The 25th running of the Flora London Marathon did the 2012 Olympic bid no harm at all with further confirmation that London puts on the world’s greatest marathon.
Excellent conditions and cool sunshine greeted a record 36,000 starters and 34,175 finishers, with most eyes on the form of Paula Radcliffe. The world record holder’s Athens failure means she may well not be Olympic champion, but she is clearly still the world number one.
After Sunday she now owns the three fastest ever marathon times, and four of the five fastest in history.
The Briton started fast, possibly too fast (2:13 pace over the initial miles), as she decided to run as she felt rather than to a pre-conceived plan. Defending champion Margraet Okayo and Susan Chepkemei, who gave Radcliffe a great tussle in New York, stayed close through the first five miles but by 10K Radcliffe was away, and even the two pacemakers couldn’t keep up with her. Blasting through 10 miles in 52:06, Radcliffe maintained a pace that no other woman in history has attempted through the second half, though she did slow around the 20-mile mark (1:44:35), with stomach cramps. Paula’s pitstop in the shadow of a drinks station might have made front-page news, but after her stop, she felt better and was able to attack the race again. She finished full of energy and her time of 2:17:42 won her a $125,000 bonus for a world record in a women-only race (bettering her 2:18:56 from 2002) as well as additional prize money and appearance fees to give her close to a million dollars from her week’s efforts.
Radcliffe afterwards said, “I probably should have stopped earlier than I did, as I was losing around 10 seconds a mile with the cramp, though I didn’t really want to have to do that in front of millions of people. The crowds were amazing and almost deafening in places. The new course was faster, though it seems to have more hills and though it was a nice day, it was a bit windier than when I ran 2:15:25.”
The first Veteran, Romanian Constantina Dita, backed up her Chicago Marathon victory by finishing a clear second in a national record of 2:22:50, while Chepkemei was an isolated third in 2:24:00, with Okayo fourth in 2:25:22. Sonia O’Sullivan improved her marathon PB to 2:29:01 in eighth.
Mara Yamauchi, who was the first Briton in the World Cross-Country Championships, qualified for the World Athletics Championships marathon in Helsinki with her 2:31:52 in 10th place, while former junior star, Scotland’s Hayley Haining, made a great debut with 2:35:23 in 12th to also gain the qualifying time.
Of the celebrities, model Nell McAndrew impressed with a 3:10:51, which qualifies her for the elite women’s race next year. Pick of the Veteran performances was Sue Cariss, whose 3:08:00 was a British W55 record.
In the loaded men’s race, Kenyan Martin Lel, with a pre-race 2:10:00 PB, was only the 17th fastest on times. However, his win wasn’t the surprise some made out. In 2003 he won the New York City Marathon and the World Half-Marathon Championships, and he had shown his form prior to London this year with a 59:42 half-marathon PB in Lisbon.
With the other big names failing to live up to their reputations, Lel moved away over the last few miles (a 4:38 24th mile being the turning point) and he looked very strong as he ran the world’s fastest time of 2005 with a huge breakthrough of 2:07:26.
Lel said, “I’m very happy with my time. I prepared very well but didn’t expect to win as there were so many good runners. But I felt strong, and knew I could speed up over the last few miles as the pace had felt so slow." World champion Jaquad Gharib (2:07:49) and 2004 New York winner Hendrick Ramaala (2:08:32) completed the top three.
Olympic champion Stefano Baldini finished well in fifth, just ahead of Britain’s Jon Brown, who trimmed his PB down to 2:09:31. World record holder Paul Tergat could only finish eighth (2:11:38) while defending champion Evans Rutto, who finally lost his unbeaten record, was 10th (2:12:49).
The second Brit home, Huw Lobb, made a big breakthrough to get a World Championships qualifying time with his 2:14:33, while David Taylor won the Vets race by almost 10 minutes with 2:18:47.
The Runner’s World pacers all hit their marks, as Pete Marsh (2:58:44) led the seven-minute milers, Barry Dabrowski (3:27:16) and Andy Murray (3:28:05), the sub-8:00s, Neil Tillott (3:55:52) and Jeremy Clapham (3:55:18) the nines and Steven Seaton (4:20:39) and Jane Newman (4:23:12), the 10s. Rob Spedding and Ross Preston brought home the 11-minute milers bang on target and Elizabeth Hufton led her Run/Walk group home in 5:15:15.