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Kelvin Kiptum vs Animals in a Marathon

Kelvin Kiptum
Kelvin Kiptum of Kenya crosses the finish line to win the Elite Men's Marathon during the 2023 TCS London Marathon on April 23, 2023 in London, England. Image by Alex Davidson via Getty Images

It is with great sadness that we hear of the passing of Kelvin Kiptum, the reigning world record holder in the marathon. In honor of his memory, we’ve compiled a list of animals that could realistically race a marathon against Kelvin.

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Kelvin Kiptum

Kelvin Kiptum
Kelvin Kiptum at the 2023 Chicago Marathon. Chad Veal, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

At the Chicago Marathon on the 8th of October, 2023, Kelvin ran a phenomenal race, setting a new world record for the 42 km (26.2 miles) at 2 h 35 s. That’s an average pace of 2:50 min/km (4:36 min/mile). 

On the 11th of February, 2024, Kelvin and his coach, Gervais Hakizimana, died in a car crash in Kenya. Kelvin was only 24 years old. He was at the peak of his career and a top contender for the Olympic Games in Paris this year.  

To highlight the remarkable achievement of Kelvin’s world record, we compare his time to those predicted for the best endurance runners of the animal kingdom. 

Land Animals with Endurance

There aren’t many animals that are great endurance runners.

The cheetah, for example, has a top speed upwards of 0.5 min/km (0.8 min/mile), but it can only maintain this speed for around 500 m (0.3 miles). 

However, there are several land animal species that may be able to run the distance of a marathon.

Horses

horse
Red stallion running. Image via Depositphotos
  • Furthest distance: 160 km (100 miles) in the space of 24 hours, with rest
  • Fastest time: 0.8 min/km (1.3 min/mile)

At a race horse’s top speed, a horse could run a marathon in around 34 min. Realistically, race horses cannot maintain a top speed for longer than a few minutes, and endurance horses cannot run faster than 6.8 min/km (11 min/mile), changing their marathon time to a more realistic 4 h 46 min.

Sled Dogs

sled dogs
Sled dog race. Image via Depositpohotos
  • Furthest distance: Without stopping, sled dogs can run for 80 km (50 miles)
  • Top speed: 0.5 min/km (0.8 min/mile)

At top speed, sled dogs could finish a marathon in a quick 21 min. However, in endurance races, sled dogs will typically not run faster than 3.7 min/km (5.9 min/mile), changing their marathon time to a more realistic 2 h 35 min. Additionally, they would have to run in cold conditions to avoid overheating. 

Camels

Camel in the desert, Wahiba Oman. Image via Depositphotos
  • Furthest distance: 190 km (120 miles)
  • Top speed: 0.9 min/km (1.4 min/mile)

At top speed, a camel could run a marathon in 38 min. However, camels cannot maintain this speed for longer than one hour and will more likely run a marathon at a speed of 1.8 min/km (3 min/mile). This means their marathon time would be 1 h 15 min, effectively beating Kelvin.

Ostrich

Ostrich
Male ostrich. Image via Depositphotos
  • Furthest distance: 50 km (31 miles)
  • Top speed: 0.8 min/km (1.3 min/mile)

At top speed, an ostrich would finish a marathon in 34 minutes. Further, ostriches can reportedly run great distances without slowing down from a speed of 1.2 min/km (1.9 min/mile), meaning they could run a marathon in 50 min, beating every other land animal. 

Conclusion

Hypothetically, camels and ostriches could beat Kelvin in a race. However, these animals are unlikely to travel at a fast, steady pace for such great distances, but rather expend most of their energy the first few kilometers and then require a period of rest. 

Humans are, therefore, generally considered the best endurance runners in the animal kingdom. And Kelvin was the best of the best. 

Rest in peace, Kelvin Kiptum.

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