Cheptegei 5K World Record

by Matthew Hong

New World Record in Valencia

Getty Images

On August 14th, Ugandan long-distance runner Joshua Cheptegei broke the 5,000m world record with a time of 12 minutes and 35.36 seconds, beating Kenenisa Bekele’s time from 2004 of 12:37.35. Cheptegei set the blazing-fast time in Monaco, the same city where he set the record in the road 5k in 2019. Cheptegei said before the race, “I think Monaco is a special place, and it’s one of these places where I could break the world record.” However, entering Monaco was easier said than done due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cheptegei had a more difficult time than usual flying from Uganda to Monaco due to the pandemic. He began with a seven-hour drive with his team from Kapchorwa, Uganda, where his training camp is, to Kampala, the capital. There, the Ugandan First Lady Janet Museveni held a send-off ceremony for Cheptegei and his team. Then, Cheptegei and his crew boarded a private flight to Nairobi, Kenya, chartered by the President of Uganda himself. At 4 a.m. the next morning, they boarded another flight to Istanbul, then waited through a 22-hour layover. Finally, they flew from Istanbul to Nice and then drove 20 miles to Monaco. Eighty hours after leaving his training camp, Cheptegei checked into the meet hotel. The usual eight hour trip took over three days to complete, making his record even more impressive.

When race day came, conditions were far from ideal. The temperature was 79 degrees Fahrenheit, over 19 degrees hotter than the temperature when Bekele set his record. According to Elite Daily, the ideal temperature for running long-distance races is 49 degrees Fahrenheit, a full 30 degrees cooler than Monaco’s temperature. Despite COVID-19, race organizers at the Diamond League were able to arrange the meet with a minimal number of spectators. The lack of a crowd makes long-distance running and other sporting events have a different atmosphere. When a runner has to perform at peak human efficiency for over twelve minutes, every little factor makes a difference. However, not all aspects of the race were negative. For example, Cheptegei wore Nike’s newest mid-distance spikes, the ZoomX Dragonfly. These spikes utilize a ZoomX midfoot (the same foam used in the Vaporfly series), a carbon-fiber plate running through the shoe, and a light-weight, breathable upper material. Also, a new technology called Wavelight was present at the race. It involves strips of lights on the inside of the track that illuminate one at a time, giving the illusion of light moving around the track. Race officials set the speed of the lights to match the world record pace of Bekele. That way, Cheptegei could look down to see if he was on pace for the record.

During the race, Cheptegei performed incredibly! He ran relatively even lap splits, with a mean lap time of 60.4 seconds and an average mile of 4 minutes and 2.8 seconds. Pacers helped him through the 3000m mark in 7 minutes 35 seconds, a time which only five Americans have ever run. He ran effortlessly and with perfect form, never grimacing from the pain. As he crossed the finish line, he let out a smile then quickly went to stop the Strava running workout on his watch. Cheptegei posed with the Ugandan flag wrapped around his shoulders next to the large, glowing sign reading “WR” next to his time. Joshua Cheptegei waved at the crowd, enjoying this once-in-a-lifetime moment that very few elite runners ever get to experience.