So now that Eliud Kipchoge has shattered yet another stopwatch, where does the world’s greatest road racer go next? Having chopped a jaw-dropping 30 seconds from his global mark of 2 hours, 1 minute, and 39 seconds at Sunday’s Berlin Marathon, does he seek out another pancake course and try to go 2:00-and-change?
Or does he come to Boston next spring and take on the most challenging item remaining on his bucket list?
Kipchoge, who has won 15 of his 17 marathons, has said multiple times that he wants to win all six major races. He has prevailed four times each in London and Berlin, once in Tokyo and Chicago. He has yet to take the line here or in New York, and next year looms as his last realistic chance to do both.
Kipchoge has committed to going after an unprecedented third Olympic gold medal in Paris in 2024.
“That’s a very important thing to me,” he said. “Because I am running to make history.”
There are two kinds of history in elite marathoning — setting records and winning marquee races. In recent years, Kipchoge has been all about his need for speed. His new standard of 2:01:09 is unlikely to be broken anytime soon by anyone other than him. And he’s the only man to go under two hours, running 1:59:40 in a Vienna exhibition in 2019.
The question is whether anyone can stay with Kipchoge long enough to push him to more records. He thought he had a solid chance for a new one last weekend on a course that has produced the last eight men’s global marks, including Kipchoge’s 2018 effort.
“I always say, if you want to push yourself, come to Berlin,” he said.
Had he still had pacers during the final 10 miles of the race or had a rival been at his shoulder to push him, Kipchoge might have been able to go sub-2:01. But unlike his 2018 record run, when he negative-split by 32 seconds, his second half this time was nearly a minute and a half slower after he burned the first half in 59:51, nearly a minute under world-record pace.
“We went too fast,” Kipchoge reckoned. “It takes energy from the muscles.”
Since countryman Mark Korir, the runner-up, finished nearly five minutes behind him, Kipchoge had to supply that push on his own. But even tiring, he still reduced his record by half a minute and ran through the Brandenburg Gate wearing an astonished expression.
“There’s still more in my legs,” he said.
The question is whether Kipchoge, who’ll turn 38 in November, wants to use it by chasing time or history. Since Boston’s undulating layout makes the race ineligible for a world record, time isn’t a consideration here.
The planet’s most fabled footrace is all about tactics, just as the Olympics are. The objective is to break the tape on Boylston Street, whether that takes 2:06 or 2:16.
The Boston Athletic Association is optimistic that Kipchoge will turn up in Hopkinton sooner or later, and given the upcoming calendar and the advanced stage of his career, it makes sense that it be sooner. After COVID scrambled the marathoning schedule for two years — a postponed Olympics, Boston and London in October in 2021 — everything is back to normal and runners can plan again.
Kipchoge can take the next six months to prepare for Boston’s quirky hills and turns. Then he can take the following six to get ready for New York.
If he needs a tuneup before the Games, Kipchoge could return to London, where he’d undoubtedly like to make up for his eighth-place finish two years ago, only his second defeat at the distance.
Or he could opt for another spring speedway like Rotterdam and take another crack at a world mark.
“Limits are there to be broken,” Kipchoge said after Sunday’s race.
That’s why he opted for Berlin this autumn instead of checking New York off his list. It had been four years since he set the record there, and Kipchoge was feeling frisky.
“I’m thinking of running a very good race,” he’d said. “And if it is my personal best, I will accept it.”
Kipchoge wouldn’t say whether he’ll be back in Berlin next year for another shot.
“Let us plan for another day,” he said. “I need to celebrate this record. Just roll and see what happens.”
Kipchoge habitually schedules one race at a time. Sometime in the next couple of months, he’ll likely reveal his next outing. If it isn’t Boston, the next-best time to come here would be in 2025 when he would be 40. If Kipchoge still is feeling perky, next April would be an ideal time to compete where his countrymen traditionally have made their names.
Not that Kipchoge needs to be any more familiar to the clockers and watchers who’ve followed him for a decade. But as his contending years are nearing their end, his résumé remains incomplete.
Boston and New York are the two most demanding courses among the majors. If Kipchoge can conquer them, especially in the same calendar year, he unquestionably will be the all-time master of the distance. And Paris can be the place where he rounds out what has been a most exceptional journey. The road there goes up and over Heartbreak Hill.