All the winners from an historic day in London
Thanks to the London Marathon for all images used throughout.
The race setting may have been very different, but the result was one we’ve come to expect as Brigid Kosgei again showed her class in the World Marathon Majors, as London delivered...London weather for the 40th running of the London Marathon, the city awash in drizzling rain and winds.
With the well documented coronavirus disruptions wreaking havoc on training preparations, expectations for the women’s race were watered down all week - rather than a Brigid Kosgei time trial as we saw in Chicago last year, the talk was the lead group would target the women’s only WR (that is, the fastest time achieved in a race without males) of 2:17:01 - set by the GOAT Mary Keitany in London 2017.
Beyond the lead women, there was interest in so many stories in this race. For the Aussies - would Sinéad Diver break Benita Willis’ national record (2:22:36)? Could Ellie Pashley lower her PR and all but cement her place in Tokyo? How will Molly Seidel run, after running onto the US Olympic team in her first. ever. Marathon? Sara Hall has been racking up big big volume and was eyeing a sub 2:22:00.
At 7am when the race started conditions were dark, windy, and wet - the kind of wet where your foot displaces water with every foot strike.
The most striking sight early was Sara Hall hanging off the back of the lead pack - its hard to imagine that running alone in windy conditions was part of the pre-race plan. Speaking of things that weren’t part of the plan - Viv Cheruiyot sitting 3m off the back of Kosgei’s group was unexpected to say the least.
The lead pack was split around 5km in, with all bar Kosgei, Ruth Chepngetich, Ashete Bekere, and Valary Jemely falling off the pace. By 10k, Bekere was dropping too. Then suddenly, it was just Kosgei, Chepngetich, and Jemely, and you had to think Jemely was on borrowed time. This was Kosgei’s race from the jump.
Behind them, the race was unfolding and the storylines were playing out - Sinead Diver sat behing pacer (and fellow MTC athlete) Susan Krumins and looked good - until a gradual slow down started around the 20km mark. But Diver wasn’t alone in this - throughout the field we saw the pace dip around the half way mark, with Molly Seidel a notable exception - moving through the field from 12th to 7th by the 30km point of the race.
Finally, at around the 32 km mark, Brigid Kosgei made a clean break from Chepngetich and would not be challenged. Behind them, Sara Hall was running an incredible race - climbing to 4th at the 35km mark and wearing down Ashete Bekere, passing her in the 38th km.
For Kosgei, it was another marathon win in a dominant performance. Sure, she only ran away from Chepngetich at the 32km mark, but she did it with ease and was never threatened.
Sara Hall was the other big winner of the day - passing Chepngetich in the finishing chute to take 2nd place, while Molly Seidel finished an incredible 6th - expectations are only going to rise on Molly in her next race.
For the Australian contingent, Sinead Diver battled bravely to a 2:27:07, while Ellie Pashley ran a 2:31:31 after a shorter marathon build up with injury.
Strangely, we don’t know what’s next for any of these athletes. The racing schedule for 2021 is fluid. For many athletes, they’ll now head home, maybe via quarantine, with no firm plans or targets - only replays in their head of what went right - and wrong - in London.
The mens race started out as a much milder affair - large pace groups formed and largely floated along, lap after lap. Kipchoge seemed impatient - several times he pulled up alongside the 3 pacers and looked to say something - possibly regarding the pace, which through 10km was slightly behind the suggested pre-race pace (though these can change virtually on the start line).
The large lead pack went through 10km in 29:45 - around 2:05:30 pace, echoing what we saw in the women’s race - this was largely not going to be a fast course. There were early glimmers of hope however - Australian runner and TEMPO favorite Brett Robinson found himself with a personal pacer as he essentially was the second pack. Robinson passed 10km in 29:57, for 2:06:23 pace.
Through halfway, the lead pack was relatively intact, and cruising at a projected 2:06 finish time. What would Kipchoge be thinking at this point? Almost certainly that he wanted the pace to quicken - the longer the pack rolls along at a comfortable pace, the higher the possibility we see a bolter emerge in the final 10km - perhaps a Kitata or a Kipruto.
Sisay Lemma, a sub 2:04 guy in his own right, had a shot of courage and briefly edged his nose ahead of the only remaining pacer at the 25km mark, his move checked by Kipchoge who kept a close eye on him and immediately moved to Lemma’s hip. As the pacer dropped, Lemma went again with a series of surges - none seemingly designed to tear the race apart but enough to string the pack out.
Passing 30km, Kipchoge moved toward the back of the lead pack to remove his gloves and cap, then immediately went back to the front, knowing he needed to check any moves from Kipruto and Kipchumba. Throughout it all, Geremew stayed glued to Kipchoge’s hip - so far, this was the ultimate armchair ride through 30km. If there was ever a time to dethrone Kipchoge, this might be it.
Surprisingly, on it went. A gradual increase of the pace, but no one taking charge. Another 5km down, and still Geremew stayed stuck on Kipchoge. Our first sign of Shura Kitata wasn’t until 37km in when he decided to smell the wind at the front of the race.
Around the 38km Kipchoge dropped to the back of the pack again as Kitata continued to push the pace, and we realize we are witnessing the end of a reign. The greatest marathoner we’ve ever seen is beatable. He is human after all. Just like the Internet, Father Time is undefeated.
As the commentators made excuses for him - an unnecessary and disrespectful move for the 5 men still in the lead pack - the race went on. Geremew and Kitata, two men who have been beaten by Kipchoge in recent years, had no doubt spent months thinking about this moment. 4 men together at 40km, a new champion about to be crowned.
Heading into the finishing chute, it was Kipchumba and Kitata. Kenya and Ethiopia. Not until the final 10 meters to Kitata break free for the win - richly deserved, he ran a perfect race. Largely unseen for 35km, he lit the fuse that blew up the race around 38km, and had the legs win the sprint. 2:05:41.
Eliud Kipchoge finished 8th.