LONDON, ENGLAND, October 03 — The Virgin Money London Marathon outdid itself this year, bringing together no fewer than 9 sub-2:20 performers, the deepest field ever assembled.
Feted with good weather and a juggernaut of time bonuses, Joyciline Jepkosgei broke away from the pack at 35K to claim a 2:17:43 win, leading a record 5 women under 2:19.
“I’m so happy to be the winner,” the 27-year old Kenyan exclaimed, adding, “London is the best race in the world and this is my greatest achievement.”
The Ethiopian duo of Degitu Azimeraw (2:17:58) and Ashete Bekere (2:18:18) rounded out the podium, with WR holder Brigid Kosgei (2:18:40) 4th and Lonah Chemtai Salpeter (2:18:57) 5th. The latter three notched the fastest times for place along with hefty $75,000 time bonuses.
Despite the wealth of talent, surprisingly no one was in a particular hurry to get after it and the trio of pacers pulled 10m clear in the first kilometer and a pack of a dozen runners strolled through the opening 3K in 9:54 — 2:19:15 pace.
With Jepkosgei and Salpeter running point, the pack picked up speed on the downhill stretch leading into a 16:21 split — 2:17:59 pace. Sans pacers, the pack managed to replicate that 16:21, crossing 10K in 32:42.
Little changed over the first half of the race as Jepkosgei and Salpeter led the 12-woman pack. The tempo slowed a bit through 15K (49:07, 16:25 split and 2:18:10 pace), but the lead duo touched up the pace with a 15:56 increment, reaching 20K in 65:03 — and cutting down to 2:17:14 pace.
Remarkably, no one budged over the subsequent 16:21 segment as the ever-steady dozen passed 25K in 1:21:19 — 2:17:15 pace. Just as it appeared incomprehensible that a dozen runners were in striking distance of Mary Keitany’s 2:17:01 women-only WR, Jepkosgei upped the ante and put an end to the bonding experience.
Ripping through the next two kilometers at a 3:10 clip, the lead group was quickly pared to 5 and the pace at 27K (1:27:39) dipped to 2:16:59. They were now two ticks ahead of Keitany’s record pace, though Jepkosgei admitted, “I did not have in mind Mary’s World Record, the main goal was to win the race.”
Jepkosgei and Salpeter continued to front the pack with Kosgei a stride back alongside the Ethiopian duo Azimeraw and Bekere. The lead quintet passed 30K in 1:37:29 with the 16:10 split putting them at 2:17:07 pace. The tempo lagged through the subsequent kilometers before Jepkosgei went to work heading into 35K stringing out the pack and with Kosgei falling 10m in arrears.
“We planned before the race to make a progression over the last 8km if there were still many athletes together,” Jepkosgei revealed, “but it was not easy because the remaining girls were really strong.”
She surged again after passing 35K in 1:53:57 with a 16:28 putting her on 2:17:22 pace. That move hit her two fastest rivals hard; Kosgei and Salpeter were quickly left behind with a lot of Olympic Marathon fatigue lingering in their legs.
Kosgei admitted, “The competition was tough, and I didn’t feel like I had enough time to rest and train since the Tokyo Olympics.” For Salpeter, who cramped off the podium in the final kilometers in Sapporo, it was the case of another strong effort going awry, as the Kenyan-born Israeli had matched strides with Jepkosgei from the opening kilometer.
Not left far behind were Azimeraw and Bekere, training mates who were well prepared under the tutelage of marathon guru Getaneh Tessema, whose wife Geta Wami and proteges Tsegaye Kebede and Birhanu Legese have found plenty of success in London.
The 22-year old Azimeraw had run only two previous marathons but both were sub-2:20 efforts including a ’19 debut win in Amsterdam with a PR 2:19:26. The smooth-striding youngster probably hasn’t seen a late race surge like the one Jepkosgei delivered, but after giving ground was not about to let go. “When Jepkosgei broke away I tried to follow her,” she said, “but it was too hard.”
Passing on the opportunity to defend her New York City title, Jepkosgei came to London for a win and a fast time. After a 65:16 half-marathon tuneup in Berlin she said, “I was feeling great and really thought I could do well here.” Indeed, with the pacers a non-factor she held a commanding presence every step of the way. “I prepared very well in my training and I just kept my focus and tried to avoid any mistakes.”
Pushing into the ripening wind blowing up the Thames, Jepkosgei powered through the decisive 2 kilometers at a 3:13 clip. Passing 37K in 2:00:23 — 2:17:17 pace, she built up a 60-meter lead but would battle headwinds all the way home.
Slowing to 2:17:43 at the finish, Jepkosgei scored a huge PR, a most significant win, and a huge payout including a $100,000 sub-2:18 bonus.
“I was not 100% sure till the last 600m,” she admitted after moving to No. 7 on the all-time world list. “It was really a tough race and I am so happy to manage to win at the end.”
Azimeraw made it a tough race not giving any ground over the closing kilometers to also finish under the bonus line in 2:17:58, becoming No. 10 ever. “This is a big personal best for me, and I’m very happy with 2nd place.”
“I’m happy with the results,” Bekere said of her 3rd-place 2:18:18 PR. “The competition was very high this year and I had a problem in my leg after 35K.”
Kosgei came home 4th in 2:18:40. “It was very tough out there today,” she said. “I was struggling with a knee problem so I am disappointed, but will be back next year to win the title.”
The only consolation in Salpeter’s 2:18:58 finish was the hefty time bonus and the fact that she was the fastest 5th-place finisher in history by almost a minute. Despite post-Olympic fatigue shackling many runners, what started as a deep field turned into a very deep finish.
1. Joyciline Jepkosgei (Ken) 2:17:43 PR (WL) (7, 9 W)
2. Degitu Azimeraw (Eth) 2:17:58 PR (10, 12 W)
3. Ashete Bekere (Eth) 2:18:18 PR (12, 14 W)
4. Brigid Kosgei (Ken) 2:18:40
5. Lonah Chemtai Salpeter (Isr) 2:18:54
6. Valary Jemeli (Ken) 2:20:35
7. Joan Chelimo Melly (Ken) 2:21:23
8. Zeineba Yimer (Eth) 2:21:40
9. Tigist Girma (Eth) 2:22:45
10. Charlotte Purdue (GB) 2:23:26 PR
(best-ever mark-for-place: 3–5, 9–11)