Running // 06/28/2022

Marathon - the running elite from Kenya and Ethiopia

Image credit: Thinkstock Logo

What does it take to be among the world's elite marathon runners? Apparently, one thing above all: You have to be born and raised in Kenya or Ethiopia. At least that's the conclusion when you take a look at the list of the world's fastest marathon runners. Without exception, the first 13 places are occupied by Kenyans and Ethiopians. We take a closer look at the running elite from East Africa.

Marcel Fehr is no stranger to running, having won the German Junior Championships over 1,500, 3,000 and 5,000 meters several times. In 2011, he then decided to train for a month in Kenya with "Achim Achilles".

Afterwards, he summed up: "We have never seen so many tall and, by our standards, almost underweight people in Kenya's largest city, Eldoret. They were all born to run...any one of these several thousand runners, anywhere in the world, can win any race."



Fehr sees the greatest advantage of the Kenyans, apart from their hereditary disposition, in the permanent "training" at high altitude. Hardly anyone here can afford to travel by public transport, so most distances are covered on foot, usually in a fast run.

At the same time, everyone sees the "Street of Runners" here, where the villas of the international marathon winners from the region are lined up. This is the goal of all those who want to achieve something in the running world and the ambition of the runners is enormous. They run here "for existence" - in world record times.

Eliud Kipchoge

Eliud Kipchoge currently leads the world rankings as the fastest runner ever - with a best time of just 1:59:40 hours. This makes him the first and so far the only person to run a marathon in under two hours. However, the record is an unofficial one.

But he also holds the official world record: 2:01:39 hours, which he ran at the Berlin Marathon 2018. In 2016 and 2021, he won the Olympic gold medal in the marathon. But his heart didn't always beat for long-distance running: He didn't get into marathon running until he was 28; before that, 5,000 meters was his top discipline.

Despite all these successes and well-known sponsors, Kipchoge remains down-to-earth and true to his Kenyan roots. His training camp, where he lives most of the time, is not far from his house and very modestly furnished. He also relies on traditional Kenyan foods (and no supplements). During the pandemic, he provided food to runners in need from Kenya.


Kenenisa Bekele

The Ethiopian has ensured that he is known as one of the best long-distance runners in the world with three Olympic victories. He is with a best time of 02:01:41 hours at the Berlin Marathon 2019 only two seconds slower than world record runner Kipchoge. For him that's a very big annoyance still today, but no reason not to keep trying.

Bekele also didn't commit to the marathon until later in his career; before that, he won several Olympic gold medals on the track (5,000 and 10,000 meters) and in cross country.

One possible reason for his No. 2 ranking could be that he sometimes takes it easier than his more disciplined colleague Kipchoge and devotes himself to other undertakings besides running. In the past, Bekele broke off some runs, skipped training sessions, and took care of investments in hotels and sports facilities in his home country on the side. But he has also been injured regularly in his career.


Birhanu Legese

Rank 3 of the fastest marathon runners of all time is Birhanu Legese, also from Ethiopia. His best time of 02:02:48 at the 2019 Berlin Marathon is just under a minute behind Bekele. After winning several half marathons, he attracted attention by winning the Tokyo Marathon 2020.

Earlier, he earned titles mainly at shorter distances (100 and 200 meters).

Otherwise, not much is known about Legese at No. 3 on the list. Since he is about 10 years younger than his competitors Bekele and Kipchoge, it is not impossible that we will find him in one of the top two places in the course of his career.

Mosinet Geremew (Ethiopia), Dennis Kimetto (Kenya), Titus Ekiru (Kenya) - that's how the list of the fastest marathon runners of all time continues until the 14th rank. The top places are occupied by more and more new runners, but their countries of origin remain the same: Kenya and Ethiopia.

Share article Logo
Topics in this article Logo