Would Eliud Kipchoge Win an Ultra Marathon?

Eliud Kipchoge, the Kenyan long-distance runner, is a living legend in the world of marathon running. With a record-shattering sub-2-hour marathon under his belt and multiple major marathon victories, Kipchoge has redefined the boundaries of endurance and speed over 26.2 miles. But how would this marathon maestro fare in the gruelling world of ultra marathons, where distances stretch beyond the conventional, and the terrains often tell a tale of their own?

Eliud Kipchoge’s Marathon Dominance

To understand Kipchoge’s potential in an ultra marathon, we must first acknowledge his marathon prowess. His official world record stands at 2:01:39, set at the Berlin Marathon in 2018. This equates to an average pace of approximately 4:38 minutes per mile. This blistering pace is sustained over a distance that, while formidable, is less than half of what he would encounter in many ultra marathon events.

Kipchoge’s Marathon Achievements:

  • Berlin Marathon 2018: World Record at the time – 2:01:39
  • INEOS 1:59 Challenge 2019: Broke the 2-hour barrier (not an official world record due to pacing strategies) – 1:59:40

His training is a cocktail of high mileage, unwavering discipline, and meticulous preparation. Kipchoge’s approach to racing is strategic; he runs with patience, often making his decisive move in the latter stages of the race.

Pace Analysis: Kipchoge Vs. Ultra Marathoners

When comparing Kipchoge’s pace to ultra marathoners, it’s a clash of two worlds. Ultra marathoners typically adopt a more conservative pace to conserve energy for the long haul.

Pace Comparison:

RunnerMarathon Pace (min/mile)Ultra Marathon Pace (min/mile)
Eliud Kipchoge4:38N/A
CJ Albertson (50km WR)N/A5:07 (50km)

While Kipchoge’s marathon pace is significantly faster, it’s not directly transferable to the ultra setting, where pacing strategies revolve around endurance over speed.

The Challenges of Ultra Marathon Terrains

Ultra marathons are not just about covering a longer distance; they often feature challenging terrains that can include trails, mountains, and sometimes even desert landscapes. Kipchoge’s experience is predominantly on the flat, smooth tarmac of city marathons.

“Marathons are fast, but ultra marathons require a different kind of strength and mentality, especially when tackling the unpredictable terrains.” – Ultra Marathon Expert

The transition from road to trail can be jarring for even the most seasoned marathoners. The varied terrains can slow a runner’s pace significantly as they navigate rocky paths, muddy trails, and steep inclines.

Elevation Gains in Ultra Marathons

Elevation changes are a hallmark of many ultra marathon courses, presenting a challenge that is typically absent from the marathon scene. The impact of these gains on a runner’s body and pace cannot be understated.

Elevation Impact:

  • Increased Cardiovascular Demand: The heart and lungs work harder to supply oxygen at higher altitudes.
  • Muscle Fatigue: Ascending and descending trails lead to greater muscle wear and tear.

While Kipchoge has displayed impeccable cardiovascular efficiency at sea level marathons, ultra marathons could place him in scenarios with thousands of feet in elevation changes. It’s an unknown variable that could significantly test his endurance and pace management skills.

Endurance for the Extra Distance

The leap from 26.2 miles to potentially 50 miles or more is a daunting prospect for any athlete. It’s not merely about maintaining a steady pace; it’s about energy conservation, nutrition, hydration, and the ability to endure the physical and mental fatigue that comes with such distances.

Kipchoge’s marathon endurance is undeniable, but ultra marathons demand a different energy system. The body switches from primarily using glycogen to relying more heavily on fat stores, a transition that requires both physiological adaptation and strategic fueling.

Key Endurance Considerations:

  • Nutrition: Ultra runners must master the art of eating on the go, balancing the intake of solids and liquids to maintain energy levels.
  • Pacing: Even a slight miscalculation in pace can have compounding effects over the extra miles.
  • Recovery: The ability to recover quickly from micro-fatigue during the race can determine success.

Transitioning from Marathon to Ultra Marathon

The question then arises: Can Kipchoge’s honed marathon skills translate to the ultra marathon format? History has seen marathon runners step up to ultra distances with varying degrees of success. The transition is not just physical; it’s deeply psychological.

Transition Strategies:

  • Cross-Training: Incorporating cycling, swimming, or strength training to build overall endurance and resilience.
  • Long Training Runs: Gradually increasing the length of training runs to adapt to the extra distance.
  • Recovery Emphasis: Prioritizing rest and recovery just as much as the training itself.

For Kipchoge, accustomed to the structured and relatively predictable marathon, the unpredictable nature of ultra marathons—where anything can happen, and races often last through the night—would be a new frontier.

Mental Fortitude and Race Strategy

Beyond the physical demands, ultra marathons are a mental battle. The solitude of long-distance running, coupled with the physical exhaustion, requires a formidable mental strength. Kipchoge is known for his Zen-like focus and has often spoken about the mental aspect of running as being crucial to his success.

Mental Tactics:

  • Mindfulness and Presence: Staying in the moment can help manage the overwhelming nature of ultra distances.
  • Mental Imagery: Visualizing the course and anticipating challenges to stay mentally prepared.
  • Positive Self-talk: Maintaining a positive internal dialogue to overcome tough moments.

His strategy in marathons often involves patient pacing and a late surge to victory. In an ultra marathon, this approach would have to be adjusted. It’s less about a final sprint and more about consistent energy preservation and making smart decisions hour after hour.

In the high-stakes world of ultra marathons, an athlete’s success is as dependent on their mental endurance as it is on their physical endurance. Kipchoge’s calm and collected demeanor, his ability to focus intently over the course of a marathon, suggests that he might well have the mental makeup necessary for the long, solitary hours that define ultra races.

Eliud Kipchoge’s Mental Resilience:

  • Consistency: Known for his consistent training and performance, a key asset in ultra marathons.
  • Adaptability: Has demonstrated the ability to adapt to race dynamics, a skill that would serve him well over longer distances and variable conditions.
  • Stress Management: Exhibits excellent stress management, an essential trait for the unpredictability of ultra marathons.

However, the transition from a world-class marathoner to an ultra marathoner is not guaranteed. The sheer length of an ultra requires a different approach to everything from pacing to nutrition. The physical toll of running an ultra marathon also cannot be underestimated. Muscles and joints are subjected to a much longer period of repetitive stress, and the risk of injury increases exponentially.

Physical and Tactical Adjustments:

  • Energy Management: Mastering the art of fat utilization for energy over long periods.
  • Gear and Equipment: Selecting appropriate footwear and gear for varying terrain and weather conditions.
  • Crew and Pacing: Utilising a support crew for nutrition and pacing, especially in 100-mile races.


Would Eliud Kipchoge win an ultra marathon? While his marathon credentials are unparalleled, an ultra marathon is a different beast altogether. The combination of extended distance, varied terrain, and elevation changes present a challenge that is as much about endurance and strategy as it is about speed.

Kipchoge’s disciplined training, exceptional cardiovascular fitness, and mental toughness suggest that he would likely be competitive in the ultra marathon field. However, winning would depend on his ability to adapt his race strategy, manage energy over a significantly longer distance, and handle the technical aspects of ultra marathon courses.

In the end, whether Kipchoge would win an ultra marathon remains a tantalising question. But perhaps the more pertinent question is not whether he would win, but how his participation would inspire and elevate the sport, just as he has done with the marathon. His foray into the world of ultra marathons would undoubtedly be a journey worth watching, full of lessons and legendary moments for the running community and beyond.

In contemplating such a scenario, we are reminded of Kipchoge’s own words: “No human is limited.” Whether or not he would take home the title, his attempt alone would be a testament to the spirit of endurance sports and a celebration of human potential.


How fast can Eliud Kipchoge run 5k?

Eluid Kipchoge’s best 5k time is 12 mins 16 seconds.

What is the mens fastest ultra marathon?

50 km
CJ Albertson
6 March 2022

50 miles
 Jim Walmsley (USA)
4 May 2019
 Sacramento, US

100 km
 Aleksandr Sorokin (LTU)
23 April 2022
 Bedford, UK

100 miles
 Aleksandr Sorokin (LTU)
7 January 2022
 Tel Aviv, Israel

What is Kipchoge’s heart rate?

Kipchoge would have used 85-90% of a runner’s aerobic capacity, twice the capacity of an average man and a sustained heart rate of about 160-170 beats per minute (resting rate 60-100 beats,)

Is there anything longer than an ultra marathon?

The most common distances for ultramarathons are 50km (31 miles), 81km (50 miles), 100km (62 miles) or 161km (100 miles) but some are much longer than this. The Self-Transcendence 5,000km (3,100 mile) is the world’s longest certified road race in New York and it takes the top participants 40-50 days to complete.

Author - Mathew Stuckey

Mathew Stuckey is the founder of Ultramarathon Central, an online platform dedicated to supporting and inspiring ultra runners from all walks of life. With a passion for pushing the limits of what's possible, Mathew has taken on some of the toughest ultra events in the UK, including the Monster Triathlon.

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