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Why London Marathon is set to be the race of the year

Last updated 27 days ago | By Paul Ochieng and Gerald Lwande

April 28, 2019 Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge celebrates winning the men's elite race REUTERS

Top two long distance runners Kipchoge and Kenenisa come face to face on October 4

Bekele is the second fastest man in the 42.2 km race London Marathon is set to be the race of the year

Almost a year to the first anniversary of Eliud Kipchoge making history by being the first human to run the marathon below 2 hours in Vienna, he is set to run his first marathon after that triumphant race.

This time, it will be in London, the city Vienna beat to being selected as the venue for the INEOS 1.59 Challenge.

For some years now, the world has been waiting with bated breath for the top two long distance runners of all time - Eliud Kipchoge and Kenenisa Bekele - to go head to head.

The dream race was to come true in April this year, however, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event was called off.

The duel will now happen on October 4 at London’s St James Park in a “secure biosphere”.

Come next Sunday morning, on the start line will be these two men among other elite runners, as they put their enviable times on the line.  

Eliud Kipchoge holds both the world record (2.01.39) set in 2018 and a sub-2-hour personal best marathon time of 1:59.40, while Kenenisa Bekele is the second fastest man in the 42.2 km race having come two seconds shy of beating the world record in 2019.

A sub-2 hour in this race is out of question, but could we have a world record?

Considering the very elite field that will be running and the expected fast pace due to a modified course, many pundits are rooting for a world record.

Why should we fancy a world record? One just needs to look at the assembled elite field and an equally elite squad of pacemakers and will see why a record could be a possibility.

Of the 45 elite men chosen to run this race; five have a personal best time of below two hours and four minutes (2:04), eight are sub-2:05 and 11 sub-2:06.  

Without considering the times of the remaining runners, this already promises to be a very fast race.

The frosting on the cake are the eight elite pacemakers led by Sir Mo Farah and Kenya’s Victor Chumo and you have an atmosphere close to that of INEOS 1:59 Challenge; where the 41 elite pacers kept Kipchoge’s pace at a high tempo throughout.

Unlike in the INEOS 1:59 Challenge though, should the world record be broken in the London marathon, it will stand.

Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele runs during the Men's elite race at the London marathon on April 23, 2017 in London. / AFP PHOTO

This is because the pacemakers will not be rotated throughout the race as they did in the INEOS 1:59 Challenge - but will be the same through the first 30 kilometers after which, they will drop out.  

Secondly, the pacers will not form a deliberate human shield around the athletes to protect them from head winds.

Lastly, the corners of the course have not been specially modified to aid the athletes as they go round them.

There is a counter argument that a world record is not a possibility. The main thrust of this argument is that the race will have very many twists and turns during the 19 laps in the 2.15km route.

The race will also be run on concrete compared to asphalt which athletes argue is softer on the knee joint.

Furthermore, if history is anything to go by, in the last 17 years, the world record has been broken seven times and all of them, at the Berlin marathon.

If the world record is not broken, could the defending champion and course record holder Eliud Kipchoge lower the course record instead?  Only time will tell.

Other than Kipchoge and Bekele, the other challengers for the London marathon throne will be last year’s second place finisher Mosinet Geremew of Ethiopia and his compatriot Mule Wasihun, who was third. There are also Kenya’s Marius Kipserem, Vincent Kipchumba and Gideon Kipketer.

These athletes cannot be written off just yet. Last year’s London marathon saw Geremew and Wasihun give Kipchoge a run for his money by going neck and neck to the 41-kilometer mark.

The pressure was quite intense that Kipchoge encouraged them to take the lead and stop being on his trail.

However, they never budged, forcing Kipchoge to dig deeper and drop them off in the final kilometer of the race.

This intense pressure led both Kipchoge and Geremew to run below the then course record of 2:03:05.

Another Ethiopian, Tamirat Tola – Dubai marathon course record holder- too has been steadily progressing and it will not be surprising to see the Ethiopians hunt as a pack to dethrone Kipchoge.

In spite of Bekele’s many accolades both on track and on the road, he has never won this race and considering Kenyans have won it consecutively since 2014; the Ethiopians have their work cut out.

It is therefore anyone’s guess that these two camps of East African runners will bring out the best of their tactics to the race and the world should brace for a race to remember.

London, Britain - April 28, 2019 Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge and Ethiopia's Mosinet Geremew in action during the men's elite race REUTERS

The marathon is billed as the ultimate test of human endurance; to triumph, one needs more than just good physical form.

A strong mental attitude and a high threshold of pain are the other mandatories, it is thus not meant for wimps or quitters.

This year’s London marathon has all the ingredients to test the contestants to their limits.

Their long-awaited meeting on the road came in April 2016 when they went head-to-head at the London marathon.

In this race, Kipchoge, out to prove a point, ran blisteringly fast on the opening stages of the race wearing out many of the runners. He ended up setting a course record of 2.03.05 being only eight seconds shy of (Dennis Kimetto’s) then world record time of 2.02.57. Bekele came third at 2:06:36.

In September that year, Bekele showed what he was made of when he set a personal best time of 2:03:03 at the Berlin Marathon, six seconds shy of the then world record.

In 2018, the two took their rivalry to London marathon where Kipchoge convincingly beat Bekele, who finished a distant sixth.

Continuing with the good form, in September of that same year, Kipchoge went ahead to set a new world record (2:01:39) at the Berlin Marathon.

In 2019, Bekele put his best foot forward at the Berlin marathon in the absence of Kipchoge (who had opted to participate in INEOS 1:59 instead) to almost break the world record as he set another personal best of 2:01:41 – just two seconds shy of the new world record.

As for this year, it is now or never for both of them. Will Kipchoge continue from where he left and trounce Bekele?

Or will Bekele finally exorcise the ghost of 2018 and have his revenge?

Paul Ochieng is a Sports Economist and Dean of Students at Strathmore University and Gerald Lwande is a Biomedical Scientist.

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