Sunday’s 40th Virgin Money London Marathon will see the first head-to-head marathon between world record holder Brigid Kosgei and reigning world champion Ruth Chepngetich, likely Kenyan teammates at next summer’s Tokyo Olympics. Kosgei, Chepngetich, and compatriot Vivian Cheruiyot make up the core of London’s elite women’s field which will run in a separate, 19-lap race in advance of the men in St. James’s Park, starting at 06:15 GMT (2:15 a.m. EDT). The athletes will run on a closed course and spectators will not be permitted.
Kosgei and Chepngetich, both 26, are under the same management (Rosa & Associates) and have the same shoe and apparel sponsor (Nike), but they don’t train together or even know each other very well. Kosgei trains at the original Rosa camp in Kapsait which sits at a oxygen-starved 2928m (9605 feet) above sea level, and she is coached by Eric Kimaiyo. Chepngetich trains in Ngong on the western edge of Nairobi at a still-high 1961m (6434 feet).
But both women are fast, very fast.
Victories, Records and Championships
Kosgei shattered Paula Radcliffe’s 2003 marathon world record by 81 seconds at last October’s Bank of America Chicago Marathon, clocking a previously unimaginable 2:14:04. During her marathon career — which began unceremoniously in Porto, Portugal, in 2015 with a 2:47:59 victory — Kosgei has broken 2:21 five times, and run sub-2:20 three times. She has won seven marathons.
Chepngetich’s marathon career began with a bang when she won the 2017 Istanbul Marathon in a course record 2:22:36. She dropped under 2:20 for the first time the following year in the same race, clocking 2:18:35, then rallied back just 75 days later to run an improbable 2:17:08 in Dubai, the second fastest mark of 2019 (behind Kosgei’s world record) and the #4 time in history. She won the world title last October in Doha in brutally hot and humid conditions, winning by over a minute.
Speaking to the international media today via a Zoom conference call, both women were cautiously optimistic about Sunday’s race, but admitted that the pandemic had affected their training. Kosgei said more than once that she would give Sunday’s race her best effort, but that lowering her own world record wasn’t a priority.
No Promises After Isolated Training
“You know due to this pandemic I cannot say I’ll run this and this,” said Kosgei. She added: “We didn’t do a lot of training enough like last year. I want to try my best, only, on Sunday.”
Kosgei lives in Eldoret with her husband, Mathew Mitei, and twin children, Brian and Faith, but prefers the remote camp in Kapsait for training. There, she said, some of her runs take her up above 3000 meters during her long training weeks. She said that she only has a handful of training partners because of the pandemic.
“I’ve been training in a little group,” she said. “In some months we go back training alone, slowly, slowly. It affected most of us in Kenya.”
Chepngetich said she had been running 160 to 170 kilometers per week (100–106 miles/week), but offered no details about her program. However, she said that the virus had altered her training plans.
“When coronavirus arrived to Kenya… everybody had to train alone,” she said. “Everyone was training in isolation.”
While both women were previously named for the Kenyan Olympic team, Athletics Kenya could make changes between now and next summer. As such, both women want to keep up their excellent track record to assure selection.
“I will try my best in order to be selected for Olympics next year,” said Kosgei.
Besides Kosgei, Chepngetich and Cheruiyot (PB of 2:18:31), there are two other fast Kenyans in the field, Valary Aiyabei (2:19:10) and Edith Chelimo (debut; half-marathon best of 1:05:52). The two top Ethiopians are Ashete Bekere (2:20:14) and Alemu Megertu (2:21:10). Unfortunately, two other top-class Ethiopians, Roza Dereje and Degitu Azimeraw, withdrew from the race after being announced in August. Azimeraw’s pre-flight COVID test came back positive so she was not permitted to come to London and enter the race’s anti-COVID biosphere. Another dozen women in the field have run sub-2:30, but none of them can be expected to contend for the win.
For Kosgei, breaking the world record has inspired her to test the ultimate limits of her talent. She said last year after Chicago that “slowly by slowly” she could lower her own world record, and she reiterated that today.
“When I break it, the record, in Chicago last year I was really happy, happy,” Kosgei said. “It changed my entire career and made me to be more encouraged to do a lot of training, to focus on training, to try again to break the record again.”