Mo Farah placed eighth in his full marathon debut but vowed to run another one.
(c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
LONDON—While Britain’s Mo Farah got the loudest cheers at the 34th Virgin Money London Marathon on Sunday, it was Kenya’s Wilson Kipsang who ultimately had the last word. The world record-holder ran a cagey race, using two explosive surges in the second half to win his second marathon here in a course record 2:04:29. His compatriot, Edna Kiplagat, notched her first London win in four tries in an exciting sprint finish over Florence Kiplagat (no relation) in 2:20:21. Over 36,000 runners started the race held in near-perfect conditions.
Men’s Race Goes As Planned
Organizers had carefully planned four pacing groups in the men’s race. The first group was scheduled to go to halfway in 61:45 led by the great Haile Gebrselassie, the event’s first-ever celebrity pacemaker. Gebrselassie, who turns 41 later this week, took the field through 5 kilometers in an exuberant 14:21, including a 4:31 (downhill) third mile. That put the field on an improbable 2:01:06 finish pace. All the event’s favorites were in the lead group—Kipsang, Geoffrey Mutai, Emmanuel Mutai, Tsegaye Kebede, Ayele Abshero, Tsegaye Mekonnen, Stanley Biwott, and Feyisa Lilesa—except Farah, who chose before the race to run in the second group.
The pace remained high through 10K (29:11), while Farah ran a more conservative 29:56 with pacemaker Milton Rotich and 2011 World 10,000m champion Ibrahim Jeilan who, like Farah, was making his marathon debut. Gebrselassie was able to continue on the front through 15K (44:06), but then minutes later he abruptly pulled off the course to leave Kenyan Richard Sigei to continue to pace the lead group (Gebrselassie was supposed to run 30K). With Gebrselassie gone, the pace slowed, and the halfway mark was only reached in 62:30, 45 seconds slower than planned and 15 seconds slower than the second group was supposed to go.
None of this bothered Kipsang, however, who continued to run comfortably with his distinct, upright style. He was simply biding his time and surveying the field for weakness. When he won here in 2012, he spurted away from the field only 20 kilometers into the race, but today he would want an additional 10 kilometers after gently testing the field about halfway through the race.
“You see I tried to push from 20 (kilometers) even this time,” Kipsang told Race Results Weekly in an interview. “The kind of move that I made from after 21 was trying to see how the guys are. I see the guys were really not strong enough.”
Seven men remained in contention: Kipsang, Kebede, Mekonnen, Geoffrey Mutai, Biwott, Abshero and Lilesa (course record holder Emmanuel Mutai had drifted back; he later said he had fainted in his bathroom the night before the race, fell and hit his head, hip and shoulder). Kipsang decided he had waited long enough. After passing 30K in 1:29:02, he held steady for several minutes, then shocked the field with a 4:38 20th mile. Only Biwott and two-time TCS New York City Marathon champion Geoffrey Mutai were able to respond.
“I knew, let me just wait until the right time,” Kipsang said of his move. “30K, because 30K I know I only have 12 kilometers myself.”
Kipsang, with Biwott by his side, then ran 4:41 for mile 21, 4:42 for 22, and 4:47 for 23. Mutai couldn’t handle that pace, and faded back (he would finish sixth in 2:08:18). Kipsang didn’t want to leave it for a sprint on The Mall, so at 40 kilometers he made his second big push, dropping Biwott in an instant. He sailed home from there having the entire homestretch to himself. He said it may have looked easier than it was; he was hurting.
“What I can say, is when you’re running you find that despite the fact that you are feeling pain, you find that if you try to show the physical appearance of happiness you find this generation of energy inside your body. So, even if you are feeling a lot of pain, try to feel happy.”
Biwott, who finished eighth here last year and was fifth in New York last November, finished a solid second in 2:04:55, a personal best. Kebede, last year’s London champion, won the sprint for third in 2:06:30 over Abshero (2:06:31). Reigning Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon champion Mekonnen, reportedly 18 years-old, landed fifth in 2:08:06.
For Farah, the second half became a private struggle on public streets. He lost contact with his pacemaker, Cybrian Kotut, several times and ran much of the race alone. Off of a 63:08 first half, he finished eighth in 2:08:21, setting a new English (but not British) record. He told the BBC in his post-race interview that he had had “a bad day at the office.”
“The crowd, the support; I just dreamed of one day being here and do well,” Farah told the BBC. “And that was always my goal. I was alone a lot of the way. Sometimes it’s harder to be able to do something. You know, the point is that I’m not thinking too much about it. I had a bad day in the office; it is what it is. I’ve got to move on and get ready for my next race.”
American Ryan Vail finished 10th in a new PR of 2:10:57.
Kiplagat Shows Off Sprint Speed
The women’s race was a torrid affair right from the starter’s gun. After a slightly impetuous first kilometer, the lead group pacemakers, Kenyans Joyce Chepkirui and Josephine Jepkoech, settled down and did a fine job of moving the race along at a fast, but realistic pace. They clipped through 10 kilometers in 32:48 (2:18:24 pace), and Kiplagat ran comfortably at the back of the pack.
In the 7th mile (12th kilometer), Florence Kiplagat upped the pace, and two strong Ethiopians, Aberu Kebede and Feysa Tadese, fell off the back. Reigning Olympic champion Tiki Gelana, who had been running stiffly at the back of the pack, also fell out of contention and eventually finished 9th in 2:26:58. The high pace was visibly evident because the group was running single file by the time they came to 15K (49:04). Soon, the race was down to four behind pacemaker Chepkirui: the two Kiplagats, debutante Tirunesh Dibaba and defending champion (and TCS New York City Marathon champion) Priscah Jeptoo.
“When we were the five of us I saw the group was still strong,” Kiplagat told reporters.
After a very fast 16th mile (5:13), Jeptoo suddenly stopped in the 17th mile and was out of the race. Her coach, Claudio Berardelli, later told Race Results Weekly that Jeptoo felt a pop in calf and had to stop immediately (she was seen limping badly back at the athletes hotel later). With Chepkirui also out, it was down to just three.
Then, disaster struck Dibaba. At the 30K fluid station, she dropped her bottle and stopped cold to pick it up. The two Kiplagats bolted, and within moments Dibaba was out of contention.
“The only thing that I’m very much disappointed about was the water,” Dibaba told the media after the race through a translator. “When I took the water, it first fell down. I tried to get it, so, I couldn’t manage it proper.”
From 30K (1:39:11) to the final finish straight on The Mall, Kiplagat and Kiplagat would run side by side. The race wasn’t decided until the last 200 meters when Edna sprinted away from Florence with one powerful move for her first London Marathon win in 2:20:21.
“In the last 200 meters I tried to have good speed, and that’s when I found that I’m going to win the race,” Kiplagat said. “I was really happy because that last three years I tried, but I knew I have experience and I knew the training which I did, I practiced mostly speed.”
Florence Kiplagat finished three seconds back in 2:20:24. Facing the press, she at first looked glum, but then perked up. “I’m very happy to be number two,” she said, jokingly calling Dibaba “a machine.”
Dibaba made an impressive debut, in 2:20:35 to round out the podium. She told reporters that she planned to continue to run on the track, but that there would definitely be more marathons for her in the future.
“Yes, of course I plan to go back to the track,” she said, responding to a reporter’s question. “But, I’m thinking to try a marathon once again because I don’t like to be second or third. I have to be first all the time. I want to be first in marathon, too.”
In the men’s wheelchair race, David Weir’s bid for a record seventh London title saw the Briton just edged out in a sprint finish by Switzerland’s Marcel Hug (1:32:39). In the women’s wheelchair race, Tatyana McFadden of the U.S. successfully defended her title just a month after winning a cross country skiing silver medal at the Winter Paralympics in Sochi. McFadden, who won in a course-record 1:45:11, also won the Chicago, Boston and New York City marathons in 2013.