Eliud Kipchoge wins his third London Marathon

The men's podium at the London Marathon 2018. Kitata, Kipchoge and Farah.

Photo: Thomas Lovelock for Virgin Money London Marathon

Eliud Kipchoge confirmed his status as the king of the London Marathon when he was crowned elite men’s champion for the third time at the weekend after a text book display of marathon racing.  

Related: London Marathon 2018 - the stats 

Kipchoge lived out his career dream as he completed the London treble, while Sir Mo Farah brought cheer to British fans as he overcame problems at early Drinks Stations to break Steve Jones’ longstanding British record and claim third place behind Ethiopia’s Tola Shura Kitata.

Kipchoge joined compatriot Martin Lel and Mexican Dionicio Ceron as the only men to win the London title three times, an achievement he said this week would be the greatest of his stellar career and make him “the happiest man on Earth”.

After previous victories in 2015 and 2016, the 33-year-old defended his record in style and took a ninth career win over 26.2 miles in 2:04:17, missing his two-year-old course record on a day of punishing heat in the capital.

“I came to London to run a beautiful race and today I ran a really beautiful race,” said the Olympic champion. “Thank you, London.”

Kipchoge had to work hard for his win, though. After setting off on world record pace, he was shadowed for much of the race by the 21-year-old Kitata, who eventually succumbed to the master at Blackfriars Bridge but hung on for second in a personal best of 2:04:49.

The Olympic champion went through half way bang on predicted schedule at 61 minutes exactly, but slowed on the run-in before somehow finding the strength to kick in a 4:44 24th mile, which finally broke the spirit his Ethiopian rival. He crossed the line with his now famous smile across his face.

“It was slower at the end but all-in-all that’s what happens in sport,” he said. “I enjoyed the whole race. You have to win, and I had to fight over the last kilometres.”

Farah lived up to his own, and his nation’s, hopes when he reached the finish in 2:06:21, almost a minute inside Jones’ record of 2:07:13, and good enough to claim a place on the London Marathon podium exactly 20 years since he first won the Virgin Money Giving Mini London Marathon as a talented teenager.

Farah ran with the leaders for as long as he could, but he missed his all-important drinks bottle at early feed stations and endured a lonely last six miles before crossing the line exhausted. It was hard-earned, but the four-times Olympic track champion was delighted to be the first British man to claim a London Marathon medal since Paul Evans in 1996.

“It was do or die,” said Farah. “I went as fast as I could. 

“Right from the start they went off – boom! – at world record pace and I just had to go with them.

“But to get a British record and a place on the podium, I can’t ask for any better than that.”

As for Kenenisa Bekele, the second quickest marathon man in history and the athlete thought most likely to challenge Kipchoge, the Ethiopian featured only briefly at the head of the race and crossed the line sixth in 2:08:53 with defending champion Daniel Wanjiru eighth.

Bekele said a few days ago that a searing day would put paid to superfast times, and his fears were realised when the best male marathon runners in the world set off under burning skies behind pacemakers Gideon Kipketer, Edwin Kiptoo, Morris Gachaga and Silas Kipruto, and ahead of a record field of some 41,000 club runners and charity fundraisers.

They scorched through the first mile in 4 minutes 22 seconds, the fastest start ever in London. Patience may have been the watchword for the masses, but there was little sign of caution from the two-time champion who played the lead role from first stride to last.

He was supported in the early miles by a cast of east Africa’s finest, including two-time world champion Abel Kirui and defending champion Wanjiru, with Bekele lurking behind alongside his countrymen Guye Adola and Kitata, last year’s Frankfurt Marathon champion.

They covered the first 5KM in 13:48 and with miles splits of 4:22, 4:30 and 4:23, they were already 28 seconds up on Kipchoge’s 2016 course record of 2:03:05 and on for a 1 hour 57 minute finish.

Farah settled in at the back of a line of chasers accompanied by Bedan Karoki, the Kenyan who placed third last year as the pack passed 10km in 28:19.

Farah at first picked up the wrong drinks bottle and had to go back to find his own, then spent valuable moments talking to a motorbike rider – “I wanted them pass a message to the next table,” he explained later.

Meanwhile, Kipchoge was still running at under two hour pace, tucked in behind the black and white wall of pacemakers with Kirui on his shoulder. Farah and the rest seemed to be enduring their own mini-dramas, but the Zen-like Kipchoge was metronomically churning out miles of 4:40 to 4:45.

The leaders reached 15km in 43:05 with nine men on for a sub-2:02 close, but that soon changed as seven edged clear and reached half way in an amazing 61:00, the pacers hitting their mark with unerring accuracy.

Farah had always said his aim was Jones’ long-standing British record of 2:07:13 and the Briton, wearing bright yellow arm bands as if to ensure no-one would miss his efforts, was way up on that, clocking 61:03 compared to Jones’ 61:43. But the double Olympic track champion was still having problems with hydration, and dropped his drinks bottle at the 20km table. 

There was no such trouble for the experienced Kipchoge who pushed on at the front as the pacemakers dropped away, followed one-by-one by some of the biggest names in marathon running. As for Farah, he slipped in beside Kitata on Kipchoge’s heels with Karoki now 20 metres back and Bekele another 50m adrift alongside Wanjiru.

By now, the huge crowds were raising their hopes of an unexpected British win, but this was the business end of the race – and no-one knows this business better than the Kenyan master who turned in a 4:42 17th mile to shrug off his British challenger.

Kitata stuck to his back like a limpet and it was this pair who reached 30km near Canary Wharf in 1:27:24 with Farah seven seconds back and facing 12km of lonely running.

Kitata was also running faster than ever before, his eyes glued to Kipchoge’s back as the Kenyan leant into the tight corners in and out of the Isle of Dogs, before setting his sights on the westerly haul for home.

He looked the man to beat, but slowly the heat began to take its toll and miles of 4:51, 4:45 and 4:56 to mile 21 put the pair behind Kipchoge’s record. They went through 35km in 1:42:33 as times became secondary to racing.

Kitata had been the leader’s shadow all day but eventually his challenge began to fade as the duo dipped into the tunnel at Blackfriars. The relative cool beneath the bridge seemed to give Kipchoge a spur, and by the time they emerged up the small climb to the Embankment he was 20 metres clear.

This was where he broke Stanley Biwott two years ago and the double champion had again played his hand to perfection. A 4:44 24th mile sealed the deal and Kipchoge raced alone along dappled roads beside the Thames, up past the scaffolding-clad Big Ben and around St James Park to The Mall.

He crossed the line some 12 seconds ahead of Kitata, who crowned the biggest performance in his career with his first ever sub-2:05 time.

If Kipchoge was wearied by the effort, Farah was, to use his own words, ‘bolloxed”. Not that he could care, for all his hard work had brought rich rewards – a place on the podium and the 10th national record of his career in a time exactly two minutes quicker than his debut three years ago.

Kipchoge’s victory was the 14th by a Kenyan man in London and extended his personal marathon win-streak to eight. It also makes him the Abbott World Marathon Majors men’s champion for the third Series in succession following his Berlin Marathon triumph last September.

“He’s an incredible athlete,” said Farah of the winner later. “At 30km I was knackered and he just changed gear and moved away.”

“If success is your goal, then winning is not an option, it’s a necessity,” replied Kipchoge. Boom! as Farah might say.