Kelvin Kiptum running

Kelvin Kiptum: The humble world record breaker with the world at his feet

How did a shy, humble and softly-spoken Kenyan, in only his third marathon, break the world record? We look at the intriguing background of the future of distance running: Kelvin Kiptum.

Image credit: By Chad Veal – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

I feel so happy. A world record was not in my mind today, but I knew I would be a world record holder one day.

Destiny has arrived staggeringly early for Kenyan runner Kelvin Kiptum, the new men’s world record holder for a marathon distance after he finished the Chicago Marathon in 2 hours and 35 seconds. Just soak that in for a moment.

It’s another milestone which was captured in all its glory along Columbus Drive, the Kenyan blowing kisses to the crowd and spreading his arms as he fell into the arms of his coach, Gervais Hakizimana. All while, an animated announcer alerted the public they were witnessing the newest slice of running folklore.

Kiptum shaved 34 seconds off the previous record set by the legendary Eluid Kipchoge at the 2022 Berlin Marathon. Despite his split times coming in marginally slower than his Kenyan counterpart for the first 30 km, a final burst of speed in the last 12 km proved to be a critical difference in the final outcome.

Indeed, a five-kilometer split of 13:51 between kilometers 30 and 35 was 39 seconds faster than Kipchoge at the same stage of their respective races before a similarly speedy division over the next five kilometers.

Remarkably, the 23-year-old ran the 22nd mile in four minutes and 18 seconds—an athletic statistic that takes a while to sink in for the mere mortals who can only dream of such physical ability.

Kelvin Kiptum jarring thrust into the world’s spotlight was evidently not on his immediate horizon, the humble runner from Chepkorio still in the tender years of his athletic career.

In fact, his appearance at the Chicago Marathon was only his third ever professional race at that particular distance.10 months ago, he was a complete unknown with no races under his belt.

That changed with victories in the 2022 Valencia Marathon and 2023 London Marathon, where he set the fastest debut time and second fastest marathon ever records, catapulting him from an undiscovered gem to a potential world beater.

But who is Kelvin Kiptum, and what does the latest record-breaking attempt mean for marathon running in the future?

Who is Kelvin Kiptum?

Tucked in the west of Kenya, nestled within the Rift Valley, lies the remote village of Chepkorio in Elgeyo Marakwet County.

It’s here where Kiptum cut his teeth as a runner, a path he knew he was destined to follow from a young age. It’s no surprise that he was surrounded by some of Kenya’s great runners and would regularly witness some of his village mates win races on TV.

One such runner was Geoffrey Kamworor, a double New York Marathon winner, silver medalist in the 10,000 meters at the 2015 World Athletics Championships, and second-place finisher at the 2023 London Marathon behind Kiptum.

Once upon a time, Kelvin Kiptum would watch and admire runners trotting along the sidewalks for their morning runs on his way to school—and now he’s beating them in major marathons. 

Talk about life coming full circle.

His rise to the top of the record books began at 13 when he joined one of the village running groups, often enduring grueling training runs, from which he’s now reaping the full rewards..

At the age of 18, he won the Family Bank Half Marathon in Eldoret—the fifth largest city in Kenya— with a time of 1:02:01 ahead of Mathew Kisorio, with his sights firmly set on a career in road running, albeit that was a decision purely down to circumstances.

Where many runners merge into the world of track, a lack of money to regularly travel to his nearest way at Eldoret’s Kipchoge Keino stadium forced his hand. But running and training alongside marathoners and road racers was a natural fit for Kiptum.

Soon, he was showcasing undoubted potential as an elite road runner, winning a half-marathon in France and claiming second in a 10k in the Netherlands—both in 2019— before he set a new personal record with a time of 59 minutes and 54 seconds at the Lisbon Half Marathon in the same calendar year.

As time passed, Kiptum improved, beating his half marathon personal best by over a minute during a sixth-place finish at the Valencia Half Marathon in December 2020 before a first career win at the Lens Half Marathon in 2021.

But, the best was yet to come.

A seamless step up

While other runners may struggle transitioning from half to full marathon events, Kiptum ran the greater distance like a seasoned pro.

Ahead of his marathon debut in Valencia on December 4, 2022, Kiptum told 

My target in Valencia was to run 2:04, 2:05” and “Looking back before Valencia, I had some of my best training for the marathon with some good long runs.”

What followed shook the marathon community across the world.

With the race around 30 kilometers in, Kiptum brushed aside the attention of Tamirat Tola and Gabriel Geay to power through a dominant second half of the race, maintaining a relentless rhythm which eventually carried him over the line in a time of 2:01:53—a course record and the fastest marathon debut in history.

In his post-race interview, Kiptum declared he wasn’t expecting to win, a common theme throughout his infant years in road running.

His marathon pedigree was confirmed four months later in the UK’s capital when Kiptum smashed Kipchoge’s course by one minute and 12 seconds record to claim victory at the London Marathon—his time of 2:01:25 also just 16 seconds shy of the legendary runner’s world record.

A year ago, you wouldn’t have heard much about him. He really hadn’t made his mark in world distance running,” said BBC London Marathon commentator Steve Cram as Kiptum tiredly entered the home stretch.

We’ve never seen anything like this on the streets of London.”

The Kiptum era had truly arrived, and the sight of the young runner collapsed in a heap after crossing the drizzle-drenched road, testimony to a monumental effort that flirted with the world record at times.

I was planning to run a good race and win, but I didn’t expect to run that fast,” he told reporters, another modest moment from a man clearly unaware of his sheer athletic talent and superhuman-like endurance.

Training to the limit

To come close to eclipsing world and course records, Kiptum’s training regime is purposefully demanding and time-consuming, so much so that his coach fears he may be finished in five years if he keeps up.

Gervais Hakizimana, a native of Rwanda, which is known for producing a fleet of top runners, including the legendary Dieudonne Disi, worked as a translator for Kenyan athletes in France while simultaneously juggling his running dreams.

His record makes for unspectacular reading. But he did record a 1:03:46 in the Nice Half Marathon in 2009 before a 1:02:54 in Beauvais six years later.

Hakizimana first met a young Kiptum in the village of Chepkorio when the teenager would observe his future coach and other runners while herding goats and sheep, an unremarkable start to a relationship which would blossom into a world record-breaking partnership.

The duo became close, and Hazkizimana began to sculpt the runner Kiptum is today during the COVID-19 pandemic, when he opted to train in Kenya for a year before forging a marathon program in 2021.

His coaching methods are based on severe levels of discipline. He told AFP that Kiptum sometimes runs more than 300 km a week, stating that the marathon program is planned over four months, starting with strength training at 900 km running in the first month.

While he believes his athlete is in the best years of his running career, he fears “at some point I’m afraid he’ll get injured” and that “at this rate, he is in danger of breaking.”

Hakizimana even revealed no weekly rest is scheduled into Kiptum’s plan. “We rest when he gets tired. We continue if he doesn’t show signs of fatigue or pain for a month.

All he does is run, eat, sleep.”

It’s a small insight into what it takes to reach the top, a peeling of the curtain which shines a light on the commitment and dedication required to make a mark in long-distance running.

A sub-two-hour future?

Following his efforts in London, Kiptum turned down an invitation to participate in the 2023 World Athletics Championships in Budapest for Team Kenya. He had other plans in mind.

Rumors were prominent about a potential head-to-head race between Kiptum and Kipchoge, who had just won his fifth Berlin Marathon title. Clearing up any confusion, Kiptum explained that his original plan was to run the Chicago Marathon all along.

He never intended to participate in the Berlin Marathon in 2023. Instead, he wanted to conquer the challenges of the Chicago course and consider Berlin a future goal.

Motivated by Kipchoge’s winning time of 2:02:42 in Berlin, which fell short of his own world record of 2:01:09 from the previous year, Kiptum felt confident that he could surpass that mark in Chicago, a route known for its relatively flat terrain, and one that had witnessed the setting of five world records in the past.

Kelvin Kiptum was aware of these accomplishments as he strived to etch his name in the marathon history books. 

He even stated before the race: “It’s possible to run 2:00. It may not be now as I am still young.”


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Fast forward to Sunday, October 8, and Kiptum finishes 35 seconds away from the unthinkable sub-two-hour mark, providing further evidence that generational marathon time in legal conditions is not only possible but increasingly inevitable.

The latest record has thrown up the topic of super shoes and the ongoing war between Nike and Adidas, which has been bubbling since 2016 when the Nike Vaporfly 4% was released. It seemed Adidas gained the upper hand when Tigst Assefa smashed the women’s marathon world record at the Berlin Marathon in a pair of Adizero Adios Evo Pro 1’s just two weeks before Chicago.

Alas, Nike came back swinging, Kelvin Kiptum donning a pair of the new Nike Dev 163 prototype shoes—legal under World Athletics rules—later confirmed to be going on sale in January 2024 under the name Alphafly 3.

In the quest for the elusive sub-2-hour marathon and as the world record inches closer, the marathon racing scene has become a battleground where technology and endurance collide.

The significance of technology in marathon racing was exemplified by Kipchoge’s historic sub-two-hour marathon challenge in 2019. 

This groundbreaking moment prompted World Athletics to initiate a consultation process, ultimately creating the Athletic Shoe Regulations.

Whatever the outcome in the tremendous super shoe debate of the modern era, one thing is sure: the man wearing them when the first ever sub-two-hour marathon is recorded could be Kelvin Kiptum.

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