(15-Oct) -- Nearly 16 years ago in the Nevada desert, a 26 year-old Kenyan named Edna Kiplagat finished tenth at the Las Vegas Marathon. It was her first marathon, and it didn't go well. Her time of 2:50:20 put her 18 minutes and 26 seconds behind the winner, Mexico's Adriana Fernández, and she won just $500 in prize money.
PHOTO: Edna Kiplagat finishing second at the 2021 Boston Marathon (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
It's hard to believe that one of the greatest careers in marathoning history began so humbly. Call it a false start, if you will; she wouldn't run another marathon for four and a half years.
Fast forward to 2010 and Kiplagat decided to take on the marathon distance again at age 30. She lined up for the Honda LA Marathon, and like in the Las Vegas race in 2005, the elite women were given a head start (this time 18 minutes and 47 seconds) and the elite men chased them. The first athlete to cross the finish line would win a special $100,000 bonus in addition to prize money, time bonuses and a new car.
Running on the "Stadium to Sea" course from Dodger Stadium to Santa Monica, Kiplagat emerged from a pack of six women after 16 miles (26 km) and ran alone to the finish to win in 2:25:38. Despite their best efforts, the elite men couldn't catch her. To hold them off she ran the final four miles in 5:20, 5:14, 5:09 and 5:10, respectively. She beat the men's winner, Wesley Korir, by two minutes and 28 seconds, and pocketed a total payday of $155,000 in cash plus a Honda Insight sedan worth $23,100.
"I knew after mile-21 I could win it all," Kiplagat told Race Results Weekly that day. "I pushed as hard as I could."
A Star Was Born
Kiplagat's performance in Los Angles earned her an invitation to the New York City Marathon in the fall, and that's where her marathon career really took off. In only her third marathon, she beat Mary Keitany of Kenya and Shalane Flanagan of the United States in a three-women battle in the final kilometers. Speaking in the calm voice of an athlete who had already mastered the distance she said: "This year has gone very well for me. Everything has gone as I planned."
Those bi-coastal victories set the stage for what became a ten year streak of top-level marathon running from Kiplagat. In 2011 she finished second at the London Marathon, lowering her personal best to a world class 2:20:46 (she actually crossed the finish line third, but second place Liliya Shobukhova of Russia was later disqualified for doping). That performance earned her a berth on the Kenyan team for the World Athletics Championships. On a cloudy, warm and very humid August day in Daegu, Korea, Kiplagat won the world marathon title despite falling hard to the pavement in the 38th kilometer after tripping over her teammate, Sharon Cherop, at a fluid station.
"Yes I was a little shocked," Kiplagat said that day about her fall. "What was in my mind I don't know if I'm going to get up and pick it up again. I found myself running good again. It was a surprise."
Kiplagat would run two marathons in London in 2012, the traditional London Marathon in the spring and then the Olympic Marathon in the summer. She got second at the first race (2:19:50), but only 19th in the second (2:27:52). She was with the leaders in the Olympic race at halfway, but faded in the second half. She would never again finish outside of the top-10 in a marathon.
In 2013, Kiplagat rebounded strongly. She got second in London again (2:21:32), then successfully defended her World Athletics Marathon title in Moscow on a hot, sunny afternoon (2:25:44). In the Moscow race she used patience to her advantage, allowing Italy's Valeria Straneo to get half a minute ahead of her and the rest of the field at the 10-K mark. Kiplagat didn't take the lead until 40-K.
"They knew the defending champion was coming," Kiplagat said matter of factly after the race.
In It For The Long Run
Kiplagat was 33 when she won her second world title, typically the peak age for a marathon runner. But in some ways, her story only started then. Working with her husband and coach Gilbert Koech and her manager Brendan Reilly, Kiplagat has managed to extend her elite career another eight years since then. After winning her second world title in Moscow she's run another 15 high level marathons, including victories in London in 2014 and Boston in 2017 (the latter at 37 years old). In all, she's registered seven podium finishes during that period, and won another World Athletics Championships Marathon medal: silver in 2017. Remarkably, in five consecutive World Athletics Championships appearances she's finished in the top-5 every time:
2011 Daegu - 1st
2013 Moscow - 1st
2015 Beijing - 5th
2017 London - 2nd
2019 Doha - 4th
Most recently, Kiplagat finished second at the Boston Marathon last Monday. Boston, run on a hilly course with no pacemakers where the elite women run in a separate section, is the perfect race for Kiplagat. She won in 2017 (2:21:52), then came second in 2019 (2:24:13) and again in 2021 (2:25:09). In this year's race, she barrelled through the uphill second half in 1:10:56 and nearly caught winner Diana Kipyokei, another Kenyan, in the homestretch. Kipyokei is 14 years younger than Kiplagat who will turn 42 next month.
"I did enough strength (in training) and everything went at planned, so I am grateful for second place today," Kiplagat said after the race. She added: "I think this is a big present for me."
Discipline Is The Key
Kiplagat --who lives with her husband and two children, Carlos (17) and Wendy (13) in the Boulder, Colo., area-- credits a disciplined approach for her success. Reflecting on her longevity after her Boston race last Monday she said, "I have been very disciplined, I have been focused all the time when I am preparing for a race. She added: "All along I've been so focused and have been maintaining my discipline all the time."
Looking ahead, Kiplagat made it clear that her athletics career is not over. Another World Athletics Championships Marathon will be contested in Eugene, Oregon, next summer, and the 2022 Boston Marathon will be held next April. Kiplagat has not announced her competition plan for 2022.
"I will try to stay in the sport for more years to come," she told reporters last Monday. "The sport has been a passion." She continued: "I want to stay in the sport so I can still motivate younger ones."
PHOTO: Edna Kiplagat with her husband, Gilbert Koech, and children Carlos and Wendy receiving her Abbott World Marathon Majors series troph y in Boston in April, 2018 (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
EDNA KIPLAGAT'S MARATHON RECORD (chronological order; data from Race Results Weekly and Tilastopaja Oy):
2:50:20 (10), Las Vegas, 04-Dec-2005
2:25:38 (1), Los Angeles, 21-Mar-2010
2:28:20 (1), New York, 07-Nov-2010
2:20:46 (1), London, 17-Apr-2011
2:28:43 (1), Daegu World Championships, 27-Aug-2011
2:19:50 (2), London, 22-Apr-2012
2:27:52 (19), London Olympics, 05-Aug-2012
2:21:32 (2), London, 21-Apr-2013
2:25:44 (1), Moscow World Championships, 10-Aug-2013
2:30:04 (9), New York, 03-Nov-2013
2:20:21 (1), London, 13-Apr-2014
2:36:24 (12), New York, 02-Nov-2014
2:27:16 (10), London, 26-Apr-2015
2:28:18 (5), Beijing World Championships, 30-Aug-2015
2:22:36 (3), Tokyo, 28-Feb-2016
2:23:28 (2), Chicago, 09-Oct-2016
2:21:52 (1), Boston, 17-Apr-2017
2:27:18 (2), London World Championships, 06-Aug-2017
2:29:36 (4), New York, 05-Nov-2017
2:47:14 (8), Boston, 16-Apr-2018
2:21:18 (4), Berlin, 16-Sep-2018
2:24:13 (2), Boston, 15-Apr-2019
2:35:36 (5), Doha World Championships, 28-Sep-2019
2:25:09 (2), Boston, 11-Oct-2021