I started to feel sorry for myself I would just say how blessed I was to have a race during this time.”

It had been 14 years since an American had a podium finish in London, going back to Deena Kastor’s victory in 2006.

“Deena was my teammate when she set the American record here and I feel so honored to be able to enjoy my career the most I ever have at the age of 37,” Hall said.

She said her husband, Ryan, was “going nuts” during the final laps, relaying the time gaps back to her on the course, and at the line the emotion was visible for the 37-year-old Californian, who dropped out of the U.S. Olympic marathon trials in February after 22 miles.

“That was a massive disappointment,” she said. “This was a moment of redemption for me.”

Chepngetich was pleased with her podium finish. “I’m happy because I finished—it was not easy,” she said. “The weather was not conducive. I decided to go at my own pace to finish the race, and not go outside that.”

Photo credit: Richard Heathcote - Getty Images
Photo credit: Richard Heathcote - Getty Images

Bekere was next in at 2:22:51 with fellow Ethiopian Alemu Megertu fifth in 2:24:23. Molly Seidel came through strongly in sixth in 2:25:13, a personal best in what was her second ever marathon, having made the U.S. Olympic team in Atlanta in her debut in February.

While the women’s-only world record was beyond Kosgei today, she was confident it would be hers in the future. “It’s possible because if not for these conditions, we could run [that time],” she said. “I will try again.”

The question now is: How long Kosgei can sustain this dominance?

She is very, very good at shorter distances. At the marathon, she might just be the best ever.

It took a world record to beat her at the RAK Half Marathon in February, Kosgei clocking 64:49 behind Yeshaneh Ababel’s 64:31. It also took a world record to beat her in a one-hour race in Brussels last month, where she was outkicked by Dutch star Sifan Hassan.

But once we move to the marathon distance, the evidence is clear, firmly re-established on the streets of London today: Kosgei remains a class apart.

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