By Jonathan Gault
24 October 2021
This morning, Letesenbet Gidey broke a world record of 62:52 in the Valencia Half Marathon. The brand broke the existing world record of 70 seconds, meaning Gidey wasn’t just the first woman to break 63:00. She was also the first woman to cross 64:00, a Beamonesque improvement. It immediately became one of the most impressive tracks in the history of long-distance running.
When an athlete achieves such a performance in 2021, there are three typical reactions:
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1) Who cares? She needs to dope.
2) Who cares? The great shoes made the time wasted.
3) WOW THIS IS AMAZING.
Most running fans currently experience a combination of these three elements. Let’s try to make sense of it all.
Was it the greatest performance in long distance running history?
When Gidey broke his 15km world record in 44:20 in 2019, we hailed him as one of the greatest performances in long distance running history. Today in Valencia, Gidey completed 15km in 44:29 – and ran another 6.1km to break the world record for the half marathon (although she slowed down in the last 5km). It was a better performance than his 44:20. But was it the best of all time?
According to World Athletics Scoreboards, Yes. 62:52 for halftime is worth the following performances at other distances – all of which are far above current world records:
800 meters – 1: 51.22
1500 meters – 3: 45.54
5000 meters – 13: 39.43
10,000 meters – 28: 38.00
Bell tower – 8: 29.24
Marathon – 2:11:17
But these scorecards are not a definitive measurement tool, something the president of World Athletics Seb coe admitted when the most recent edition has been published in January 2017. This date is also noteworthy because it’s right before Nike released the first version of the Vaporfly, which means the tables don’t take into account that it’s much easier to run a 62:52 half marathon in October 2021 than in January 2017.
Of course, Nike and other companies have now started to throw super peaks on the runway, further blurring historical comparisons between events. But if you’re curious what Gidey’s time would look like in a pre-super shoe world, here’s what it might look like:
|Shoes that are worth||0.5%||1%||1.5%||2%||2.5%||3%|
Since the pre-super shoe world record in the female half was 64:51 by Joyciline Jepkosgei (she ran it in 2017 in adidas shoes) Even under the strictest conversion, Gidey’s run today is still clearly the best half a woman has ever achieved.
Another way to look at Gidey’s mark would be to compare it to the second best half marathon in history – which also happened in Valencia today, Yalemzerf Yehualawis 63:51. Yehualaw’s time was 1.56% slower than Gidey’s. What if we did this for each distance event? Let’s call it the outlier index:
|Event||WR||performer n ° 2||Difference|
|W steeple||8: 44.32||8: 52.78||1.61%|
|W half marathon||62:52||63:51||1.56%|
|5,000 W||14: 06.62||14: 11.15||0.54%|
|10,000 m||26: 11.00||26: 17.53||0.42%|
|W 10,000||29: 01.03||29: 06.82||0.33%|
|M 5,000||12: 35.36||12: 37.35||0.26%|
|L 1500||3: 50.07||3: 50.46||0.17%|
|M 1500||3: 26.00||3: 26.34||0.17%|
|M half marathon||57:32||57:37||0.14%|
|L 800||1: 53.28||1: 53.43||0.13%|
|steeple M||7: 53.63||7: 53.64||0.002%|
So by that measurement, Gidey’s run today was the second longest distance run ever, behind only Beatrice ChepkoechWR steeplechase of 8: 44.32.
Whichever way you slice it, it was a groundbreaking run from Gidey. At Friday’s elite press conference, Yehualaw and Gidey were asked how fast they thought a woman could ultimately run for a half marathon, an event in which the WR fell precipitously over the 10 last years. Yehualaw said less than 63:00. Gidey said 6:30 p.m. They saw it coming, finally. But few saw it coming so soon.
The elephant in the room
Running fans can be a skeptical bunch. When someone takes 70 seconds off a half marathon record that had already improved by 49 seconds over the past two years, it will sound the alarm bells. One of the first texts I got after Gidey broke the WR this morning was someone asking me how often Gidey had been tested over the past few years. Until this year, she had trained in Mekele, the capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray region, a war-torn region that could be difficult for testers to access (things were going so badly last year that Gidey had to retire from his half marathon debut in Valencia in December because she couldn’t travel… Although she couldn’t train either).
There is no evidence linking Gidey to performance enhancing drugs. As always, there is no way to definitively know if an athlete is doping or not. But for now, the main argument against Gidey is that she is simply too much Well.
Now consider the alternative: that Gidey is the greatest talent in long distance running history. If so, then she would be a junior freak, right? Well guess what: in 2015, Gidey won the World XC junior race eight days after his 17th birthday. Two years later, she won it again. Do you realize how talented you have to be to win the junior race? twice at World XC?
Another thing to consider about Gidey: what if the half marathon was actually his best event? (It seems likely after today). Entering Valencia – which, remember, was his first half marathon – Gidey already had the world records at 5,000 (14: 06.62) and 10,000 meters (29: 01.03). These ratings are incredible, but believable from what we have seen other women participate in these events. But in Gidey’s two forays over distances over 10 kilometers – her 15 km in 2019 and her half-marathon today – she produced two of the greatest performances in women’s long-distance running history. Rather than take an astronomical leap in physical form, isn’t it possible that Gidey’s record-breaking run today is simply the result of his participation in his best event?
62:52 de Gidey redefined what is possible for a long-distance runner, and with that in mind, one of the obvious historical comparisons is Paula radcliffe, who made a similar breakthrough in the marathon with his 2:15:25 in London in 2003, a world record that will last 16 years. Radcliffe’s run was even more outlier than Gidey’s – at the time, the # 2 performer in history, Catherine Ndereba (2:18:47), was 2.49% slower than Radcliffe. And, just like Gidey, Radcliffe has faced doping suspicions during her career, mainly because no one believed that someone could be much better than everyone else. The argument for Radcliffe has always been that she was a generational talent who finally found her best event in the marathon – the same argument for Gidey now.
More mind-blowing stats from Gidey’s run today
- Gidey’s 62:52 would make her the third fastest American man of 2021 in the half marathon (okay, Americans haven’t run a lot of half marathons this year due to COVID). Of all time, she would place her 89th on the US men’s half marathon list, ahead of Olympic marathoners. Ed eyestone, Jake riley, Dan Browne, and Marc Coogan (h / t Steve Magness).
- Gidey shared 2:45 p.m. and 2:44 p.m. for the second and third 5 km segments today. As recently as 2016, 2:44 pm was the US record in the women’s 5,000 meters. Which means even America’s greatest distance runners would have a hard time keeping up with Gidey even a quarter of the race distance today. Gidey’s 5km average pace of 14:53 today is faster than the track bps of Jen rhins (14:54), Kara Goucher (14:55), and Jenny simpson (14:56).
- Gidey is the first woman to hold the 5km, 10km and half marathon world records simultaneously since Ingrid Kristiansen, who held all three until 1991.
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Following: Letesenbet Gidey runs 62:52 to break world record in SMASH half marathon The holder of the 5000 and 10,000m WR ran 62:52 today in her half marathon debut. Wow.
Previous: 2019 LRC WTW: Did Letesenbet Gidey just break the biggest world record and we didn’t even notice it? More Vaporfly at NCAA Regional Championships
*MB: Letesenbet Gidey short 44:20 15k, SMASHES WR. Equivalent to a 13:42 5000!