London Marathon Race Report 2012 by Catherine Wilding

Such a perfect Day

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.

There’s nothing you can’t do…..

Ed: This piece by Catherine Wilding is the first guest post on this site and I’m really delighted to have her on board. If you’d like to contribute please contact me.

I’ve noted that other runners write about pace, split times, race conditions and how their training has been erratic / hardcore / blighted by work commitments (delete as appropriate.) As my blog is about running, I may come on to that but it was the crunch of golden leaves under my Nike Structure-Triax this morning that compelled me to write.  It has to be one of my favourite sounds.  It reminds me why I love running and particularly so when the low Autumnal sunlight is streaming through the trees in Hyde Park.

As the trees turn, my thoughts are firmly fixed on an important event in my yearly calendar.  It is the New York City Marathon. For the past two years I have lined up as a professional athlete in New York, and on both occasions I’ve failed to achieve my goal.   The streets of New York City are both exciting and intimidating, running in the women’s professional field – which means mostly running alone.

New York City Marathon

This year, I am heading out to New York to run the marathon again, only this time I’ll be in the main field.  Like many people who have trained for a marathon my training has been upset by injury, illness and a stressful new job.  It’s hard to train like a professional athlete when you aren’t one.  Everyone who has trained for a marathon knows that the physical training is both hard and time consuming.  But equally important for any athlete and any runner – no matter how serious or good they consider themselves – is the mental preparation.  If you are reasonably fit and mentally strong, you will run a good race.  If you are incredibly fit and mentally weak, you are unlikely to achieve your goal.

Mental preparedness

And this is what has been worrying me the most.  Whilst my training hasn’t been quite what I’d like this year, it is the lack of mental preparation which has affected me the most.  The race has been on and then off.  Then on again after my achilles tendonitis cleared, then off when I got ill, then on again, and off when it all felt too overwhelming and I didn’t feel fit.

As an athlete, I didn’t want to run another disappointing marathon. As a runner, I couldn’t bear to give up my goal.  I sought advice from runners and non-runners but it was the wisdom of a Mr Simon Freeman [ed: gulp!] that impacted me the most:

“I know you have very high standards and I suspect that whilst you think that you are not in great shape, you are probably in better shape than you think. Still, I know how it is to feel below par and not at your best. However a good strong run in a city you love, at an event that I think could be the greatest marathon in the world, might just be great fun and I know there are many examples of runners being forced to take time off who end up having really great races because the intrinsic fitness is there and whilst the sharpness might be missing, the joy of running makes up for that.”

Why I run

His advice resonated loudly.  It reminded me why I run.  It’s because I enjoy it.  With one week to go, I am now able to mentally prepare myself for a race I’m going to enjoy.  With my goal fixed, I’m able to focus on the mental strength I need.

So, on Sunday November 6th, I will line up on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge as someone who just loves running and when I enter Central Park, just past mile 23, I will notice the sunlight through the trees and listen to the crunch of the leaves under my running shoes.  When I cross the finish line I will know I’ve achieved my goal.  The time on the clock will be an indication of whether the physical preparation outweighs the mental preparation, but that remains to be seen.

Ed: Catherine goes off to New York with all my best wishes and I have no doubt she will have a great race and learn a lot from the experience. She has promised to write a review of the event on her return that I will post here.