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LONDON (23-Apr) -- Kenya's Mary Keitany threw caution to the wind here today, blasted through the first half of the 37th Virgin Money London Marathon in a scorching 1:06:54, and held on to finish alone on The Mall in 2:17:01, the pending IAAF world record for an all-women's marathon. Her performance broke Paula Radcliffe's previous mark of 2:17:42 set here in 2005 by 41 seconds, and it was the second fastest women's marathon of all-time under all conditions.
"I want to say it was a great day for me," said the tiny mother of two, 35, who has won the last three editions of the TCS New York City Marathon. She added: "It was really amazing."
It was also very lucrative. Not considering her appearance fee or any unpublished bonuses from either the race organizers or her sponsor, adidas, Keitany earned $305,000 in prize money and time bonuses: $55,000 for the win, $100,000 for sub-2:18, $25,000 for the course record and $125,000 for the world record.
"I'm really excited about my great time that I did today," she told reporters.
Keitany made her intentions known very early in the race. After a quick and potentially sustainable 5:15 first mile, she and pacemaker Caroline Chepkoech surged ahead, running the second mile in 5:09 then the third (downhill) mile in a head-snapping 4:37. The duo cleared 5-kilometers in a sizzling 15:31, and the record attempt was on for real.
"It was inside world record pace," Keitany said. "I was prepared for any pace as I was preparing."
With the rest of the women out of sight and out of mind, Keitany and Chepkoech concentrated on the task at hand. Wearing all black kit, Keitany hit 10 km in 31:17 (15:46), 15 km in 47:15 (15:58) and 20 km in 1:03:26 (16:11), all personal bests for her pacemaker, Chepkoech. Her arm warmers came off about 10 miles into the race as Keitany's brow began to glisten with sweat.
Chepkoech set another PB of 1:06:53 at the half-marathon point with Keitany one second behind. The pair were well up on Paula Radcliffe's half-way split of 1:08:02 from her absolute world record run of 2:15:25 set here in 2003.
Soon, the pacemaker stepped off leaving Keitany all alone on a sub-2:14 pace with only the chants of the crowds to help her.
"After the pacemaker dropped out, I just went alone to the finish line," Keitany said matter-of-factly.
Keitany had made a bold first half run before which ended poorly. In the 2011 New York City Marathon, she ran 1:07:56 for the first half and faded badly to finish third, passed by Ethiopians Firehiwot Dado and Buzunesh Deba in Central Park. But here, she was determined not to let that happen.
"I was ready today," Keitany said when asked about that fateful race in New York, a course she would ultimately master. "If somebody is following me I can still push. I was ready."
The kilometers passed, and the sun came out making things just a bit warmer. Keitany's pace was slipping, but it wasn't collapsing. She ran the 5-kilometers through 25-K in, 16:17 then the next two 5-K blocks in 16:22 and 16:34. She smashed the 30-K world record by two minutes, clocking 1:36:05 at that point, and had built-up a 75-second lead over second and third place Tirunesh Dibaba and Helah Kiprop, the only women who remained within striking distance.
"She's not falling apart; she's still running," observed Paula Radcliffe on the BBC broadcast.
Keitany slowed a bit more in the last 5-kilometer segment through 40-K to 16:59, but she had already locked down the record and put the race out of reach. Dibaba was suffering from stomach distress and had stopped and vomited around the 30-K mark. To her credit, the Ethiopian gathered herself and went on to finish second in an excellent 2:17:56, making her the third-fastest woman of all time.
"This is my second marathon as you all know," Dibaba said in the post-race press conference. "Yes, I have recorded a fast time, a personal best. I am satisfied with the results."
The always consistent Aselefech Mergia, who won this race in 2010, passed Kiprop before 40-K to clinch third place in 2:23:08. Vivian Cheruiyot, in her debut, finished fourth in 2:23:50, followed by Australia's Lisa Weightman (2:25:15 PB) and America's Laura Thweatt (2:25:38 PB). Kiprop faded badly in the final seven kilometers to finish seventh in 2:25:59.
"Just sheer will," said Thweatt of what carried her through the second half when she was hurting. "It was just one of those days in the marathon when it all comes together. I got into a rhythm and was just able to keep it."
In the battle among British women for World Championships selection and the British national title, Aly Dixon (14th in 2:29:06 PB) and Charlotte Purdue (15th in 2:29:23 PB) clinched team berths (Dixon also retained her national title. Five-time Olympian Jo Pavey was forced to drop out. She recorded her last split of 1:29:09 at 25-K.
WANJIRU UPSETS MEN'S FIELD
Daniel Wanjiru won last October's TCS Amsterdam Marathon in a personal best 2:05:21, but the 24 year-old Kikuyu from Embu was not among the favorites prior to today's race. In fact, after a seemingly lackluster 62:16 at the RAK Half-Marathon in the United Arab Emirates last February (12th place), some had surmised he wasn't even getting into good shape.
But Wanjiru, who is coached by 2006 Seoul Marathon winner Jason Mbote, said his RAK effort was not only solid, but all part of his plan.
"For sure I am prepared," said Wanjiru. "I said I was preparing for the London Marathon since Christmas. He continued: "For sure I was not worried. In RAK, I had prepared for that half, but I had told my manager (Gerard Van De Veen) for (fitness) testing. It was OK because I did 62 there and I took it as part of training. I knew I was OK to do marathon. I told him I was ready to win London Marathon.
Wanjiru was part of a pack of 13 (including four pacemakers) who hit the halfway point in an aggressive 1:01:44. All the favorites were there, including three-time Olympic gold medalist Kenenisa Bekele, 2016 Rio Olympic silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa, 2015 world marathon champion Ghirmay Ghebreslassie, 2016 Bank of America Chicago Marathon winner Abel Kirui, and highly-touted debutante Bedan Karoki.
The pack withered to seven by 25-K, and Bekele found himself trailing by six seconds, running in only 11th place. He was going through a bad patch, he said.
"My foot not really in good position because of the shoes," Bekele said, explaining that the injuries he suffered from falling in the Dubai Marathon last January had forced him to change his gait to protect his right leg. "I change the style to protect my leg more. In that place it was difficult."
Meanwhile Wanjiru was feeling good. After the pacemakers left before 30-K (1:28:21), the pack was down to just five: Wanjiru, Kirui, Karoki, Ghebreslassie, and Lilesa. Wanjiru decided it was time to go. He ran the 21st mile in 4:52, then the 22nd in 4:54. That gave him a ten-second lead on Karoki and and another four seconds on Kirui and Bekele by that point.
But the race wasn't over. Bekele had rebounded and was running well. He started to hunt down Wanjiru.
"Yeah I expected to catch him," Bekele said. "But it wasn't easy for me. When I reach half, I was back almost more than 400 meters. To come back and come to the first leader wasn't easy for me."
By 40-K, Bekele was in second place and only nine seconds down on Wanjiru who knew he could be caught. He had just become aware of how close Bekele was.
"It was about kilometer 39," Wanjiru said, where he knew he was being chased. "I was looking behind I knew there was somebody coming." He added: "No, I was not scared. In a competition anything can happen. You have to be well-planned for anything."
Bekele got the gap down to six seconds, but Wanjiru was simply too strong and pulled away again. The Kenyan broke the finish tape in 2:05:48, nine seconds up on Bekele. Karoki, clearly hurting and running stiffly, was just able to hold off Kirui to finish third in 2:07:41 to Kirui's 2:07:45.
"My first attempt in major marathon," said a smiling Wanjiru. "Because I win last year Amsterdam I was having courage that I can do better in marathon. Even this for now, I can see in future doing better and better. Maybe next year I come back here and do more better."
Wanjiru earned $55,000 in prize money, plus another $75,000 time bonus for breaking 2:06.
In the race for the British team for the IAAF World Championships, unseeded Josh Griffiths was the first home in 2:14:49 in his debut, winning his first national title, followed by Robbie Simpson in 2:15:04. Both athletes broke the British Athletics qualifying standard of 2:16 and will join Callum Hawkins on the British team here this summer.
Today's race had a record field, with 40,382 runners picking up their bib packets. Finisher totals won't be known until tomorrow.