Reigning Virgin London Marathon champion Mary Keitany says she has now got her head around the marathon
April 22, 9:00am (elite women)
BBC coverage from 8:30am, live on BBC 1 and online
Mary Keitany may be one of the fastest marathon runners of all-time, but she is still a relative newcomer to the 26.2-mile distance.
Before winning in London last year, the Kenyan had established herself as the world’s best half-marathon runner, setting a world record 65:50 in February last year, to go alongside her 2009 world title over the distance.
But so accustomed is Keitany to racing the half-marathon distance, she has been known to set off at a similar pace in her other marathons, only to crash and burn in the second half.
Aside from her London victory last year in a lifetime best of 2:19:19, Keitany’s only other two career marathons have been in New York over the past couple of years. She finished third both times, with her performance in last year’s race being notably disastrous.
She set off at world record pace and passed through half way in less than 68 minutes. She maintained her lead up until the final few miles, when her pace slowed dramatically and she finished third in 2:23:38, having covered the second half in a painful 76 minutes.
But Keitany insists that she has learned her lessons from New York and says she now considers herself a true marathon runner.
“Maybe it was a mistake to go so fast in New York, but I was just running how I felt in myself,” she said. “I felt good up to 30km but then I felt a pain in my right leg and faded.
“Sometimes your body can cheat you and tell you that you are OK when you fail to understand your body is having problems.
“But I don’t fear the marathon,” she added. “I think of myself as a marathon runner now and I also think I have a better understanding of the tactics involved in running and handling a race.”
Indeed, Keitany cannot afford to make any mistakes in Sunday’s race as she’ll face her toughest field to date, combined with the pressure of having to impress Kenyan selectors for the Olympic team.
Her strongest opponents will come from her own country, and she’ll be up against two other sub-2:20 performers in Lucy Kabuu and Florence Kiplagat, as well as the world champion Edna Kiplagat. Such is the depth of marathon running in Kenya, when it comes to selecting their Olympic team, they will either leave behind a sub-2:20 runner, or the current world champion.
But Keitany is confident she can at least make the team. “I’m in the same shape as last year and I hope to defend my title, but it will be very hard because of the strong athletes,” said Keitany, who posted her fifth career sub-67 clocking for the half-marathon when defending her title in Ras Al-Khaimah earlier this year.
“I will have to work extra hard on Sunday because I know it will be my last chance to impress the selectors,” she added. “London is the last chance and I have to finish in the top three at least to be selected for the Olympics.”
Defending London champion with 2:19:19 PB.
Great North winner, set 2:19:34 to finish second in Dubai this year.
Clocked 2:19:44 PB to win in Berlin last year, recently set 66:38 lifetime best over the half.
Was second to Keitany in London last year with 2:20:46 PB before winning world title. Former New York winner.
Silver medallist at the World Champs, has finished no lower than second in her six career marathons. PB of 2:22:55.
As is the case in the men’s race, the dominant story is that of Olympic selection for both the Kenyan and Ethiopian runners.
Five women from the East African nation will be racing in London, and they will have to go all-out to impress as three other Ethiopian women – Tiki Gelana, Aselefech Mergia and Mare Dibaba – have already broken 2:20 this year.
Bezunesh Bekele will be keen to break her trend of regularly finishing fourth. She has finished in that position in the two most recent editions of the London Marathon, as well as last year’s World Championships and this year’s Dubai Marathon. But at 2:20:30, she is the fastest Ethiopian in Sunday’s field.
Aberu Kebede is another young talent and finished marginally behind Bekele in Dubai with 2:20:33. Meanwhile Atsede Baysa, a former winner in Paris, is vastly experienced and this will be her 18th marathon to date.
Koren Jelela won last year’s Toronto Marathon with a course record of 2:22:43, but the underdog in Sunday’s race could be Ejegayehu Dibaba. A former Olympic silver medallist over 10,000m and sister to double Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba, she made an impressive debut in Chicago last year, clocking 2:22:09. Many feel she could be set to run a lot quicker.
Irina Mikitenko (GER)
A former winner in London and boasts a PB of 2:19:19. Struggled with injury in recent years, but made a comeback last year with a solid 2:22:18 in Berlin.
Inga Abitova (RUS)
2006 European champion over 10,000m and runner-up in London in 2010. PB of 2:22:19.
Jelena Prokopcuka (LAT)
Former winner of the world marathon majors title, but hasn’t run a marathon since 2008.
Isabellah Andersson (SWE)
Former Kenyan will be racing her sixth marathon within 15 months. Has a best of 2:23:41.
Mariya Konovalova (RUS)
Tenth in London last year, but third in Chicago a few months prior with 2:23:50 PB.
Jessica Augusto (POR)
Solid debut of 2:24:33 for eighth place last year, but failed to finish more recently in New York.