This feature, by Deji Ogeyingbo, is on Letesenbet Gidey and her exciting debut this coming weekend over the marathon distance in Valencia! Will she break the world record?
What should we expect from Letesenbet Gidey on her marathon debut in Valencia?
Valencia has always been kind to Letesenbet Gidey. Of her four world record runs, two of them came in the Spanish city, and on December 4th, she will return there to make her marathon debut. So many eyes would be fixed on what potentially could be the fastest marathon debut of all time. Such is the anticipation that many pundits have even predicted that the Ethiopian could well be within her rights to run within two hours and fourteen seconds.
There are so many things to unravel from what could be written into the history books. Something similar to what Eliud Kipchoge did with the INEOS 1:59 challenge. For the most part, in running, women have often taken the backseat with regard to taking the shine when they produce astonishing results, and that’s because whatever they do would, in the grand scheme of things, pale in comparison to what the men do.
Surely not Gidey. At 24, she’s on top of her game, and the Valencia marathon offers her a chance to reach heights no woman has before in running. From the fast course to the elite field and a rich history of breaking records, the 2022 women’s 10,000m champion is delicately poised to come up with something special.
So, what should we expect from her? A world record or maybe a sub 2:13? As it stands, Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei owns the marathon world record with 2:14:04 from her run in Chicago in 2019, while her countrywoman Ruth Chepngetich coming close with another 2:14:18 run this year. These two are the only athletes to know what it feels like to run a 2:14.
The Valencia course is a fairly flat one and remains unchanged from previous years. It’s one of the fastest courses in the world. Up to 60 athletes achieved their qualification times for the Tokyo Olympics during the 2020 edition.
In 2018, the course underwent various enhancements. There was the scrapping of several 90-degree turns and one 180-degree turn, making the route of Spain’s fastest 42,195-meter race into a circuit with just 34 turns instead of the 44 hitherto. It enabled athletes to put less effort into chasing new records by taking the shortest way through some of the city’s big roundabouts.
This was one of the many reasons Gidey broke the half-marathon record in Valencia in 2021. It was her debut at the distance, as Gidey did not show any signs of naivety. The then 23-year-old took down the world record with a time of 1:02:52. Her performance improved on the previous world record—1:04:02, set by Chepngetich in Istanbul in April of the same year by 70 seconds.
It was a race that saw her match up with another precocious runner in Yalemzerf Yehualaw. With both runners tied at 10k, Yehualaw began to drift behind Gidey in the race. The momentum saw her split 44:29 for 15K, putting her more than a minute inside world-record pace. Gidey slowed down slightly for the final quarter of the race. On the home stretch, the Olympic bronze-medalist kicked past several male competitors and almost beat 2:07 marathoner Javier Guerra on her way to the finish line.
It was the third world record that Gidey had broken in the span of a year. In October 2020, she also ran 14:06.62 for 5,000 meters in Valencia. In June 2021, she shattered the world record in the 10,000 meters by winning the Ethiopian Olympic Trials at 29:01.
Over the course of 2020, we have seen various records go down and insanely fast split times. In less than twelve months, there have been eighteen performances by 12 women who have broken the sub-2:18:00 barrier.
Ethiopia’s Tigist Assefa ran a blistering 2:15:37 in Berlin in September, Chepngetich came within touching distance of breaking Kosgei’s record in Chicago a few weeks later, Yehualaw made her marathon debut with 2:17:23 in Hamburg earlier this year, while former Olympic Champion Almaz Ayana went three seconds better than Yehualaw on her debut in Amsterdam. Something is going on, and it might even go a notch higher with Gidey in Valencia.
Typically speaking, athletes usually work their way up in the marathon. Many road runners start with a 2:18 to 2:20 performance before gradually working their way down with faster times in the future and perhaps setting a target of breaking the world record. Gidey, however, seems to be an outlier. She is the kind of runner that can achieve anything she sets her mind to.
Many have attributed these fast times to the continued use of endurance super shoes, which have aided in very fast times in the past few seasons. But more importantly, a new paradigm in how athletes train in groups has given distance runners. The NN Running team, of which Gidey is a part, have training groups in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda.
Taking Gidey’s half-marathon performance into context and doubling time, it is easy to see that the time roughly translates to 2:12:00. Of course, that’s just on paper, and the chances of Gidey running such time would be outright ridiculous. However, if you adjust it with varying degrees of factors like women typically running 9-11% slower than men across races, the kind of pacers she would get, and most importantly, her mental toughness to go the full 26.2 miles, and additional two minutes can be added to the time.
History suggests that you don’t necessarily need to have a strong finishing kick to break the marathon record or run a fast time. Endurance over the course is more important, and it is one vital tool Gidey possesses and has propelled her to multiple world records. Such ability needs to be brought to the fore in Valencia.
A very fast time for an athlete comes with many factors. For one, Gidey would need to feel good on race day. It is one factor that is completely out of your control. But perhaps even more important is the race-day weather, which can be detrimental if the temperatures get too high.
These features help improve drastically the marathon training knowledge and consistency of the runners, which helps propel them on race day. If Gidey can showcase the amount of endurance ability we have seen in the last two years, she has a very good chance of breaking the 2:14 barrier in Valencia.