Berlin Marathon Women — Assefa Sub-2:12!

Tigist Assefa blew through the 2:14, 13 and 12 barriers to an astounding WR with a 65:33 second half. (KEVIN MORRIS)

BERLIN, GERMANY, September 24 — Stunning herself, her coach and the marathon community, Tigist Assefa ran an astonishing 2:11:53 World Record to win the Berlin Marathon. The 26-year-old Ethiopian pared a whopping 2:11 off Brigid Koskei’s 2:14:04 record run at the 2019 Chicago Marathon.

Assefa surged away from Kenyan Sheila Kiprotich at 15K and flew away from the field and into the history books, becoming the first woman to break 2:14, 2:13, and 2:12, with a 66:20/65:33 negative-split effort.

“I wanted to break the marathon World Record” Assefa said, “but I couldn’t imagine that it would be a time under 2:12. I am very happy to be Ethiopia’s first woman to achieve the marathon World Record. This victory means to me that hard training and good preparation proves its worth.”

She added, “For Ethiopia as a country it will be a big boost for our sports men and women with Olympic hopes.”

Coach Gemedu Dedefo, who oversees manager Gianni Demadonna’s expansive stable of Ethiopia’s top marathoners including world champions Amane Beriso and Tamirat Tola, said, “Assefa’s training was ahead of last year and I expected a special performance, maybe 2:13, but not 2:11.”

Beamonesque maybe, but surely Paula-esque as British standard setter Radcliffe’s second WR, 2:15:25 in ’03, advanced the standard 1:53, with Kosgei also scoring a sizable 1:21 improvement in her big race 4 years ago.

Assefa’s record romp also adds further luster to Berlin’s revered course that has now produced 15 World Records. Race director Mark Milde’s team has had a very productive 12 months, staging back-to-back exhilarating record runs with Assefa following Eliud Kipchoge’s dramatic 2:01:09 WR last year. This is the second time in Berlin’s illustrious history that it is been home to both men’s and women’s records simultaneously, the first lasting a scant 4 weeks in 1999.

Assefa’ path into marathon history is rather unique. Her first steps were as part of Woldemeskel Kostre’s program to develop Junior middle distance runners. As a Junior (U20), Assefa ran 54.05 for 400 and 1:59:24 in the 800. She raced in the Rio Olympics heats (2:00.21) before a severe Achilles injury closed out her promising track career

Unable to run in spikes, Assefa started training for the roads in 2018 and after taking a family leave and sitting out the pandemic, returned to form in ’22 , winning the AdiZero half-marathon in 67:28 before her breakout 2:15:37 course and Ethiopian record last year in Berlin. Her national record lasted but a few months as Beriso ran 2:14:58 in Valencia last December.

Assefa’s plans for a spring marathon in London were scuttled as she chose to focus on a return to Berlin, noting, “I trained 6 months for this race. I was disappointed when I lost the Ethiopian record that I achieved last year, but it was motivation to complete better training.”

Like many previous editions, Berlin ‘23 featured near perfect conditions with a bit of a chill at the start, a still wind throughout, but a borderline 52-degree dewpoint posed a bit of a challenge.

Assefa cruised the opening 5K in 15:59, a brisk 2:14:50 pace, but far off the blistering Chicago starts by Ruth Chepngetich (15:11) in last year’s bold 2:14:14 record attempt and Kosgei in her 2019 WR (15:28).

Rather than getting after it, Assefa said, “Through the first 5 kilometers I try to control my body and warm up my body. After that, when my body is relaxed, I start to speed up my running.”

Indeed, Assefa started to roll, as she dropped in a pair of 3:07s in the 8th and 10th kilometers, reaching 10K in 31:45 (15:46) and pushing the needle under WR pace at 2:13:59, yet still lagging behind Chepngetich’s 30:40 and Kosgei’s 31:28 splits.

Assefa was assisted in her efforts by lead pacer Birhanu Gebru, and a pair of the recently released adidas ultralight AdiZero Adios Pro Evo 1 shoes. Time will only tell if this record is the opening act of yet another significant advance in performance-enhancing footwear technology.

The record chase got serious as Assefa strung together 3:07–3:10 Ks to reach 15K in 47:26 (15:41), 2:13:26 pace, pulling even with Kosgei’s time, and right on her plan: “I got the general pace program, but after that, I listen to my body and just run. When I got through 5 and 10 kilometers on time, then for the rest of it I just listen to my body and adapt to the situation.”

The situation at 15K was that Kiprotich, Workenesh Edesa and four others managed to stay within 4 seconds. Not for long as Assefa hammered a 2:59 16th K that dispatched her rivals as she hit 2:13:00 pace. Averaging 3:07 over the next 4 kilos, 20K was crossed in 1:02:52 (15:26!). Zipping across the halfway mat in 66:20, Assefa still trailed Chepngetich’s 65:44 but had pulled well ahead of Kosgei’s 66:59.

Inevitably the pace slowed as Assefa traversed the modest uphill grade stretching between 22 and 27K, and a 3:14 23rd K suggested the wicked pace and subtle humidity might have started to exact a toll. Not so; it proved to be an aberration as a string of 3:03–3:10 kilometers sent her past 25K in 1:18:40 (15:47) and 30K in 1:34:12 (15:32) — 2:12:30 pace — hyper fast, but still trailing Chepngetich’s World 25 and 30K Bests of 1:18:03 and 1:34:01.

Not for long, as Assefa was churning out 3:06 kilos. She surpassed Chepngetich‘s ballistic pace in the 32nd kilometer, sped on into uncharted territory for women marathoners, and just kept pouring it on.

“I held back in the first half so I wouldn’t be tired and saved energy for the second half so I could bring more power to it,” she said.

Indeed, there was no let-up in her pacers’ and Assefa’s ability to match the steady tempo of 3:05–3:08 Ks to cover the 10 kilometers between 30 and 40K in 31:02 (15:29, 15:32). That number just added to the set of stupefying splits that you’d expect in a sub-2:12 effort, that is if you had ever expected one before today.

Surely Assefa had an inkling; afterwards she recalled, “I was just focusing on my time and breaking the World Record. I don’t see any other competitors. I don’t care about anybody. I am just focusing on my kilometer splits and moving forward.”

Kilometer after kilometer, Assefa glided down the road with the smooth striding efficiency of a marathoner, and the long striding expediency of a middle-distance runner.

Having sustained 2:12 pace between 16 and 40K, Assefa lifted the pace even higher over the final 2195m, closing in 6:40 with 3:03 and 3:02 Ks and a full throttle 35-second sprint home to permanently stamp 2:11:53 in the record books and in marathon vocabulary.

Of dashing under the Brandenburg Gate and heading towards a life-changing finish, Assefa said, “In the end, I’m thinking about the World Record and that’s it. Because I had prepared very well, at the end I achieved what I deserved. Now I think I will be nominated for the Olympic Games.”

Kiprotich held on to finish 2nd in 2:17:49. “It was really fast the first half and I had to suffer in the second half,” she said.

Magdalena Shauri was the day’s second revelation, debuting in a Tanzanian record 2:18:41 while leading six others under 2:20.

Assefa dedicated her race to Christoph Kopp, who passed away this past April at 75. Kopp had served the sport in many capacities as manager/race director in Berlin and later Frankfurt. Kopp brought Assefa to Berlin’s ISTAF track meet in 2014 when she won the 800 in 2:00.16.

“Without Christoph I might not have been here,” Assefa said. “He helped me develop and motivated me, and said to me, I should try the marathon.”


1. Tigist Assefa (Eth) 2:11:53 WR (old WR 2:14:04 Brigid Kosgei [Ken] ’19)

(15:59, 15:46 [31:45], 15:41 [47:26], 15:26 [1:02:52], 15:48 [1:18:40], 15:32 [1:34:12], 15:29 [1:49:41], 15:32 [2:05:13], 6:40) (1:06:20/1:05:33);

2. Sheila Kiprotich (Ken) 2:17:49; 3. Magdalena Shauri (Tan) 2:18:41 NR; 4. Zeineba Yimer (Eth) 2:19:07 PR; 5. Senbere Teferi (Eth) 2:19:21 PR; 6. Dera Dida (Eth) 2:19:24 PR; 7. Workenesh Edesa (Eth) 2:19:40; 8. Helen Tola (Eth) 2:19:44 PR; 9. Charlotte Purdue (GB) 2:22:17 PR; 10. Fikrte Wereta (Eth) 2:23:01; 11. Hitomi Niiya (Jpn) 2:23:08; 12. Delvin Meringor (Rom) 2:23:25; 13. Malindi Elmore (Can) 2:23:30 PR; 14. Domenika Mayer (Ger) 2:23:47 PR; 15. Fabienne Schlumpf (Swi) 2:25:27 NR; 16. Angie Orjuela (Col) 2:25:35 NR; 17. Anne Frisbie (US) 2:27:02; 18. Jacqueline Gaughan (US) 2:27:08 PR; 19. Deborah Schöneborn (Ger) 2:27:35; 20. Yevheniya Prokofyeva (Ukr) 2:28:59; 21. Jane Bareikis (US) 2:29:00 PR;

… 31. Katie Kellner (US) 2:32:48 PR;… 36. Lily Anderson (US) 2:36:23 PR.

(best-ever mark-for-place: 8)

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