This morning, Letesenbet Gidey ran a world record of 62:52 at the Valencia Half Marathon. The mark broke the existing world record by 70 seconds — meaning Gidey wasn’t just the first woman to break 63:00. She was also the first woman to break 64:00, a Beamonesque improvement. It became, immediately, one of the most impressive runs in the history of distance running.
When an athlete produces a performance like that in the year 2021, there are three typical reactions:
Was this the greatest performance in the history of distance running?
When Gidey ran her 15k world record of 44:20 in 2019, we praised it as one of the greatest performances in the history of distance running. Today in Valencia, Gidey came through 15k in 44:29 — and ran another 6.1k to smash the half marathon world record (though she did slow down over the final 5k). This was a better performance than her 44:20. But was it the best ever?
According to World Athletics scoring tables, yes. 62:52 for the half is worth the following performances at other distances — all of which are far superior to the current world records:
800 meters – 1:51.22
1500 meters – 3:45.54
5000 meters – 13:39.43
10,000 meters – 28:38.00
Steeple – 8:29.24
Marathon – 2:11:17
But those scoring tables are not a definitive measuring tool, something World Athletics president Seb Coe admitted when the most recent edition was published in January 2017. That date is also noteworthy because it’s just before Nike released the first version of the Vaporfly, meaning the tables don’t account for the fact that it is significantly easier to run a 62:52 half marathon in October 2021 than it was in January 2017.
Of course, Nike and other companies have now started to release super spikes on the track, further muddying historical comparisons across events. But if you’re curious what Gidey’s time would equate to in a pre-super shoe world, here’s what it might look like:
Given that the pre-super shoe world record in the women’s half was 64:51 by Joyciline Jepkosgei (she ran it in 2017 wearing adidas shoes), even under the strictest conversion, Gidey’s run today is still clearly the greatest half ever run by a woman.
Another way to look at Gidey’s mark would be to compare it to the second-best half marathon in history — which also happened to come in Valencia today, Yalemzerf Yehualaw‘s 63:51. Yehualaw’s time was 1.56% slower than Gidey’s. What if we did that for every distance event? Let’s call it the Outlier Index: