KIPCHOGE, CHERUIYOT SURVIVE WARM WEATHER, HOT PACE TO WIN VIRGIN MONEY LONDON MARATHON
By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2018 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
LONDON (22-Apr) — Kenyans Eliud Kipchoge and Vivian Cheruiyot survived very warm conditions and an ambitious early pace to win the 38th Virgin Money London Marathon here today. Kipchoge, the course record holder who also won this race in 2015 and 2016, controlled the race from gun to tape to earn his third title in 2:04:17. Cheruiyot, the reigning Olympic 5000m champion who was fourth here in her debut last year, came from behind to win her second career marathon in 2:18:31, making her the second-fastest Kenyan woman in history.
Although both athletes faced high quality competition here, their primary opponent was probably the weather. Under bright skies with a start-time temperature of 20C/68F, today’s edition was the hottest-ever for this event, according to race director Hugh Brasher. There were also gusting winds which made the conditions even more difficult.
PHOTO: Mo Farah finishing third in the 2018 Virgin Money London Marathon in 2:06:21 (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
“There was a lot of wind out there,” said 2017 Honolulu Marathon champion Lawrence Cherono who finished seventh today. “It affected me so much.”
But adding to their challenge was aggressive pacemaking set by race organizers who saw the chance for a world record today and seized it. Despite the heat, the pacemakers stayed with the plan of hitting 61 minutes-dead in the men’s contest and 67:30 for the women, both marks well inside of world record schedule.
But, in the early stages of the men’s race, the pace got a little out of hand when the first 5-kilometers (albeit downhill) was covered in 13:48, a sub-1:57 marathon pace. The field was literally flying.
“It’s gone off at a crazy pace,” commented Steve Cram on the BBC broadcast. He added: “That’s a silly start.”
Things settled down a bit in the second 5-kilometer segment, but the pace was still plenty fast. A 10-K split of 28:19 only trimmed the pack to nine contenders: Kenyans Kipchoge, Abel Kirui, Daniel Wanjiru, Bedan Karoke, and Lawrence Cherono; Ethiopians Tola Shura Kitata, Kenenisa Bekele, and Guye Adola; and Briton Mo Farah. The second pace group scheduled for a 61:45 half never materialized, and all of the top athletes were running together.
“The pace was fast, and also the weather was very hot,” Wanjiru said of the early pace after finishing eighth in 2:10:35. “So, we tried our best.”
Adola, who ran a world debut record of 2:03:46 at the Berlin Marathon last September, was the first to crack and fell back by four seconds at 15 km. He felt worse and worse as the kilometers passed, eventually finishing in 2:32:35.
Remarkably, seven men were still together at halfway, despite the precise 1:01:00 split achieved by lead pacemaker Morris Gachaga. Cherono had fallen off, but Farah was still in contact with the leading group despite losing time after having some trouble with his personal bottles at both the 10 and 20-kilometer fluid stations.
“As you saw it’s all about learning,” Farah said after the race, revealing that he had picked up the wrong bottle at one fluid station because it looked just like his. “I did have a few problems early with the drinks. Me and another athlete had the same bottle on the same table.” He added: “When you’re coming past it, it looks the same.”
Gachaga made it to 25-kilometers (1:12:36) and Kipchoge took command of the race. His chin raised, eyes forward, and his form the same as in the first kilometer, he looked supremely comfortable.
“He’s like the Zen Master out there,” Paula Radcliffe said on the BBC broadcast.
Kipchoge knew he had to do two things in order to ensure victory. First, he had to cull the heard and by keeping up the hard pace everyone had dropped away by 30-kilometers except Kitata and Farah. Second, he had to put Farah far enough behind to neutralize the four-time Olympic champion’s kick. Kipchoge wasn’t taking any chances.
“I respect every athlete,” Kipchoge said in the post-race press conference. “I respect their training. Every athlete wants to be number one.”
Farah, who wore neon-colored arm warmers with his orange and blue Nike kit, was clearly suffering and began to slow. He drifted back from Kipchoge and Kitata, and was forced to run alone in third place. Glancing behind him several times, his thoughts moved away from winning and on to finishing.
“I was tired from then,” said Farah who ended up third in 2:06:21, a new British record. “I managed to keep going, to keep fighting.”
Kitata showed surprising strength in the final stages of the race. He survived a surge by Kipchoge in the 35th kilometer, but two kilometers later he had to let go and settle for second in 2:04:49, a personal best by a full minute. Kipchoge was impressed by his rival’s strength.
“I tried to shake off Kitata after 35, but it was hard,” Kipchoge recalled. “After 37 he just fall behind.”
Although he got the win and wrapped up the Abbott World Marathon Majors Series XI overall title –worth another $250,000– Kipchoge fell short of Dennis Kimetto’s world record of 2:02:57. At 30-kilometers his split of 1:27:24 was 14 seconds faster than Kimetto’s actual split in Berlin in 2014. But from there, he could not match Kimetto’s closing splits and had to settle for the win and would tackle the world record another day. He did not appear to be the least bit disappointed, however.
“I can say I enjoyed the race,” said Kipchoge as he flashed his famous smile. “Wining the third time in London and World Marathon Majors.” He added: “I said (before) it was a beautiful race.”
For Cheruiyot, sticking to her race plan was the key to victory today. Three male pacers –Kenyans Lawi Kiptui and John Loitang, and Ethiopian Kedir Namo Urji– took the race’s two main protagonists, Kenya’s Mary Keitany and Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba, into uncharted territory in the first half of the race. The pair ran together through 15-kilometers (47:46) before Dibaba started to struggle, and fall back. The nine-time world champion was 23 seconds back at halfway (67:16 to 67:39), 29 seconds back by 25-K, and 52 seconds by 30-K. Then disaster struck, and Dibaba dropped out.
Keitany’s downfall would come later. The holder of the women’s only world record of 2:17:01 set here last year started to fall into distress. Cheruiyot, who chose to run well back in the third group in the early stages of the race, was steadily catching up.
“They were trying a world record,” Cheruiyot observed at the post-race press conference. “I think they made the same mistake I did last year (of going out too fast).”
Cheruiyot, who was one minute and 40 seconds behind Keitany at halfway, was only 12 seconds behind by 35-kilometers. One hour and 55 minutes into the race, she steamed past the fading Keitany without saying a word.
“I didn’t talk to Mary because everyone was tired,” Cheruiyot said. “I just passed and go.”
Keitany was reduced to a shuffle. As she came to the finish at The Mall, she was passed in the final 200 meters by compatriot Gladys Cherono and would finish fifth in 2:24:27 (Cherono was fourth in 2:24:10). She said later that it was the hardest race she had ever run.
“What I can say?” Keitany told reporters while her husband, Charles Koech, and manager Gianni Demadonna helped steady her as she stood in the mixed zone. She continued: “It was hot. So that was not easy (but) I finished. I don’t know what to say.”
Cheruiyot was able to run behind two of the male pacers, Kiptui and Loitang, who had escorted Keitany ahead of her. Then, with her pacers on her right, she ran down The Mall smiling before breaking the tape for her first win in a Major Marathon. She said that the warm weather didn’t bother her at all and that, combined with her more conservative race plan, had brought her victory today.
“For me the weather today it was good,” Cheruiyot said. “For me, I don’t like racing in cold weather. It was perfect for me.”
The next two spots on the podium went to Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei, the 2017 Honolulu Marathon champion, in 2:20:13, and Ethiopia’s Tadelech Bekele in 2:21:40. Both athletes ran career-best times. The top British finisher was Lily Partridge in eighth position in 2:29:24.
“It is unbelievable,” said Partridge, who recorded her first sub-2:30 marathon. “I felt absolutely fantastic until 35-K and then it started to bite. And then it got slowly worse.”
While finisher totals were not yet available, organizers said that 41,469 accepted applicants had picked up their race packs, up from 40,048 last year. The 2017 race had 39,487 finishers, which was the largest in race history.
PHOTO: Vivian Cheruiyot wins the 2018 Virgin Money London Marathon in 2:18:31 (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)