We take a look at who you should be following at this years Melbourne Marathon
Editor's Note: We feel a unique connection to the Melbourne Marathon - it's our hometown race after all. We get to run these streets on a daily basis, and like the running community in any city, we know a lot of the contenders personally.
The 2018 edition of the Melbourne Marathon belonged to Sinead Diver - at the time her Melbourne performance was her career best, a 2:25:19 for a new course record (and a $20,000 bonus). Diver of course then went on to an incredible 7th place finish in London earlier this year (2:24:11).
On the men's side, we watched Liam Adams take the win in 2:15:13 in a much more tactical affair. Adams then went on to run a 2:11:36 on the Gold Coast in July this year.
Who will replace Diver and Adams as champions this year? Both races present as much more open, with a handful of legitimate local chances as well as some classy international runners.
We asked TEMPO's marathon expert Sean Whipp to take you through some of the interesting storylines in this year's race.
William Chebor, Kenya, PB 2:08:21
When the Melbourne Marathon begins on October 13th, William Chebor will begin his 25th career marathon. The world of professional running is quick to stereotype and categorise, often making grand assumptions based on an athlete’s past accomplishments or country of birth. In the case of Chebor, objectively, he is the 476th fastest man to ever run a marathon, with a personal best set in 2011 of 2:08:21. A time that remains commendable, well inside what is now the 2020 Olympic qualifying standard of 2:11:30, slightly slower than Chebor’s 10 best career marathon times once averaged (2:11:28).
Melbourne’s substantive prize money draw speaks to Chebor’s continued racing efforts, at 36 years of age, he continues to find himself on the podium of a variety of marathons, faring well in situations devoid of pacemakers. A combination of these conditions present in Melbourne, providing the opportunity for a wily veteran to run a measured race, ultimately rewarded by substantial prize money.
With a competitive Australian field in mind, Chebor will likely play an additional role in keeping local athletes honest, having five career victories at the distance, whilst introducing an element of the unknown, given his lack of well documented races and subsequent tactics.
Chebor first visited Australia in 2009 for his debut marathon, victorious on the Gold Coast in a time of 2:11:58. Nine years later, Chebor found himself in Melbourne, finishing third last year in 2:18:05. Chebor is yet to race in 2019, an unusual indicator, given previous years have tended to focus on two or three marathons at least, largely in Taipei or China.
Lydia O'Donnell, New Zealand, PB 2:39:01
Lydia O’Donnell will be returning to a happy hunting ground, with her personal best of 2:39:01 set whilst placing 2nd in the Melbourne marathon in 2015.
O’Donnell has featured substantively on TEMPO, a journey I’ve viewed from afar, not having met the Kiwi marathoner. A lack of personal understanding provides a unique opportunity to collate all things O’Donnell, subsequently painting a picture of a coach, an athlete, and a close friend of many in the running community, regardless of ability.
Transparency is rare in the running world, rarer still as an individual climbs the ladder toward the pointier end of race fields. O’Donnell’s has driven candid discussions surrounding mental health, body image, and shared the whirlwind of thoughts that engulf an athlete throughout a marathon training and racing process. All of the aforementioned aspects develop context, in a sport centralised on quantifiable results, O’Donnell encourages assessment of the numerous variables that ultimately contribute to an athlete's performance.
A frustrating Gold Coast Marathon saw O’Donnell withdraw at the 34-kilometre mark, seemingly undeterred, less than a month later, the 29-year old won the Sunshine Coast Marathon in 2:41:14.
Those from the shorter world of track racing tend to endure phases of improvement representative of the complex marriage of marathon volume and relative track speed. A journey fraught with varying degrees of success, O’Donnell has encouragingly recorded personal bests at both the 5,000 metres (16:10.10) and 10,000 metres (34:10.88) in 2019, claiming national championship titles on both occasions.
"Melbourne Marathon holds a pretty special place in my heart. As the course of my first marathon and the one that still holds my PB, I'm excited to be back and hoping to run faster than I ever have."
With months of consistent volume behind her and a new half marathon PB of 1:12:44, a seemingly rapid marathon reload from O’Donnell provides a confident indication of fitness. A return to the course responsible for O’Donnell’s 2015 personal best sets in motion a morning of possible celebration, and a guaranteed learning opportunity in a rapidly developing marathon career.
Dion Finocchiaro, Australia, PB 2:21:43
“Faster not further” - since collapsing 500 metres from the finish of the 2015 Melbourne Marathon, this is the mantra that has guided Dion Finocchiaro’s goals.
Athletes curious with the marathon distance tend to start small, and work their way up - Finocchiaro flipped this script upside down, starting long, competing in a handful of lower key ultra’s between 2012 to 2015, while at the same time completing his first marathon in Melbourne in 2012, running 3:17.
An Australian ultra-running representative at the IAU 100 kilometre championships in 2016 (33rd, 7:08:37), Finocchiaro’s marathon progression has been steady, recording personal bests in 2018 (2:24:36, Gold Coast) and 2019 (2:21:43, Tokyo), a controlled lead in to Melbourne involving running, cycling and swimming has seen the local massage therapist average 150km a week over the last 18 weeks, with a “well-behaved” high week of 183 kilometres.
The 2019 season has seen Finocchiaro sampling shorter distances through an active involvement with Mentone Athletic Club, noting a particular novelty in distances such as 1500 metres and 5000 metres. These races place Finocchiaro outside of his comfort zone, substantially removed from multiple Two Bays 56 kilometre wins in 2014 & 2016. Utilising the local club season as a refresher of sorts, Finocchiaro will stand on the start line in Melbourne with a developed set of racing skills, hoping to put track, trail and road experiences together as the lure of a sub-2:20 clocking looms large.
A recent outing at the Burnley Half-Marathon saw Finocchiaro’s consistency rewarded with a personal best of more than a minute, his confidence bolstered by a 1:08:03 race for 21st place.
"This will be my 8th Melbourne marathon and hopefully I’m in shape to lower my personal best of 2:21:43 from Tokyo this year.
It helps knowing that I can sleep in my own bed, eat my normal foods and have lots of friends and family out on course to cheer me on."
Melbourne will mark Finocchiaro’s fifth marathon of the year, demonstrative of an ability to absorb training and racing volume, a valuable commodity on the Gold Coast in July. Finochiaro paced the lead women’s group, providing invaluable late-race assistance to Milly Clark as she recorded a personal best & Olympic qualifying standard (2:28:08, 2nd).
MARNIE PONTON, AUSTRALIA, PB 2:40:32
Calling New South Wales’ Blue Mountains region home, Marnie Ponton’s recent return to running has brought renewed success. A successful steeplechaser in her early twenties, Ponton took time off to start a family, rediscovering her love of running in 2017. Enlisting the help of ACT-based coach Dick Telford, Ponton has excelled in distances from 5000m upward, targeting the Melbourne Marathon following a successful block of training.
Ponton isn’t a stranger to the distance, noting her three previous outings on the Gold Coast, Nagoya and Christchurch had been hampered by torrential weather, or last minute illness. Ponton’s most recent outing in Christchurch (2:45:17) fell short of her 2:40:32 personal best, as one of the coldest Christchurch marathon’s in recent memory delivered an unrelenting downpour throughout. A 1:12:21 half marathoner, and recent Australian world cross country representative (44th), Ponton selected Melbourne after enthusiastically noting the 2018 results, “I feel like I am yet to reach my potential over the distance and there is no better place than Melbourne to have another crack! Lisa and Sinead have proven the course can be fast!”
Ponton will draw on her representative experiences in Aarhaus (Denmark), as she continues her search for a sub-2:40 marathon. “Racing in Denmark at the world cross country championships made me realise what a privilege it is being apart of big events and how much I enjoy racing hard. 10km speed and strength to run well over a cross country course is important for marathon prep, and will hopefully assist me on the day”.
Editor's Note: At any major race there are numerous stories to follow; every elite runner and even amateur runners have a battle they're fighting, or a 'race within a race', but for us - these are the 4 we'll be paying particular attention to.
Ponton looks set for a big day (rumours Ponton may be looking to shave a big chunk off her 2:40:32 PB), while Lydia O'Donnell will go into the race with fond memories of her last Melbourne Marathon. Which Chebor are we going to see? He was just outclassed in 2018 but has been out of sight so far in 2019 - how fit is he? And as for Finocchiaro, he's universally liked and respected in Melbourne running, and we're expecting him to put on a show on Beach Road - his regular training stretch of road.