Kamworor’s 13:01, Felix’s 47.7; What's The Best Split Of All Time?

Two weeks ago, Geoffrey Kamworor rode a 13:01 5K split to his third consecutive gold medal at the 2018 World Half Marathon Championships in Valencia, Spain. Kamworor’s big move at the 15-kilometer mark blew the competition open, turning a close, crowded race into a one-man rout. Though the wind and course helped make that 5K section ripe for a fast time, it was still jarring to see someone run a time that could win a Diamond League 5K in the middle of a half marathon. 

That made us think about other noteworthy splits of all time—sections of races that looked like typos on the results page. In no particular order, here are five splits that stood out.  

1. Allyson Felix: 4x400 split at the 2015 World Championships

Felix’s split was part of relay, so it’s not exactly the same as the others, but it’s more than worthy of inclusion. In the 2015 World Championships, Felix was on the third leg and received the baton 1.99 seconds behind Jamaica. After 400 meters of Felix excellence, the U.S. was ahead of Jamaica by 0.48 seconds. 

How did this happen? 

Did Stephenie Ann McPherson of Jamaica jog the third leg? Oh no, McPherson did not. She actually ran 50.19, a solid split. But Felix ran 47.72….47.72 to completely wipe away the American deficit and put the U.S. in the lead for the final leg.

The American anchor, Francena McCorory, got caught on the homestretch, making Felix’s run only good enough for silver. It also raised all sorts of questions: Could Felix have run even faster if she was on the anchor? Was the split too good? By catching Jamaica, McCorory was put in the role of “chased” instead of the “chaser.” OK, that last thought is probably only my own. After all, if you're running anchor for a U.S. 4x400m team, you should expect to get the baton in first place. Though 47.72 for second place does seem like cruel fate at the hands of the track gods, the back-and-forth with Jamaica did create one of the most entertaining 4x400s of this era.    

2. Dave Wottle: Negative split in the 800m at the 1972 Olympics

Wottle makes the list with his perfectly-timed 800m race in Munich. The American’s run for gold is lore amongst track coaches who preach the maxims of “run your own race” and “don’t go out too fast” to high school runners who forget it as soon as the gun goes off. 

Wottle's race is certainly rare in the contemporary version of the 800m, where even the most restrained runners have a positive split of some degree (the negative split races that do occur happen in tactical races where the entire field goes out slow, not just one runner, like in Wottle’s case).

In that respect, maybe Wottle’s last lap of 52 seconds wasn’t the most efficient way to get to his winning time of 1:45.86. But it produced a remarkable race, with Wottle running in last place for the first 500 meters, way behind the pack. As in, he was so far back he had a camera shot all to himself.

Even with 80 meters to go, it doesn’t look like he can make up the gap from fourth place to first. But at about the 799-meter mark, Wottle gets to the front. His final margin of victory was 0.03 seconds. This style of racing was signature Wottle. In the 1972 Olympic Trials, he closed in 51.4 on his way to a world record of 1:44.3. 

3. Priscah Jeptoo: 69-minute second half of the 2013 New York City Marathon

With no rabbits at the New York City Marathon, the pace is always unpredictable. The 2013 edition of the women’s race went in two different directions with Buzunesh Deba and Tigist Tufa running aggressively from the start and pre-race favorite Priscah Jeptoo laying off the ambitious pace. 

Deba and Tufa went through halfway in 1:12:30, while Jeptoo came through in 1:16:00. One way of thinking about this lead is that if they were racing on a 400m track, the duo would have lapped Jeptoo twice. 

A few miles later Jeptoo starting chopping into the lead, her acceleration combined with Deba and Tufa slowing meant the 3.5-minute gap disappeared by the 24th mile. Jeptoo continued her strong pace through the hills of Central Park to the finish line—clocking a 69:07 second half on the way to a finish time of 2:25:07. 

4. Dennis Kimetto: 14:09 5K between 30K and 35K in the 2014 Berlin Marathon

At the 2014 Berlin Marathon, Kimetto’s splits for the first 30 kilometers of the race ranged from 14:26 to 14:42. Those times put the world record in play. But what he ran between 30K and 35K all but guaranteed that Kimetto would erase Wilson Kipsang’s mark of 2:03:23. 

Kimetto’s split was an astonishing 14:09, a full 26 seconds faster than Kipsang had covered that segment. He slowed down after that, but the 14:09 was enough to ensure that he would be the first man to break 2:03 in the marathon, posting a time of 2:02:57. 

5K
14:42
10K
14:42
15K
14:46
20K
14:26
25K
14:32
30K
14:30
35K
14:09
40K
14:42

Kimetto’s run also had the effect of making world record attempts in the marathon seem more plausible than they actually are. 

Allow me to explain. Many broadcasts of major marathons do a side-by-side comparison of splits to measure if someone is on pace to break the world record. As opposed to taking the average time Kimetto ran over the entire 26.2 miles, they take each of his 5K segments. So, if someone runs the first 15K in 44:09 they are one second under world record pace because Kimetto ran 44:10 during his run in Berlin. 

However, Kimetto’s split from 30K to 35K was so fast that inevitably someone who was on record pace will suddenly find themselves way behind the pace because they weren’t able to get anywhere near 14:09 for that 5K. 

#thanksdennis 

5. Genzebe Dibaba: Last 800m of the 2015 Monaco Diamond League

If you are running 3:50.07, there are going to be some unbelievable splits. But even in the context of that world record 1500m run, Dibaba’s last 800m in 2:01.97 is astonishing. In the last lap she made Sifan Hassan look like she’s moving backward on a conveyor belt (Hassan ran 3:56.05 in that race, still her lifetime best).

Contained within that 2:01.57 was a third lap split (from 800m to 1200m) of 60 seconds. So much for the third lap being the hardest part of a 1500m. 

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