The Boston Marathon 2023, it is known, did not go well for Eliud Kipchoge. Despite remaining the GOAT of the marathon and despite being among the favorites-if not THE favorites-he finished the race in sixth place.
At this point it is only fair to specify a couple of things, if only to bring everything back into proportion: on what was certainly an adverse day for him, he still finished among the top and with a remarkable time of 2:09:23. He had also never run Boston, which may have led him to underestimate it, especially in the uphill sections. The latter theory is, in our opinion, not very credible, especially when applied to a star athlete who is also used to training with level changes and therefore certainly not unprepared for routes with varying elevation.
It is true, however, that expectations were very high, and he has always shown that he can handle stress perfectly.
So to try to find explanations, on TRP Exclusive they gathered clues from Kipchoge’s own words and drew conclusions. From the least to the most likely. We start from the one that could partially justify an underwhelming performance to the one that is most likely.
Kipchoge missed some refueling, particularly the one at the 30th kilometer. Videos show that he fails to catch the bottle on the fly and, in order not to break the pace, continues. This explanation is not very likely because immediately afterwards he loses ground to the leading group, and it is implausible that a failure to refuel would have immediate consequences. Instead, it may be the case that these manifest themselves further down the road.
2. Soaked shoes
In the press conference following the race, Kipchoge said he struggled to work his left leg at full speed. He has in no way linked this discomfort to anything, but some are advancing the hypothesis that the Nike Alphafly 2 were made heavier by the rain and the upper retained water inside them, making movement more difficult. This is a more credited theory because it explains, at the very least, the deterioration in performance in the second and final part of the race, when the gap to the leading trio became sharper.
3. Being the pacer for much of the race
For the first half of the race Kipchoge led. It might seem like a show of strength, but in managing the entire competition, such a strategy ends up presenting a bill. Being first means allowing those behind you to take advantage of those in front that cleave the air and offer those behind them a wake-that is, one that is less dense and therefore offers less resistance. Allowing them to make less effort.
It is no coincidence that the world record over the marathon distance set by him in Vienna in 2019 was made possible by the presence of pacers arranged in phalanx formation that “lightened” the air in front of Kipchoge.
In Boston he found himself a pacer, evidently ending up exerted tired. At one point you can clearly see him annoyed that he is in the lead.
4. The weather (and temperatures)
The weather conditions reminded many of another atmospherically similar marathon: the London Marathon in 2020. Even then Kipchoge ran a race below his potential, suffering and finishing 8th.
Is it possible that he is particularly sensitive to the weather? One certainly plausible explanation is that it is not to the rain but rather to low temperatures, or rather to a combination of the two: rain and cold weather-and particularly the latter-put stress on a body such as his that is poorly thermally insulated by having minimal fat mass.
The pinnacle of the career?
Some wanted to see in this underwhelming performance the beginning of the end of who is and will long remain the greatest marathoner of recent years and certainly one of the greatest in history.
Others, however, have observed that Kipchoge has not always won and, indeed, has always been able to use the most disappointing races to come back stronger than before. After all, he is the strongest marathoner in the world not only because of his physical gifts but also because of the mental strength he has always been able to demonstrate.
Certainly age will play less and less in his favor: he is now 38 years old while the top two finishers at Boston 2023-Benson Kipruto and Evans Chebet-are 32 and 34 years old, respectively.
Will it count? Won’t it count? Certainly it is more believable that in Boston several factors conspired against Kipchoge, who at the very least proved-though he might have preferred not to do so-that he was human.