London, England, April 22—Just 6 days after a hypothermic Boston race, the London Marathon swung to the opposite end of the climatic spectrum as runners were challenged by the warmest race in the event’s 38-year history.
While the sunny 71-degree (22C) weather and 57-degree (14C) dew point posed significant obstacles to fast racing, it was the way-too-hot opening pace that inevitably cast this as a day for survivors. Ageless Kenyan veterans Vivian Cheruiyot and Eliud Kipchoge best weathered the conditions to take impressive wins over the usual richly talented fields.
Kipchoge continued his extraordinary mastery of the 26-mile distance with an extremely ordinary effort as he ran in complete control every step of the way to his third London title, and eighth straight marathon victory—ninth if you count his 2:00:25 Monza clocking in what he refers to as the “Human World Record.”
Big PR In Women’s Race For Cheruiyot
Cheruiyot, a 4-time Kenyan Olympic trackster who struck gold in the Rio 5000, has made a swift and effective transition to the road with this huge win and 5:00 PR to 2:18:31 that moved her to No. 4 all-time in just her third marathon attempt.
“Patience is what let me win the race today,” the 34-year old Kenyan said as she laid off the WR-speed opening pace, running in the third group through halfway before charging past the fading Mary Keitany and Tirunesh Dibaba to clock the =No. 6 time ever.
While Cheruiyot owned the finish, much of the race was focused on the long anticipated assault on Paula Radcliffe’s 15-year-old WR of 2:15:25. After setting the women’s-only WR of 2:17:01 in last year’s race, the London organizers accommodated Keitany’s request for male pacers, and it was game-on regardless of imperfect heat and humidity.
With Keitany committed to dialing back last year’s ballistic start, and Dibaba determined to stick with whatever pace, it was no surprise that the duo ran side by side—covering the downhill opening 5K in 15:46, then settled into a 16:00 clip splitting 31:46 at 10K, and 47:46 at 15K (2:14:21 pace).
Heading towards the Tower Bridge, Dibaba fell off the tempo and Keitany built a lead that grew to 15 seconds at 20K (1:03:50) and 23 at halfway (1:07:16). While Dibaba faded away, Keitany also began to tire such that by 25K (1:20:24) she had lost all of her advantage over Radcliffe’s WR pace.
Cheruiyot crossed halfway in 1:08:56, more than content to enjoy the company of Brigid Kosgei and Gladys Cherono. “I didn’t want to make the mistake that I did last year,” she said. “Last year I was so quick in the first half, but was ‘no way’ in the second half. We made it with my manager Ricky Simms and my husband Moses saying that I have to be patient, that I have to stay in the second group.”
While Keitany and Dibaba were paying a heavy price for their WR gambit, Cheruiyot was feeling full of run: “When we were at 25K somebody was telling us that we are behind 1:05. I was coming slowly by slowly, and it was good for me so I pushed it and pushed it.”
Up front, Keitany was doing her best to hold it together as she slowed to 2:16:30 pace at 30K (1:37:03). Dibaba barely made it past the 30K aid station before slowing to a walk and an eventual DNF.
Cheruiyot, who continued to run with Kosgei through 30K, suddenly had the race coming back to her: “I saw Tirunesh, and we caught Tirunesh. I was feeling that I had the energy because the training I did this year was different.” She added with a modest smile, “I improved some things because I was still new.”
Keitany had lost almost all energy as she passed 35K in 1:54:36 (2:18:10 pace), and Cheruiyot was closing fast. “I saw Mary, and when I caught Mary I was like, ‘Today I am going to win the London Marathon!’ It was unbelievable,” she said. “I am so happy because 2:18 from 2:23 is a very big personal best.”
Kosgei also passed the tapped-out Keitany to finish 2nd in 2:20:13. For her part the gritty Keitany got home 5th with the consolation of claiming the $250,000 AbbottWMM Series XI prize.
Kipchoge Chases The WR Again
In the moments before the start of the men’s race the storyline was already cast as Eliud Kipchoge stood alone in the center gathering his thoughts for another attempt at an elusive WR, and the rest of the illustrious field moved about just hoping to stay with the targeted 61:00 opening-half pace.
Kipchoge has benefited both mentally and physically from his Breaking2 quest and this was fully evident as he stared down WR pace despite considerable heat and humidity, while also taking on all comers in a field that included Ethiopians Kenenisa Bekele, Guye Adola & Tola Kiata and fellow Kenyans Daniel Wanjiru (the defending champ), Abel Kirui, Bedan Muchiri & Lawrence Cherono.
And lest we forget Kipchoge also had to contend with local favorite Mo Farah (see sidebar) making his second marathon attempt (in a test-the-waters debut at London in ’14 he took 8th in 2:08:21).
Such it was with all this pent-up WR energy—riding a 13mph tailwind—the elite field blitzed through a 2:43 opening K, then kept up the torrid pace falling downhill through 5K in 13:48 (1:56:27 pace).
The pace eased significantly to 14:31 over the second 5K segment with Kipchoge positioned amidst the three rabbits and splitting 28:19 (1:59:29 pace). As the course tacked back into the wind the pace slowed as the competitors settled in behind Kipchoge.
Shortly after 15 in 43:05 (2:01:12 pace), it became apparent that Cherono and Adola weren’t up to the brazen tempo. The high speed tapered a bit as the group of 3 pacers and 7 racers crossed the 20K mats on Tower Bridge in 57:52, and the half in exactly the 61-flat that Kipchoge had requested.
Reduced to one pacer, some real racing began in The Isle Of Dogs as they zipped down narrow roads racing jam-packed with boisterous fans. In a way this race resembled Kipchoge’s Monza contest with the favorite playing the role of the Tesla pace car and everyone else seeing just how long could they stay in the slipstream.
The 7+1 pack remained intact until 27K (16.8M)—then began to unravel rather quickly as Kirui and Wanjiru slipped off the back. Bekele was the next to go a kilometer later followed by Muchiri.
Almost instantly it was down to a 3-man race with Kipchoge shadowed by Kiata and Farah (who hung on the pace despite making shambles of many of his bottle pickups). Just after the trio spread across the road Farah lost ground as Kipchoge sped through 30K in 1:27:24 (2:02:56 pace), 7 seconds up on Farah.
Kipchoge pressed on seemingly alone even though Kiata was tucked right behind him, never slipping from the slipstream. This seemed very much of a rerun of Kipchoge’s race last September in Berlin where weather doomed the WR and he had to contend an Ethiopian rising star who turned meteoric with the prospect of challenging The King.
Kiata is no novice, a veteran of 5 marathons at just 21, including warm-weather wins last year in Rome and Frankfurt (2:05:50 PR). “The weather and the pace didn’t surprise me because I prepared very well for this competition,” he said.
For the most part Kipchoge seemed unfazed by the challenger until the 35th kilometer when he swerved from side to side as if trying to shed a pesky deerfly. “I just tried to shake him off,” Kipchoge admitted.
Kiata remained in place as the two ran past the Tower Of London, then 5K from the finish Kipchoge sped up heading into the Blackfriars Underpass and Kiata finally had to let go. “We were under the World Record for a long time,” Kiata said, “but the race became very serious after 37K because the weather was becoming warm and I tired.”
With a heavy day of running behind him, Kipchoge (2:04:17) ran unpressed to finish off his third London win, the three averaging a nifty 2:04:01. He also claimed the men’s $250,000 AbbottWMM Series XI prize.
Kiata finished a strong 2nd in taking his PR down to 2:04:49, and Farah rode the crowd’s support home to finish on the podium and set a new UK Record of 2:06:21.
“This year I have gone completely to the marathon,” Farah said. “I really enjoyed preparing for the marathon, and I am definitely pleased how I ran the marathon today.”
Equally pleased was Kipchoge: “I can say I enjoyed the race. Winning for the third time in London it was a beautiful race. All the athletes came here truly prepared to see who wants to be No. 1.”
Kipchoge admitted that with the heat and fast start, “It was the slowest I’ve run the second half but all in all that is sport. Yes at some point I was a little bit worried about [Kiata] but I had to fight through the last kilometers.”
Above all Kipchoge embraced the challenges to his throne and looks ahead to future competitions. “They say if success is your goal then winning is not an option it is a necessity,” he said. “That is sport; that is why I enjoy running with all these colleagues. I hope one day I run a World Record in a race recognized by the IAAF.
“Tokyo is in the front of my mind not in the back of my mind.”
LONDON MARATHON RESULTS
World Marathon Major; London, England, April 22—
1. Eliud Kipchoge (Ken) 2:04:17; 2. Tola Shura (Eth) 2:04:49 PR; 3. Mo Farah (GB) 2:06:21 NR; 4. Abel Kirui (Ken) 2:07:07; 5. Bedan Muchiri (Ken) 2:08:34; 6. Kenenisa Bekele (Eth) 2:08:53; 7. Lawrence Cherono (Ken) 2:09:25; 8. Daniel Wanjiru (Ken) 2:10:35; 9. Amanuel Mesel (Eri) 2:11:52; 10. Yohanes Gebregergish (Eri) 2:12:09;
11. Ihor Olefirenko (Ukr) 2:15:06; 12. Stephen Scullion (Ire) 2:15:55 PR; 13. Fernando Cabada (US) 2:17:39; 14. Jonathan Mellor (GB) 2:17:55; 15. Samuel Chelanga (US) 2:21:17; 16. Tatsunori Hamasaki (Jpn) 2:25:42; 17. Guye Adola (Eth) 2:32:35; 18. Matthew Clowes (GB) 2:43:16 PR;… dnf—Ghirmay Ghebreslassie (Eri).
1. Vivian Cheruiyot (Ken) 2:18:31 PR (WL) (4, =6 W);
2. Brigid Kosgei (Ken) 2:20:13 PR; 3. Tadelech Bekele (Eth) 2:21:40 PR; 4. Gladys Cherono (Ken) 2:24:10; 5. Mary Keitany (Ken) 2:24:27; 6. Rose Chelimo (Bhr) 2:26:03; 7. Mare Dibaba (Eth) 2:27:45; 8. Lily Partridge (GB) 2:29:24 PR; 9. Tracy Barlow (GB) 2:32:09; 10. Stephanie Bruce (US) 2:32:28; 11. Becky Wade (US) 2:35:01; 12. Rebecca Murray (GB) 2:39:37 PR; 13. Liz Costello (US) 2:40:04;… dnf—Tirunesh Dibaba (Eth), Tigist Tufa (Eth).