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Eliud Kipchoge was Eliud Kipchoge, Brigid Kosgei won a battle of major champions and the U.S. women’s marathon field got a bit more crowded. As usual, there was plenty to take away from the London Marathon. Here are 26 thoughts and observations of this year’s race.
1) The result on Sunday was expected. Eliud Kipchoge won his fourth London Marathon, running 2:02:37, the second fastest time in history. Only his world record run in Berlin is faster. With two miles remaining, there were three men latched on to Kipchoge, yet there was never any drama about what the final result was going to be. He broke away in the 25th mile and built a decisive margin. He had time to wave to the crowd in the final meters. Everything was expected (maybe not the exact time), and still, it was mesmerizing.
Maybe it’s how effortless he makes it look--the early celebration and the calm look on his face--as he runs 4:30 miles. There’s no doubt an aesthetic quality at work. There’s also the dynamics of the race.
Every Kipchoge marathon now seems to give us something different. Insoles coming out mid-race, a deficit in the final mile to erase and an enthusiastic water bottler handler. On Sunday, he had to do lots of leading. It was leading he didn’t want to do. He gestured several times after the pacers stepped off at 15 miles for one of the assembled group behind him to take the pace. Nobody offered so Kipchoge did it himself. Was it a risk? No, there are no risks with Kipchoge in the marathon right now. It wasn’t, however, the easiest path to victory. It didn’t matter, he took command and led the rest of the race.
2) For the record, that is 10 wins in a row in the marathon for Kipchoge. All total for his career, he’s won 11 of 12. If you believe that Breaking 2 should count as an actual marathon then add 1 win to those numbers. His last, and only, loss came in September 2013.
Eliud Kipchoge now owns the two fastest marathons in world history.— FloTrack (@FloTrack) April 28, 2019
3) Mosinet Geremew was the last man who was able to stay with Kipchoge. His 2:02:55 was the third fastest time in history and an Ethiopian record. Geremew entered the race with a good resume, but this was a huge improvement. In 2017, he finished 2:40 behind Kipchoge in Berlin.
The moral victory is dismissed in sport, but I don’t know how you could be unhappy with finishing 18 seconds behind the greatest marathoner of all-time and breaking a barrier that nobody in your distance running obsessed nation has ever done before. In short, nice work Mosinet.
4) Just behind Geremew was Mule Wasihun. He rode the Kipchoge wave to a 2:03:16 performance. Those two, along with Shura Kitata, made this a competitive race until Kipchoge vanquished them. Washihun’s presence in that group was the most surprising. He’d only run under 2:05 once and looked like he’d reached his ceiling as a middling 2:04-mid to 2:06 runner. On Sunday, he finished in third place with a 2:03:16 finish.
Which, put together, makes for one of the strangest stats in running.
5. Before we feel too much sympathy for Geremew and Wasihun about running that fast and not winning, remember that Kipchoge was the catalyst for their fast times. He’s the one who took on the pace and served as the world’s best rabbit from 15 miles all the way until the last mile. They’d run fast without him, but they don’t run 2:02-high and 2:03-low without Kipchoge.
There’s a bit of a Rudisha effect in play here. During David Rudisha's run of 800m titles, his frontrunning led the way for fast times throughout the field. The best example coming in the London Olympic final when he set the world record and seven of the eight finalists set lifetime bests. Kipchoge doesn’t always choose to lead. If he does more often maybe people will be fine with a loss if it means a gigantic personal best.
6. After his world record, I thought Kipchoge never really had much to gain from his traditional pattern of races. He was indisputably the best of all-time, he had the times, medals and records. Everything after 2:01:39 would feel like a letdown.
But after watching London, I’ll admit I was wrong. That was a cool race. The fact that he’d never hit a 2:02 (something he joked about wanted to complement his 2:01, 2:03s and 2:04s) was cool. The 4:26 25th mile was cool. Watching greatness never gets old even if it feels like it’s on repeat.
7. That said, I’m still hoping he runs New York or Boston before his career is over. Of course, he could tear those course records to shreds. With a Boston tailwind, who knows how quickly he could go?
But this isn’t solely about answering hypotheticals. It seems against the rules of running history that the greatest of all-time wouldn’t run in two of the greatest venues the sport has (I felt the same way about Usain Bolt never running at Hayward Field). London and Berlin are great. We will all watch no matter what, just like we will all watch if he decides to break two hours at an F1 track in the middle of nowhere.
8. Wilson Kipsang finished 12th in 2:09:18. He’s three years older than Kipchoge and is the only man to beat him in the marathon. I bring him up because his current status (good, but having a harder time contending for major victories) is the normal progression of a marathon star. Not everyone is immortal like Kipchoge.
9. Did you like the jerseys? I don’t enjoy the split color personally, but it was nice that they varied the colors.
Congratulations to @EliudKipchoge for an energetic, dominant and electrifying display to win the #LondonMarathon and cementing his status as one of the greatest marathoners of all time. We savour a fantastic victory. pic.twitter.com/zYsCCgGqxY— William Samoei Ruto, PhD (@WilliamsRuto) April 28, 2019
10. Mo Farah took fifth in 2:05:39 and wasn’t in the main breakaway that Kipchoge led in the final miles. The back-and-forth with him and Haile Gebrselassie before the race overtook the Eliud V. Mo theme that was always a bit off. Kipchoge has no rival. And while I understand the desire of the race to build in a two-person battle, the truth is that until Kipchoge falters, Farah is competing with the rest of the pack for second place.
11. I wonder if the above fact guarantees that Farah makes his way back to the track. There is no heir apparent to Farah in the 10,000m at the moment and I’m sure he’s realizing that Kipchoge has pushed the marathon out of reach for the foreseeable future.
For anyone else, this might be an easy reality to accept. Farah, however, came to the marathon after winning 10 gold medals. Winning was the expectation. Now, with Kipchoge, Farah’s facing the same predicament his competitors felt toward him in the 5000m and 10,000m. Farah did finally get beat. Barely. But it took six years and an endless stream of challengers. Will Farah try to do the same to Kipchoge. If so, how long will he wait him out?
12. Did the pre-race drama between Farah and Gebrselassie impact Farah on Sunday? That seems unlikely. The more logical explanation is that Farah got beat by better runners. He’s wasn’t too far off his personal best and the tier below Kipchoge that he inhabits is crowded. There will be shuffling amongst those top places. If anyone was equipped to deal with media scrutiny it’s Farah. He’s had plenty of practice. The fact that he brought the issue up unprompted made it clear that he didn’t have a problem with this story hanging over race day.
13. Outside of the top five, there were some big personal bests. Bashir Abdi of Belgium went from 2:10:46 to 2:07:03. Great Britain’s Callum Hawkins finished 10th in 2:08:14, more than two minutes better than his PR of 2:10:17.
14. Is this the start of something big for Brigid Kosgei? She’s now won two majors in a row, both in the 2:18s. That’s impressive consistency in this era of the women’s marathon.
At just 25, Brigid Kosgei is the youngest woman to ever win the London Marathon, building on her win in Chicago with a time of 2:18:20. pic.twitter.com/CB4MJCESHz— #TokyoOlympics (@NBCOlympics) April 28, 2019
15. London 2019 looked an awful lot like 2018 New York City, with Kosgei playing the role of Mary Keitany. New York is a much more challenging course and London uses pacemakers, so in essence, this race was a much more dramatic interpretation of Kosgei’s negative splits. Kosgei went 71:22/66:42, while Keitany split 75:50/66:58.
16. At a time when a single person is dominating the men’s marathon, the women’s field is filled with parity. Mary Keitany might get favorite status because of her history, but there seems to be a rotating cast of women that are capable of winning a major and running a fast time.
The contrast between the two genders has made for a nice balance. Kipchoge’s overall dominance doesn’t mean his margin of victory is always bigger. Sunday was the perfect example of that. The men’s race was close with two miles to go while Kosgei’s dominance removed all the drama in the women’s competition.
17. Vivian Cheruiyot ran well to mount a comeback that put the outcome in doubt for a few minutes before Kosgei jetted away again. But credit to her for not melting when Kosgei was clearly having the better day. That’s back-to-back runner-ups for Vivian Cheruiyot after her win in London last April. Marathon success wasn’t guaranteed for Cheruiyot. She was a star on the track but made the move at such a late point in her career that there was a chance she wouldn’t last long in the roads. But now a woman who ran in the 2000 Olympics (not a typo) has become one of the best marathoners in the world.
18. In the United States, the attention is on the U.S. Olympic Trials, but imagine trying to choose the Kenyan or Ethiopian team in the marathon at this point. The only lock is Kipchoge for either country. Geremew’s national record should put him on, but both countries have been fickle in the past.
Mary Keitany was idiotically left off the team in 2016 and she might find herself on the outside again. Three women from Kenya finished ahead of her on Sunday and there are a couple of others who can make a strong case.
19. Expectations were high for Emily Sisson. The American made her debut in the marathon amidst an upswing in her career. Her half marathon in Houston along with her success on the track indicated she could be an immediate factor for the United States.
Her first attempt at the distance in London went smoothly. She hit the mid-point in 1:11:49, and finished sixth in 2:23:08. Jordan Hasay is the only American to have a faster debut. Like Hasay, she’s 27 and looks to have entered the marathon at the perfect time in her career. In terms of sixth-place finishes, this one is pretty impressive. The gap was about two minutes to the top five, but look who was in that group- (in sequential order) the 2018 Chicago champion, the 2018 London champion, the 2018 Dubai champion, the 2018 Berlin champion and the 2018 New York champion.
20. Since the U.S. Olympic Trials for the marathon come in February of next year, it’s unclear how many of the nation’s best will run a fall marathon. I’m guessing it will be split down the middle. Jordan Hasay has already announced that she will run in Chicago in October.
But if the past is predictive, many will skip the fall making this spring season the last real data point. In that sense, Sisson’s performance was crucial. Yes, it was her debut, but if it didn’t go well there would really only be one more chance to get it right before the Olympic Trials.
21. Sisson’s training partner Molly Huddle placed 11th in 2:26:33. She was with Sisson at halfway, but slowed in the second half. It was a personal best for Huddle (her only races before this have come in New York and Boston), but certainly, she was looking for more.
I thought that the time trial aspect would favor her given her history with running hard from the start at shorter distances. I remain a Huddle believer in the marathon. I’m not sure if it’s the most likely path for her to medal (although the 10,000m is pretty tough too), but I’d be surprised if she tops out at 2:26.
22. If you don’t know anything about Sinead Diver, the woman who led at halfway and finished seventh in 2:24:11, here’s the Cliff’s Notes.
So she’s 42, started running 9 years ago, since had two kids - the eldest of whom is 9 by the way - works in IT and just qualified for the Olympics after finishing 7th in the London Marathon. Bloody hell Sinead Diver could you be any more inspiring? 🙌🏻 https://t.co/HKv1cOgK2D— Jennifer O'Connell (@jenoconnell) April 28, 2019
23. After the Boston Marathon, I picked my early 2020 Olympic Trials favorites (Huddle, Hasay and Linden). With the benefit of London, my new top three is Hasay, Sisson and Linden. Sisson and Hasay both looked very strong this spring and are new to the distance. I’d put Huddle in that next group with Linden, Amy Cragg and potentially Shalane Flanagan if she returns from injury.
24. Since none of the top American men ran London, this one is easy. Galen Rupp, Jared Ward and Scott Fauble are the top three with Shadrack Biwott and Elkanah Kibet rounding out the top five.
25. While we’re here, let’s do a worldwide top five in the marathon. This is a challenge because there is such a variation between courses, but if there was a hypothetical marathon on an “average” course with no pacemakers and everyone was invited this is my top five.
Worknesh Degefa: Dominated Boston, ascendent
Brigid Kosgei: Two majors in a row, and her second half says that she ran tactically.
Vivian Cheruiyot: A win and two runner-ups in her last three marathons. That’s hard to do.
Mary Keitany: She’s been so good for so long, it’s hard to think she doesn’t have at least one more good one in her.
Ruth Chepngetich: Didn’t run this spring but ran 2:17:08 in Dubai. No idea how she’d do in a major, but 2:17 is 2:17.
26. And for the men…….
Mosinet Geremew: Third fastest man in history. Strung together a nice last two years of racing
Lelisa Desisa: I know he lost in Boston, but he’s always around when it counts
Geoffrey Kamworor: Ran the World Cross Country Championships this spring instead of a marathon, but when he runs he can be in that non-Kipchoge tier.
Mule Wasihun: He just ran 2:03:16 so there’s some recency bias. Separating anyone after Kipchoge is tough. I’d also include Mo Farah, Shura Kitata and Lawrence Cherono in the ‘anywhere between second and 10th’ category.