Valencia Men’s Marathon — Kiptum’s Brilliant Debut

A 2:01:53 in his first full 26-miler made Kelvin Kiptum No. 3 on the all-time performers list. (SEAN HARTNETT)

VALENCIA, SPAIN, December 04 — Just past 33 kilometers of the Valencia Marathon, Kelvin Kiptum sped away from world champion Tamirat Tola and Gabriel Geay and burst into the highest echelon of marathoners with a stunning 2:01:53 victory.

The 23-year-old half-marathon specialist (58:42 PR run in Valencia in ’20) made a super-successful transition to the full distance achieving a debut record and the No. 4 time in history, trailing only Eliud Kipchoge’s WRs of 2:01:09 and 2:01:39 and Kenenisa Bekele’s 2:01:41. “I am very happy with the result,” Kiptum exclaimed. “This is my first time and marathon is good now.”

The Kenyan was just the point man for a historically fast competition, with Geay finishing 2nd in a Tanzanian Record 2:03:00, good for =No. 8 on the all-time list. Alexander Mutiso finished 3rd, debuting at 2:03:29, with Tola 4th, his 2:03:40 astonishingly not making the podium. All told, 9 bettered 2:06, and 18 ran under 2:08.

Valencia’s recent ascension to the highest ranks of marathons has been led by race director Paco Borao and current president of the Association Of International Marathons (AIMS) has crafted his race as a late-season version of Berlin.

The race has all of the key ingredients: a hyper-fast course that loops back and forth through the city center, weather conducive to fast running, deep pockets to provision an equally deep field and — lest we forget — the impeccable asphalt street surfaces seemingly designed for road racing.

Although the race was founded in ’81, it is a relative newcomer to premier marathons and has now produced eight of history’s fastest 30 performances in just the past two years. Adding in Berlin’s 12 top-30 performances, the two European venues account for 20 of the top 30 ever.

This year’s notable running can be chalked up to outstanding weather and pacing. Race day broke with partly cloudy skies, light to negligible wind, temperatures in the high 40s, and a PR dew point in the low 40s.

Setting up a great race were a trio of pacers — Stanley Kurgat, Bernard Ngeno and Chala Regasa — who deftly guided a cumbersome pack of 16 through 27K. The cadence was brisk and even, staying close to the targeted 2:55/kilometer pace through a 61:38 opening half. The initial 5K was covered in 14:40 (2:03:40 pace), 10K was passed in 29:15 (2:03:25), 15K in 43:55 (2:03:32), and 20K in 58:26 (2:03:17).

Such was the steady tempo that few if any competitions have seen such a large pack this far into a race at low-2:03 tempo. Inevitably, the pacers began to falter, and the pace slipped to a 2:03:23 clip at 25K (1:13:06).

Down to one pacer, the 26th kilometer was covered in 2:57 when Tola went to the front dishing out a 2:54 K and a pair of 2:53s, dropping the pace to 2:03:14 and thinning the strung-out pack to 10 at 29K.

Just when Tola seemed poised to replicate his torrid finishing eruption of his WC victory in Eugene, Kiptum seized the lead with a 2:52 to cross 30K in 1:27:34 (2:03:11), then followed with a 2:50 that only Tola and Gael could hang onto — barely.

The ever-lean Kiptum appeared full of run, maintaining a fluid arm carry and stride that seems made for the marathon. “I had to stay patient,” he said, adding, “After the pacemakers dropped after 25K, Tola started to push and I stayed with him. Tola is very good, but I was really prepared and after 30km I knew I was going for the win. I feel let me try to push alone.”

Relentlessly tugging at the pace through a 2:48 for kilo 32, Kiptum looked back at the fading chase pack then emphatically invited his companions to join in the break. With Tola and Gael having no interest in taking the lead, Kiptum appeared frustrated such that he removed his watch and tossed it aside — then proceeded to throw down a set of kilometer splits that may have bonked the timepiece.

A 2:46 kilometer proved decisive as first Tola then Geay fell behind the streaking Kenyan. Running free, Kiptum poured it on, splitting 2:49, 2:47, 2:46, 2:49, and at 37K he was down to 2:02:11 pace, having covered the preceding 5K in 13:57.

Kiptum slowed a bit over the final 5K, logging 2:50 kilometers, noting “I missed water, so I was a little bit tired, then I felt strong again.” Very strong indeed, as it was a 2:45 40th K, to complete a 28:05 split from 30–40K, that sent him under 2:02 pace.

Kiptum sped onto the finish, stopping the clock at 2:01:53, netting a 60:15 second half, the fastest ever run. Even quicker was his 34:19 split over the final 12,195m, averaging 2:48.9 kilometers which equates to 1:58.44 marathon pace. Better than Kipchoge’s finish in his two World Record runs, and 7 seconds faster than Tola’s finish in Eugene.

Kiptum, who turned 23 two days before the race, fends for himself, noting, “I train in Chepkorio, near Kaptagat. Normally I train alone, and I don’t have a coach.”

He admitted, “I was intimidated by marathon. I have run several half-marathons at 59, so I said, ‘Let me switch to marathon now; it is my time.’ I had a groin injury in April, since then I was just training for Valencia.

“I knew that Valencia is a flat course, I have run here several times before, I knew that I could make it, maybe run 2:04 or 2:03, but I did not dream 2:01. I was watching the clock on the car taking the pace and I saw it was a good time. Toward the finish is when I thought that I could run 2:01.”

Asked if he could challenge Kipchoge, Kiptum was quick to admit, “No, I’m not ready now, no chance.”


1. Kelvin Kiptum (Ken) 2:01:53 PR (3, 4 W) (debut record) (61:38/60:15); 2. Gabriel Gerald Geay (Tan) 2:03:00 NR (=8, =11 W);

3. Alexander Mutiso (Ken) 2:03:29 PR; 4. Tamirat Tola (Eth) 2:03:40; 5. Kaan Kigen Özbilen (Tur) 2:04:36; 6. Deso Gelmisa (Eth) 2:04:56; 7. Milkesa Mengesha (Eth) 2:05:29 PR; 8. Ronald Korir (Ken) 2:05:37 PR; 9. Philemon Kiplimo (Ken) 2:05:44 PR; 10. Goitom Kifle (Eri) 2:06:09;

11. Getaneh Tamire (Eth) 2:06:38; 12. Isaac Mpofu (Zim) 2:06:48 NR; 13. Nicolas Navarro (Fra) 2:07:01 PR; 14. Zerei Kbrom Mezngi (Nor) 2:07:10 PR; 15. Hizkel Tewelde (Eri) 2:07:11; 16. Tariku Novales (Spa) 2:07:18 PR; 17. Ayad Lamdassem (Spa) 2:07:39; 18. Bethwell Kipkemboi (Ken) 2:07:40 PR; 9. Abdelaziz Merzougui (Spa) 2:08:00 PR; 20. Tesfaye Ambesa (Eth) 2:08:14; 21. Jonathan Kipleting (Ken) 2:08:34; 22. Abdelilah El Maimouni (Mor) 2:08:50 PR; 23. Mehdi Frere (Fra) 2:09:18; 24. Geoffrey Kirui (Ken) 2:09:57; 25. Valentin Witz (Fra) 2:10:04 PR.