It's hard to make meaningful cross-sport performance comparisons, but I happened to notice on my phone the results of the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 11, about the time that Australia's Mirinda Carfrae was gobbling up Daniela Ryf, on the Queen K at the Ironman in Kona, on her way to a record 2:50:26 and a second straight Ironman/Kona victory.
The top three men in Chicago, all from Kenya, all ran sub-2:05 marathons: Eliud Kipchoge. 2:04:11; Sammy Kitwara, 2:04:28; Dickson Chumba, 2:04:32. The top woman in Chicago, Rita Jeptoo, also from Kenya, finished 2:24:35, more than a minute faster than Mare Dibaba of Ethiopia (2:25:37) in second, and Florence Kiplagat of Kenya (2:25:57) in third.
I had already watched the men's winner in Kona, Sebastian Keinle, from Germany, go by me just before the right turn from Kuakini Highway to Hualalai Road on his way to the finish line. Earlier in the race, Keinle had run the roughly 9-mile Alii Drive loop in around approximately 55 minutes, a little over a six-minute-per-pace. But by the end, the six-minutes miles were long gone; Keinle had slowed to the point where several age groupers, with 25 miles still to go, were able to hold his pace and savor the experience of having run with the winner of the ironman, if only for a moment or two.
Here's what I thought was interesting: Keinle's winning marathon time was 2:54:56, or 52:45 minutes slower than Kipchoge's 2:04:11 in Chicago. The fastest marathon of the day among the men in Kona, a strong 2:47:46 by Keinle's countryman Jan Frodeno, was still 45:35 off Kipchoge's pace. In contrast, Carfrae's 2:50:26 gave up just 25:21 to Jeptoo's 2:24:35. And Jeptoo is no slouch; she hasn't lost a major marathon in two years, and is the current course record holder at Boston.
Again, to be clear, one race is not statistically relevant. But in retrospect, while Keinle's race this year at Ironman was heroic – he hammered to a big lead off the bike, then crushed the first half of the marathon, challenging the rest of the field to chase him down – Carfae's performance was nothing short of historic. She is out-performing at every level. How long her reign will last is anyone's guess, but at this point in her career she is climbing rapidly toward heights scaled before her by Ironman legends and multiple Kona winners Dave Scott, Mark Allen, Paula Newby-Fraser and Natasha Badmann.