After days of torrential downpours, the skies cleared and the morning broke to brilliant sunshine in a cloudless blue sky. There was a chill in the air and the temperature was around 7 degrees. It was a perfect day on the streets of London for anyone running or indeed watching the London Marathon.
Kenya had declared the race their official Olympic trial. There was never any doubt that the Kenyan’s were going to dominate both the men’s and women’s races. If you were a betting man, you would have had your money on a Kenyan. But with past winners, defending champions and world record holders in the field, there was no clear choice for winner.
A race within a race
To add to the excitement the British were also battling it out. With five women contending for the one remaining spot for the Olympic Marathon and in the Men’s race four men aiming to run inside the Olympic qualifying time of 2.12. Scott Overall was the only man to have already earned selection for the British team, after running an impressive debut marathon in Berlin in 2011 in a time of 2.10. He was toeing the start line here in London in a bid to pace his fellow Brits to a sub 2.12 finish and a place on the team. On the women’s side, Paula Radcliffe and Mara Yamauchi had already been selected. Jo Pavey was a contender for the final spot but had chosen not to run in London having clocked 2.28.24 in London last year. A dramatic sub-plot to the main race was about to unfold.
Even before the gun went off, it was shaping up to be a spectacular day.
The Elite Women
At 9am the women set off at a conservative pace. The early miles unfolded in a way that suggested they were sticking to their race plan. The front group dominated by the African runners were being lead by the pacemakers and with no clear leader emerging they seemed to be working together. A little further back and the British women were also sticking together lead by their designated pacemaker. Louise Damen was heading the pack at 10k, by which stage Liz Yelling had already dropped back. A veteran by comparison and with two Olympics behind her it appeared Liz’s third and final bid at the Olympics was already slipping away. However, another veteran, the 42 year old reigning Olympic champion, Constantina Dita was here just to run a qualifying time in a bid to defend her Olympic title in August.
At the half way mark the leading pack of ten runners were maintaining a consistent pace and still working together. With a half split of just under 1.11, it didn’t look like the Kenyan’s were on course to break records.
A Fast Pace
Meanwhile the men’s race was already under way and unsurprisingly had set off at a blistering pace with a first mile of 4.41. Following the pacemakers was a pack of thirteen men including the World record holder Patrick Makau; three time London Marathon winner Martin Lel; last years winner, Emmanuel Mutai and his five Kenyan countrymen all in contention for Olympic selection. At the 5K mark with a pace of 14.37 we were potentially looking at a new World Record. 29.36 was the eye-watering pace at 10K but didn’t seem to be quick enough for Makau who was pushing the pacemakers. By mile 10 however we lost Makau who dropped off the course with a hamstring injury.
It was Wilson Kipsang’s turn to surge forward with a half way split of 62.12 as the rest of the pack struggled to keep up. At the 25k mark there were three men in contention and both a course record and world record was still on the cards.
A new Kenyan Record on the Mall
Back in the women’s race, the defending champion Mary Keitany had already broken away from the pack in the closing few miles with a 4.59 mile. She was heading towards the finish line and with another London title in sight was looking confident and at ease with a virtually effortless running style. With her last two miles in 5.02 and 5.03 she had completed the second half just over 3 minutes quicker than the first to cross the line in 2.18.37. Her time being the third ever fastest for a woman and breaking the Kenyan record previously set by the great Catherine Ndereba.
With 800m to go Edna Kiplagat gave a quick glance over her shoulder to ensure that second place was in the bag. She also broke the 2.20 mark running 2.19.50. Just behind her in third place was Priscilla Jeptoo to make it a Kenyan-only podium with all three earning selection for the Olympic team.
Battle of the Brits
The excitement was still unfolding in the women’s race as Louise Damen had dropped back and Claire Hallisey was leading the British women with Freya Murray just a few steps behind. Hallisey strode confidently into the Mall to finish in 2.27.44 and 11th place knocking almost two minutes off her personal best and earning herself a place in the 2012 Olympics. Just behind her in an incredibly impressive debut of 2.28.10 was Freya Murray. A relatively disappointing 2.31.37 was the time on the clock for Louise Damen.
Kipsang Surges Ahead
Back in the men’s race and Kipsang had surged ahead just after the 20 mile mark opening up a gap. The only question now was whether he was on course for a new record. As he took the right hand turn into Parliament Square and along Birdcage walk there was no-one else in sight. It was a clear win. Only narrowly missing out on the course record by four seconds, he crossed the line in 2.04.44 . There was a closer fight for second and third place. Having hung on until the final miles Kirui started to fade and Martin Lel outsprinted Kebede to finish in second place more than two minutes behind Kipsang. Kebede took third.
Despite his second place finish, Lel was not selected for the Olympic team. Such is the level of distance running in Africa, neither was Kebede selected for the Ethiopian team
Lee Merrien had the honour of being the first British man across the line in a personal best of 2.13.41. Outside the 2.12 qualifying time for Olympic selection it was initially disappointing. However Merrien was later selected on appeal.
Then came the rest
They may be no match for the Kenyan’s and the Ethiopians, but the serious amateurs in their club vests running impressively fast times are also worthy of applause. It takes commitment, dedication and guts to even be in the same race as the professionals running 100+ miles a week. With 800m to go and not long after Kipsang had passed the same spot, a Mornington Chasers vest stood out. A smiling Simon Freeman managed a wave to the crowd [actually the wave was only to you Catherine! ed], on the home straight and confident of a new PB. Much further back came the fun runners in their costumes making the London Marathon the colourful and fun race that encourages nearly 40,000 runners to take part every year.
London will be alive again come August with the World’s best runners over the 26.2 mile distance. Surely the African nations will be set to dominate again.