Kenya’s Mary Keitany took 41 seconds off the women’s-only world record* at the Virgin Money London Marathon, running 2:17:01 at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race on Sunday (23).
Keitany said in the build-up to this year’s race she was in shape to break Paula Radcliffe’s mark of 2:17:42 and while she demurred when asked about the possibility of bettering Radcliffe’s outright mark of 2:15:25, Keitany was running minutes inside Radcliffe’s schedule in the first half.
Paced by her training partner Caroline Kipkirui, Keitany cut loose from arguably the most accomplished field in race history with an astonishingly fast third mile 4:37. Through 5km in 15:31 and 10km in 31:17, Keitany was running at close to 2:10 pace while the second group – which was already beginning to splinter – hit 10km in 31:31, exactly half a minute faster than Radcliffe in 2003.
Keitany, who covered the fourth and fifth miles in 4:56 and 4:59 respectively, was still within sight of the second group at 10km but the 34-year-old was away and clear with a succession of mile splits faster than 5:10 through the 10-mile mark in 50:41. Her half marathon split of 1:06:54 was the fastest in marathon history (Radcliffe ran 1:08:02 in 2003) and her advantage had extended to 59 seconds over the chasers, including track greats Tirunesh Dibaba, Vivian Cheruiyot, former winner Aselefech Mergia and world silver medallist Helah Kiprop.
“I know Mary is a fast runner and I was following my own pace and until halfway, I was on track but I was never expecting she would go that fast and maintain it,” said an incredulous Dibaba after the race.
This early pace had already torn the second group asunder. Former winner Tigist Tufa and world champion Mare Dibaba had lost more than three minutes on the second group with the latter dropping out after the 30km mark.
Keitany was also beginning to slow with a 14th mile of 5:21 before four successive miles in the 5:14-5:18 range. Through 30km in a pending world record of 1:36:05, Keitany was still 31 seconds faster than Radcliffe in 2003 but her preceding 5km split of 16:22 was her slowest thus far.
Keitany’s mile splits had started to drift into the 5:20 range and while Dibaba seemed to be running with more fluidity, her lead stayed at more than one minute through 35km in 1:52:39. The overall world record was beyond reach but Keitany was still on course to smash Radcliffe’s women’s-only world record.
Dibaba was running at a fantastic pace in just her second marathon, but after such a fast start she had to stop due to stomach cramps in the 23rd mile. She quickly gathered herself, but in spite of her fantastic credentials over the shorter distances there was no way she was going to catch Keitany.
After covering the preceding two miles in 5:27 and 5:25 respectively, Keitany spurted again with a 26th mile in 4:56 to ensure she would take a sizeable chunk off Radcliffe’s 12-year-old women’s-only world record with 2:17:01, the second-fastest time in the history of women’s marathon running.
“I want to thank the pacemaker who was taking me all the way to 14 miles,” said Keitany. “From there, I started to go alone and see how my body was.”
Dibaba rallied in the closing stages to finish second in 2:17:56, taking more than a minute from Tiki Gelana’s Ethiopian record and becoming the third-fastest woman in history.
“I haven’t decided yet but my gut feeling is I’ll be running the 10,000m on the track,” said Dibaba on her plans for the IAAF World Championships London 2017 this summer.
Mergia was beset by leg cramps in the closing stages but the 2010 champion accrued another podium finish in third in 2:23:08 while Cheruiyot, who equalled her half-marathon lifetime best of 1:07:54 en route, faded to fourth on her debut in 2:23:50.
Wanjiru outduels Bekele on World Marathon Majors debut
Daniel Wanjiru won the Amsterdam Marathon last October in 2:05:21 with a sizeable negative split, but the 24-year-old was not considered a threat to succeed Eliud Kipchoge as the champion of the men’s race.
Wanjiru has only raced once this season, finishing 12th at the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon in 1:02:16 – which was won by Bedan Karoki in 59:10 – but Wanjiru still arrived in the British capital full of confidence for his World Marathon Majors debut.
“I did 62 there and I took it as part of my training and I knew I was OK to do the marathon,” he explained after the race. “After that race, I told my manager ‘I’m ready to win the London Marathon’.
Wanjiru was firmly ensconced in the group through halfway in 1:01:43 but at this point, arguable pre-race favourite Kenenisa Bekele was beginning to fall off the pace.
At 30km, Bekele was 18 seconds adrift of a leading group of five athletes including Wanjiru, but once the Kenyan made his break with 4:52 in the 21st mile, the Ethiopian began to reel in those ahead of him.
Bekele passed two-time world champion Abel Kirui just after the 35km checkpoint and then Karoki came into sight. The gap to Wanjiru had reduced to 14 seconds but the Kenyan was not fatiguing, nor was he daunted by the looming presence of the world 5000m and 10,000m record-holder who made up a significant gap on Wilson Kipsang to win the Berlin Marathon last September.
“I was not scared because in a competition, anything can happen,” said Wanjiru, who had kept something in reserve. “You have to plan what to do if someone is coming from behind.”
The gap between Wanjiru and Bekele reduced to five seconds for a while but Wanjiru, who was contesting his fourth marathon to date, was still running strongly and held Bekele off with a brilliant finishing mile of 4:27.
Wanjiru crossed the finish-line on The Mall in 2:05:48 and while Bekele had to settle for second in 2:05:57, the Ethiopian was upbeat after the race.
“I’m happy I finished this race. Of course, after Dubai, I lost some weeks because of injury so for me, coming back from injury and competing like this is encouraging for later races,” said Bekele, alluding to his fall at the Dubai Marathon in January which caused him to drop out.
A podium finish seemed improbable at halfway when Bekele began to lose ground. After the race, Bekele explained he developed blisters on his feet at about the 15km mark and said he “changed his style to protect it” which led to hamstring problems in his right leg. After 30km, Bekele said he was “feeling better and I increased the pace.”
By contrast, Karoki felt in excellent condition at the halfway point on his marathon debut before the distance caught him out in the last six miles. He staggered across the line in third in 2:07:41, four seconds ahead of Chicago Marathon winner Abel Kirui.
“When I saw 61 at halfway, I was expecting to run 2:03,” said Karoki. “But after 30km, I felt tired and I got a blister problem which forced me to slow down. I know, maybe next marathon, I’m going to better than today.”
Tanzania’s Alphonce Simbu ran a well-judged race, moving from 15th at halfway to fifth in 2:09:10 with world champion Ghirmay Ghebreslassie from Eritrea the sixth runner to finish within 2:10, clocking 2:09:57.
Club runner Josh Griffiths, who was entered in the race as part of the mass start, was the top British man, clocking 2:14:49 on his marathon debut to earn selection for the World Championships. Alyson Dixon finished 14th in the women’s race in a PB of 2:29:06 to also secure her spot on the home team for later this year.
Steven Mills for the IAAF
*Pending the usual ratification procedures