Women’s marathon record obliterated
Published: November 6, 2023
Due to the fact that football pretty much rules the airwaves this time of year, a pretty astounding sporting accomplishment hasn’t been receiving the props it most definitely warrants. I’m talking about Ethiopian marathon runner Tigst Assefa destroying the women's marathon world record by more two minutes in Berlin on September 24. And if that’s not amazing enough, what’s overshadowing such a stunning record-breaking effort are the critics complaining that she did it because of a crazy expensive pair of high-tech running shoes.
Now I’ve listened to old-guard sports curmudgeons for years pontificating on the questionability of athletic achievements done with high tech equipment. So to me this incident is no different than the decades of nay-saying surrounding the use of high tech aero-technology in cycling - to which I say bunk. But before I launch into this frivolous running shoe discussion, let’s first take a look at 26-year-old Tigst Assefa’s running resume.
Assefa is a former 800-meter specialist and a relative newcomer to the marathon distance. In 2013 she was an 800 meter bronze medallist at the African Junior Championships, and yet despite her being the first woman to break 2:00 minutes in the 800 she didn’t qualify for the 800 meter finals at the 2016 Rio Olympics. That seemed likely the result of a nagging achilles injury from training in spikes on the track.
The achilles injury put her out of action for two year, after which, in 2018 she made her road racing debut in a 10K, running 34:35. In 2019 she bettered that effort by nearly three minutes to win a prestigious German 10K in 31:45. That same year she debuted in the half marathon, running 1:08:25.
Her first marathon was run in March of 2022 when she finished seventh woman overall with a time of 2:34:01, a time her agent claimed was soft because she was not race fit and simply needed a paycheck. Then during the spring and early summer of 2022 Assefa won five races and set personal bests (PR) in the half marathon, 1:07:28, and 10K, 30:52. Based upon those results she was accepted into the elite field for 2022 Berlin marathon where she went on to smash her PR by a stunning 18 minutes, running a 2:15:37. With that performance it appeared Assefa had found her race. And after only one year of focusing on the marathon she’d become the third-fastest woman in marathon history. Now, just weeks ago she bettered the women’s previous world record time of 2:14:04 held by Kenyan Brigid Kosgei by running a 2:11:53.
I present Assefa’s resume simply to validate the fact that we’re talking about a world class athlete here. Yet despite that impressive road running resume, her spectacular 2023 marathon performance has become obscured by a pair of high tech running shoes. The shoe in question is the Adidas Adizero Adios Pro Evo 1s (which sell for over $500/pair).
Now…might those extravagant shoes have provided an advantageous bump to her record breaking marathon performance? Absolutely, just like aerobars have made cyclists faster in time trial events over the years. And if you think about it such technological “bumps” have been part and parcel of the sport of running ever since the Greeks made it a competitive event some 3000 years ago. Remember now… runners have gone from running in sandals to running in leather shoes to running in canvas shoes to running in gel inserted shoes to running in today’s latest innovation - light weight, five-ounce carbon fiber fitted shoes. And I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that you can find similar high tech innovations in virtually every sport on the planet.
Yup, to me Tigst Assefa’s world record marathon performance is far and away more a function of dedication, hard work, great training and exceptional genetics than it is a function of the high tech “super shoes” she was wearing. Period.
So as IOC (International Olympic Committee) President Thomas Bach once said, “We live in a fast changing world, and the role of sport in society is constantly evolving to. Innovation becomes to key to adapt to this new reality.”