Kenyan confirms status as world’s premier marathon man while Steve Jones’ British record falls to third-placed Farah
On a sweltering day in the British capital for the 38th London Marathon, the elite men’s race taught us three things. Eliud Kipchoge is undoubtedly the world’s greatest marathon runner and perhaps the best of all-time. If you set off too fast in a marathon, especially in hot conditions, you’ll pay for it in the final miles, unless you’re Kipchoge, of course. Finally, we learned that Mo Farah has great marathon ability after all as he smashed Steve Jones’ long-standing British record.
After a savage early pace that had seen the runners briefly operating at sub-two-hour pace and, at halfway, well inside world record speed, Kipchoge pushed from the front relentlessly in the closing stages to break his only remaining rival, Tola Shura Kitata of Ethiopia, with two miles to go.
Kipchoge clocked 2:04:17 to win in London for the third time, as Kitata finished 32 seconds behind in 2:04:49 and Farah a further 92 seconds back as the Briton clocked 2:06:21 to beat Steve Jones’ national record of 2:07:13 which had stood since 1985.
“I came to London to run a beautiful race and today, to me, I ran a really beautiful race,” said Kipchoge.
“It was do or die. I went as fast as I could,” said Farah, who was bold enough to mix it with the leaders as he went with the sub-two-hour early pace. “It’s so different to the track, a marathon, it’s incredible. It’s different pain, different training – and I’ve really enjoyed doing the training.”
The European record of 2:05:48, which was set by Norway’s Sondre Nordstad Moen in Fukuoka in December, survived Farah’s attack, but the Briton was pleased with his second marathon following his 2:08:21 debut in London in 2014.
“I’m satisfied with the result,” Farah added. “I can’t do any better than what I did. I got a personal best, I won with a pacer, I fought as much as I could.
“Eliud is a great marathoner who has many experiences with the marathon and today is one of those things. You be a man, fight like a man, or start off in the back and regret later on. I fought as much as I could. After 30km I was definitely feeling it. Obviously with the pace slowed down a bit, I was tired but managed to hang in there and come away third.”
Surprise package of the race, meanwhile, was Kitata – the 21-year-old came into the race with a PB of 2:05:50 from eight marathons, which included victories in Rome and Frankfurt last year.
“From the beginning the race was going well,” said Kitata. “I felt good because I became number two and I beat big name athletes.”
Behind, there was predictable carnage in the hot conditions and given the suicidal early pace. Abel Kirui, the 2009 and 2011 world champion from Kenya, was fourth in 2:07:07. Another leading Kenyan, Bedan Karoki, who was third in London last year, was fifth in 2:08:34.
The biggest name of all, Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia, was sixth in 2:08:53. Lawrence Cherono, the 2017 Amsterdam winner from Kenya, was seventh in 2:09:53. Daniel Wanjiru, last year’s London Marathon winner from Kenya, was eighth in 2:10:35 – as the reigning champion ran his second half more than nine minutes slower than his first.
The super-elite runners were not the only ones to suffer in the heat, though. Britain’s Jonny Mellor went through halfway in 66:30 but faded to clock 2:17:55 – although his performance as the No.2 British finisher may be good enough for European Championships selection.
“After 10 miles I didn’t feel great,” said Mellor. “Maybe I was a little too ambitious in the heat.
“I struggled with the temperatures and there was a fair bit of wind out there too. It was really tough out there, but I didn’t want to drop out. I wanted to run a PB (2:12:57) but it didn’t happen in the conditions.”
The race began at 10am when the runners were sent on their way when the Queen started the race at Windsor Castle under blue skies and warm temperatures.
The early pace was as hot as the weather, too, as the pacemakers Gideon Kipketer, Edwin Kiptoo and Morris Gachanga led the field through the first mile in a sizzling 4:22. The second mile was 4:30 and the third mile 4:23 as the pack passed three miles in 13:15 and 5km in 13:48.
At this stage, a group of nine were clear – Kipchoge, Kirui, Wanjiru, Bekele, Karoki, Farah, Kitata, Guye Adola and Cherono.
Passing five miles in 22:33 and 10km in 28:19, the pace settled slightly – with a series of miles in the 4:40s – although the runners were still on course to break the two-hour barrier at that point. At 10 miles, the runners clocked 46:14 – a time that is just 12 seconds slower than Richard Nerurkar’s British record for the distance.
Halfway was reached in 61 minutes dead – which was the planned pace before the race for the lead group – as Kipchoge led from Kitata, Karoki, Kirui, Bekele, Wanjiru and Farah.
“Everybody wanted to be in the first group,” said Farah, “so basically I had no choice but to go with them. At one point I was looking at the clock, the first mile was ridiculously quick (4:22), I was looking at it thinking ‘oh, my God’, but then it slowed down after halfway, and from there you pay the price. You can’t go off that fast and come away with 2:02.”
By 16 miles the pacemakers had peeled off and Kipchoge was pushing the pace with Farah and Kitata on his shoulder as the lead trio were operating at 2:02:25 pace.
Major contenders such as Bekele were dropped at this stage and hopes were high for Farah to become the first British men’s winner since Eamonn Martin in 1993. But by 17 miles the 35-year-old lost contact as Kipchoge pushed the pace mercilessly.
Farah was not the only runner suffering, though, with world 5000m and 10,000m record-holder Bekele more than a minute behind. Even Kipchoge could not keep the same relentless pace, however, as he passed 20 miles with Kitata in 93:52, drifting outside world record and even course record pace.
For the next four miles Kipchoge and Kitata were locked in combat. The Kenyan continued to push the pace and looked like a metronome, with the Ethiopian doggedly following in a stubborn attempt to stay with the world No.1.
Finally – maybe inevitably – Kipchoge began to break away, though, as the runners passed through a tunnel with two miles to go and as he passed 40km he had built up an 11-second lead.
From then on, he was able to relish the closing stages down The Mall. “I can say I enjoyed the race,” said Kipchoge, who missed London last year in order to run Nike’s Breaking2 exhibition event in Monza where he clocked 2:00:25.
“I enjoyed the race very much. I still enjoy the win, and I’m happy to be able to win for the third time in London.”
» See the April 26 issue of AW for more coverage from the 2018 Virgin Money London Marathon