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London Marathon - The Men's Race
by Sharon Ekstrom
Photo Credit: Victah Sailer/PhotoRun
The story behind the men's race at the 2012 London Marathon was the competition between the strongest marathoners ever assembled. The field was decorated with World Champions, Olympians, big city marathon champions and some of the fastest men in the world on the roads - defending champion Emmanuel Mutai, Patrick Makau, Wilson Kipsang, Abel Kirui, Martin Lel, Tsegaye Kebede, Jaouad Gharib, Marilson Gomes dos Santos, Zersenay Tadese, Markos Geneti and Feyisa Lelisa to name a few.
With the 2012 London Olympic Games a bit over three months off, one purpose of the 2012 London Marathon for the athletes was securing an Olympic berth for the Kenyan and Ethiopian marathon teams. While many were uncertain if a win or a fast time was the determinant for selection, the Kenyan and Ethiopian Federations stated that their decision would be announced on the outcome of spring marathon season in Europe - most notably after the London Marathon - and all would be taken into consideration. Athletes had a tough task at hand; since not only was the competition stiff, but earning a fast finish time or a good finishing place was essential.
With eleven men in the field who had run marathons with times faster than 2:05:30, expectations were high for a possible new world record for Sunday, April 22nd. Four Kenyan men topped the all time fastest list in 2011. Markos Geneti, a top Ethiopian and one of the fastest in the field (personal best, 2:04:54) dropped from the field days before the race, slightly changing the dynamics.
A Race that Lost Steam
The City of London experienced periods of driving rain leading up to race day, but race morning saw perfect weather conditions at the start - sunny 37 degrees with slight wind and temperatures expected to top out at 53 degrees. There was a slim possibility of scattered showers later in the day - well after the elite races were over.
The men were led by two pacemakers: Shadrack Kosgei and Philip Langat who were instructed to pace the lead pack at a pace toward a 2:03:30 world record finish. At the gun, 2011 Frankfurt Marathon champion Wilson Kipsang (who missed the World Record by five seconds at Frankfurt) took to the front, running next to the pacers. The reigning two-time Marathon World Champion, Abel Kirui, also seemed as the men hit their first few miles in 4:41, 4:46, 4:41. They hit the first 5K mark in 14:37 - identical to Patrick Makau's world record split. While the pace was all there, in reality there should have been only three men in the race (Mutai, Makai and Kipsang) who were capable of holding such a pace.
The lead men included, as expected, Feyisa Lilesa who, when MarathonGuide.com caught up with him after the 2012 New York City Half Marathon one month prior, said he was thinking of running for a new world record. Also in the lead pack were the rest of the best: Abel Kirui, Wilson Kipsang, Bazu Worku, Emmanuel Mutai, Martin Lel, Tsegaye Kebede, Vincent Kipruto, Yared Asmerom, Abreham Cherkos, Samuel Tsegay and Patrick Makau.
Photo Credit: Victah Sailer/PhotoRun
While the men were on a good clip after mile 4; world record holder Patrick Makau, who along with Abel Kirui had his beginning as pacesetter to Haile Gebrselassie on his world record finishes, came to the front to talk with the pacers and get them to speed up - the pack was starting to slow below world record pace. The pacing seemed off - Kirui ran next to the pacers to push the pace at mile 5 then Makau again ran to the front ahead of the pacers at mile 6. The leaders were on target for a 2:04:42 and slowing. Kirui, after the race, said of the pacemakers, "you need a big engine to keep up that pace."
The men hit the 10K mark at 29:34; a time that was within the runners abilities as all of the favorites in the field had previously run faster 10K splits in their personal best marathon finishes. The men were still too slow until Mutai, following Makau's example of pushing the pacers, made a move at mile 8 with a strong surge. B azu Worku followed and Feyisa Lilesa caught them with the others in the lead pack strung out close behind. Patrick Makau, despite being the world record holder and encouraging the pacers to speed up, would be the first casualty and would not make it to 15K and pulled to the side of the course.
The race quickly changed at 20K and Kipsang came out of nowhere, took to the front of the pack and pushed for a faster pace. He joked post-race that he was "trying to set the pace for the pacemaker."
They hit the halfway mark at 62:12. While it was faster than they reached the half in last year's course record finish, the possibilities for a world record seemed to have faded. Aside from Kipsang, the Kenyans seemed to be tiring and only Lilesa and Worku - far from favorites in this field - seemed to hang on to the crazy surging. It seemed that these three would end up as top three; but Abel Kirui and Martin Lel seemed to pick off the fading runners including, eventually, Worku.
A determine Kirui pulled in front of Lilesa and Kipsang and began his own aggressive surges. He tried to pull away from Kipsang and Lilesa; but soon after had stomach cramping after taking water at a station and ultimately finished in sixth place. Lilesa's push for a top finish seemed promising. He mentioned at the NYC Half that he would go for a World Record in London.
The race seems to be decided by mile 16 -with three men running away from the field and the gap widening with Martin Lel in 4th with Worku, Mutai, Samuel Tsegay (Eritrea) 14 sec back by 25K, 1 min 30K, 1:57 35K. Kipsang pulled away at 35K and never looked back. Lilesa despite a solid effort was broken by the speed and faded finishing a disappointing 10th (2:08:20).
Photo Credit: Victah Sailer/PhotoRun
Kipsang: A Changing of the Guard
With past marathon performances at the Frankfurt and Paris Marathons (2:03:42, 2:04:57, 2:07:13), Wilson Kipsang is not new to the marathon distance, but is a newcomer to the highly competitive fields of World Marathon Majors races. The young Kenyan proved himself to be worthy of any field that he might enter as he pulled away from the leaders at 25K gaining and lengthed his lead each mile. Behind world record pace, but always ahead of the course record pace, a record in London seemed guaranteed. But even Kipsang began to slow after such a tremendous effort and he ran the two slowest miles of the race in the last two miles of the marathon - fast enough to keep the win and run an excellent 2:04:44, but missing the course record by just four seconds.
When asked about his strategy post-race, Kipsang said, "In the group everyone has potential, and when I went to increase the pace, I knew at some time the pacemakers would leave. [It was my strategy] to push early before they were ready to leave and I went and they were not prepared and some may not be as strong."
Behind Kipsang, the race shifted. His surges broke three 2:05 marathoners - Abel Kirui, Feyisa Lelisa and Bazu Worku - who were unable to further continue at that pace. The surprise saw solid veterans of the distance who held on strong and picked off the fading speedsters.
With Kipsang running alone at the front and guaranteed the victory, the excitement of the race resurfaced just behind with two former champions battling it out for second place in the final yards of the race. Martin Lel, the three time winner and not at all the favorite coming in was running with Tsegaye Kebede, the 2010 winner and Olympic bronze medalist who was no longer on the list of the fastest five Ethiopian marathoners on the all-time list. The two, Lel and Kebede, worked together to move up through the field toward a surprise sprint finish. Lel, one of the oldest in the field and someone who told us he almost didn't start the race because he had insufficient training after dropping out of the Dubai Marathon, pushed hard - reminding us of one of his many exciting sprint wins at London - and beat Kebede by a few strides to finish in 2:06:51. Kebede was third in 2:06:52.
Post-race, Lel had a big grin when his sprint finish against Kebede was retold and he responded: "It was a great surprise after Dubai and I just didn't know. I am coming here with a quarter of my training. London has a special place in my heart, so I came."
Morrocans Follow In
Adil Annani of Morocco, with a former best of 2:10:15 from the 2009 Oita Marathon, finished in fourth place with a a huge new personal best in 2:07:43. Jaouad Gharib of Morocco was 5th.
1. Kipsang, Wilson (KEN) 2:04:44 - $55,000 + $100,000
2. Lel, Martin (KEN) 2:06:51 - $30,000 + $50,000
3. Kebede, Tsegaye (ETH) 2:06:52 - $22,500 + $50,000
4. Annani, Adil (MAR) 2:07:43 - $15,000 + $25,000
5. Gharib, Jaouad (MAR) 2:07:44 - $10,000 + $25,000
6. Kirui, Abel (KEN) 2:07:56 - $7,500 + $25,000
7. Mutai, Emmanuel (KEN) 2:08:01 - $5,000 + $15,000
8. Gomes Dos Santos, Marilson (BRA) 2:08:03 - $4,000 + $15,000
9. Tsegay, Samuel (ERI) 2:08:06 - $3,000 + $15,000
10. Lilesa, Feyisa (ETH) 2:08:20 - $2,000 + $15,000
11. Bouramdane, Abderrahime (MAR) 2:10:13 - $1,500 + $1,000
12. Worku, Bazu (ETH) 2:10:14 - $1,000 + $1,000
13. Kipruto, Vincent (KEN) 2:10:39 - $1,000
14. Tadese, Zersenay (ERI) 2:10:41 - $1,000
15. Cherkos, Abreham (ETH) 2:12:46