Five Takeaways from the 2023 Chicago Marathon

By David Melly

October 8, 2023

The 2023 Bank of America Chicago Marathon is officially in the books, and boy, oh boy what a race it was. Headlined by Kelvin Kiptum’s sublime world record on the men’s side, the elite races were full of breakthrough performances, long-awaited comebacks, and more than anything else – fast running.

A huge thank-you to everyone who joined us for the CITIUS MAG x Bandit Running marathon watch party – we had a great time from start to finish with Chris Chavez, Kyle Merber, Sara Sutherland, and Declan Murray (plus a special appearance from 400m hurdles World medalist Trevor Bassitt!).

You can find our videos from the weekend on our YouTube channel and audio versions of our pre-race show and interview with women’s champ Sifan Hassan in our Spotify feed or wherever you get your podcasts. Full results can be found online as well.

Here are our biggest takeaways from a jam-packed weekend of action:

Kelvin Kiptum Takes The World Record To New Heights

All the conventional wisdom about the marathon simply doesn’t seem to apply to Kelvin Kiptum. The 23-year-old Kenyan superstar had never run a marathon before last fall, and in his first three shots at the distance he a) ran the fastest debut marathon ever, b) ran the fastest second half of a marathon ever, and c) set the world record. No one has ever taken to the distance like Kiptum, and times that seem impossible to everyone not named Eliud Kipchoge look like they come easy to the next great marathon legend.

Kelvin KiptumKelvin Kiptum

Kevin Morris / @KevMoFoto

Kiptum won the Chicago Marathon in a new world record of 2:00:35, taking 34 seconds off the world record and winning by over 3 minutes in half splits of 60:48 and 59:47. His acceleration at 30km to drop Daniel Kibet Mateiko looked like he’d gotten the biggest Mario Kart powerup ever as Kiptum dropped a 13:51 5km and a 4:18 22nd mile, the fastest mile ever recorded in a professional marathon. Now that Kiptum has become the first man in history under 2:01 in only his third marathon ever, talk of a competition-legal sub-2 hour marathon will surely follow every race he signs up for moving forward. Heck, Kiptum’s average time of his three career marathons is 2:01:17.

If everyone decides they want to compete for gold in Paris next year, Kenya may very well be sending the greatest marathon team in history on the men’s side if Kiptum, Kipchoge, and Boston/New York champ Evans Chebet are selected. A head-to-head matchup between those three titans of the event with no pacers and Olympic hardware on the line would surely be one of the headlining moments of the entire Olympic games.

Sifan HassanSifan Hassan

Kevin Morris / @KevMoFoto

Sifan Hassan Caps Stellar 2023 Season With Second Marathon Win

The women’s champion in Chicago is just as convention-defying an athlete as Kiptum but in a totally different way. Like Kiptum, Sifan Hassan is undefeated in her marathon career so far, and like Kiptum, Hassan won London and Chicago over two of the most talented fields assembled in the world this year. But in between marathons, Hassan took the unusual route of stepping back down in distance on the track and made the unprecedented choice to triple 1500m/5000m/10,000m at this year’s World Championships during her Chicago buildup. No runner in history has demonstrated Hassan’s range, from a 1:56 800m to a 2:13 marathon, and certainly no runner has come close to accomplishing what she has this year: medaling at Worlds in the 1500m in between major marathon victories.

Hassan didn’t make this one look easy, allowing eventual second-placer Ruth Chepngetich (the two-time reigning champ) to open up small gaps in the middle miles of the race, but catching back up every time. Even after she nearly missed a bottle around 35km and doubled back to her table to pick it up, she still managed to catch back up to her male pacer and offer him a drink as well. And in the end, she clocked a 2:13:44 after a 65:48 first half – a time that three weeks ago would’ve been the World record, and is still the second-fastest performance in history behind Tigst Assefa’s world record in Berlin.

Hassan now has the #2 all-time performances in the women’s mile, 10,000m, and marathon, a fitting tribute to her unprecedented versatility as an athlete. Interestingly, her half marathon personal best is “only” 65:15; it would be fun to see her chase the world record in that distance as well over the next year or two.

Conner MantzConner Mantz

Johnny Pace / @PacePhoto

American Men Punch Two Tickets To Paris

American distance fans’ hopes (and anxiety) were high headed into Chicago Marathon weekend as the best marathoners in the U.S. chased the 2:08:10 Olympic qualifying standard that had, so far, eluded American men this cycle. Without any automatic qualifiers, Team USA would not be guaranteed three spots on the starting line of the Olympic marathon, which in turn would complicate the Trials selection process.

At 30km, six American men were running sub-2:08 pace, and it seemed like all our fears would be put to rest. By the time the dust settled on the finish line, they mostly were: Conner Mantz finished 6th in 2:07:47 and his training partner and fellow BYU grad Clayton Young knocked 3 minutes off his personal best to take 7th in 2:08:00. Both men ended up in the U.S. top-10 list as well, with Mantz tying Dathan Ritzenhein for #4 all-time and Young landing at #7. They also became the first and second Americans ever to beat Galen Rupp head-to-head in a marathon race Rupp finished. The U.S. did not get a third auto-qualifier after all, but with four finishers in the top 10 and five sub-2:10 performances, a number of American marathoners will see their world rankings shoot up after this weekend.

Conner Mantz, Clayton YoungConner Mantz, Clayton Young

Kevin Morris / @KevMoFoto

Mantz, Young, and a number of other runners went out hard and ended up hanging on to slower paces in the second half of the race. Young and 11th-placer Brian Shrader were more conservative than some of their rivals, clocking 63:42-64:18 and 64:35-65:11 splits to stay relatively even, but Americans like Daniel Mesfun and Frank Lara paid the price of a 63-minute first half in a big way. Now that two spots are definitely up for grabs among Olympic Marathon Trials contenders in Orlando, Young and Mantz will surely be among the favorites to make the team, but anything can and does happen in a closely-packed, unpaced marathon setting and nothing is guaranteed.

Emily SissonEmily Sisson

Johnny Pace / @PacePhoto

Emily Sisson and Emma Bates Struggle In Shot At Fast Times

Two of the most consistent road runners on the U.S. scene in recent years had uncharacteristically tough days in Chicago, with American record holder Emily Sisson finishing 7th in 2:22:09 and 2021 Chicago runner-up Emma Bates finishing 13th in 2:25:04. Both runners went out stride-for-stride at 2:19 pace, but Sisson reported that cramping issues took hold in the later miles of the race and Bates suffered a plantar flare-up while going for a water bottle that forced her to stop and walk at multiple points. Sisson did well to keep her composure and hang on to top American honors and a top-10 finish, but splits of 69:31-72:38 was almost certainly not in the race plan for last year’s 2nd-placer.

Emma BatesEmma Bates

Kevin Morris / @KevMoFoto

Unfortunately, 13th place was the worst finish of Bates’s marathon career to date; fortunately, the Colorado-based runner is so consistent that finishing outside the top-10 in a World Marathon Major is considered a disappointment. Getting healthy and mentally bouncing back will be top priority for Bates over the next 4 months, as the 7th-place finisher at the 2020 Trials will surely be a gunning for a spot on Team USA in February.

Silly as it may sound to call the American record holder inexperienced, Sisson has nevertheless only finished three marathons to date and clearly this race was a learning experience about how to hold on when challenges present themselves mid-race. It’s a great sign that struggling to the finish can still yield a relatively quick time and a strong placing finish, particularly against her fellow Americans, but it’s a harsh reminder that even for the biggest talents, the marathon is still a uniquely tricky event to master.

Molly SeidelMolly Seidel

Kevin Morris / @KevMoFoto

Molly Seidel And Galen Rupp Are Back

Running the marathon at the Tokyo Olympics seemed to be a bit of curse for Team USA over the past few years. Trials champ Aliphine Tuliamuk has intermittently struggled with injury since giving birth in early 2021, Molly Seidel and Jake Riley have publicly battled a number of health issues since their second-place finishes, and Galen Rupp picked up a rare injury of his own around the time of the 2022 World Championship, causing him to race sparingly in 2023 and spend much of the year rebuilding his form from the ground up. Trials third placer Sally Kipyego hasn’t finished a marathon since the Olympics, and men’s third placer Abdi Abdirahman may have gotten away best of all – the 46-year-old more or less retired following his 5th Olympic appearance.

Fortunately for Seidel and Rupp, their respective 8th-place finishes in Chicago will serve as a huge relief and confidence booster headed into the 2024 Trials. It was the first marathon Seidel has finished in nearly two years, and she came out of it with a lifetime best of 2:23:07. Seidel, who’s been open about her physical and mental health struggles since ascending to sudden fame with her Olympic bronze medal in Tokyo, needed a solid block of healthy training and a well-executed race to set things back on track, and that’s exactly what she got. Trending in the right direction heading into 2024 reinserts her name into the field of Olympic contenders that, especially on the women’s side, is more crowded than ever.

Rupp’s 2:08:48 was over two minutes off the fastest performance of his career, but it was also his fastest performance since 2021 Chicago and a massive improvement over his only other race result from this year, a disappointing run at the NYC Half in March. Rupp was close to Mantz battling for top American honors for much of the race and didn’t quite have the wheels over the final few miles, but like Seidel, this is a huge step in the right direction for the 37-year-old who will be chasing his 5th Olympic team in February.

David Melly

David began contributing to CITIUS in 2018, and quickly cemented himself as an integral part of the team thanks to his quick wit, hot takes, undying love for the sport and willingness to get yelled at online.