April 26, 2015
Kenya’s “Fantastic Four” can step aside as Tigist Tufa of Ethiopia, a 25-1 longshot according to the bettors, reeled off a 5:05 24th mile and a 5:07 26th mile to pull the huge upset and win the 2015 Virgin London Marathon in 2:23:22.
Mary Keitany of Kenya was second in 2:23:40 just ahead of 2014 LRC World #1 Tirfi Tsegaye of Ethiopia in 2:23:41. Aselefech Mergia of Ethiopia was fourth in 2:23:53 as this was Ethiopia’s day with three in the top four. Kenya’s “Fantastic Four” (Keitany, Priscah Jeptoo, Florence and Edna Kiplagat) had to settle for Keitany’s second and Florence Kiplagat’s fifth place finish.
Behind the women, running in the mass participation race for the first time, world record holder Paula Radcliffe ended her competitive career with an emotional 2:36:55 performance.
We recap it below.
The Blow by Blow
The loaded professional women’s field had no interest in running fast as they constantly let the rabbits put a gap on them. In the opening 10k, there was a little drama as Mergia opened up a 15-20 gap on the rest of the field as she chased the rabbits who ran a 5:08 mile (pacing was uneven). Once Mergia backed off the pace and the rest of the field caught her, they were content to run together with the rabbits ahead of them. After opening with two sub-17 minute 5ks to hit 10k in an honest 33:22 (2:20:47 pace), the field would not run a 5k faster than 17:00 until the final 5km. The rabbits slowed from 10k to 15k, but were twelve seconds up on the field at 15k as the women pros did not go with them. The field hit halfway in 1:11:42 (3 seconds back of the rabbits) and the rabbits lasted until 25k when they were 13 seconds up on the field. The pace slowed so much that the second group caught the leaders on the 12th mile.
When would the real racing begin?
Not until late. Just after the 2 hour mark at 22 miles after a 5:31 mile the combined pack still included 8 women. Surprisingly, one woman who wasn’t there was defending champion Edna Kiplagat, who dropped off the lead pack before 35k. The pace was slow, yet the Queen of London was not there.
Who would try and break open the race? It was 2014 LRC World #1 Tsegaye. She started pushing and was followed by Tufa as they opened a gap on compatriot Mergia who had a slight gap on the Kenyan chasers.
The race was on. Things would change for good as they entered a tunnel (Blackfriars Underpass) just before 24 miles. Tufa had started to drop Tsegaye at this point and when they emerged from the tunnel she was clearly in front. Tsegaye had dropped back and Tufa was now roughly 8 seconds in front of three chasers led by Mary Keitany.
A 5:05 24th mile had opened up the gap for Tufa. Keitany was putting up a brave fight but Tufa kept pushing. She ran 5:07 for the 25th mile and the race was hers to lose. She ran 5:15 pace from 40k to the finish to pick up the biggest victory of her career in 2:23:22. There was a tight battle for second as Mary Keitany took the final turn in front of Buckingham Palace just ahead of Tsegaye. She’d hold that advantage the final straight to take second, one second ahead of Tsegaye.
Attention then turned to end of a career for women’s marathoning all-time great, Paula Radcliffe. Radcliffe had gone out hard in 17:27 for the first downhill 5k (2:27:13 pace). Her pace would slow as she split 1:17:03 for halfway and would finish in 2:36:55. She still managed sub-6 minute pace in her final marathon as she waved to the crowd during the final straight, held hands with a male competitor who ran next to her, and then posed for pictures with her family.
Afterwards Paula told the BBC, “The last mile…I just wanted to thank as many people as possible when coming in and try and find someone to come in hand and hand with because the time didn’t matter today, but you can’t come to the London Marathon and not give it an honest effort. I went out way too fast, but everytime I tried to slow down, someone shouted…Then it got more and more emotional.”
She said she was even thinking during the race, “Brendan [Foster] and Crammy (Steve Cram) will be in their commentary box saying ‘well as usual Paula has gone out way too fast.'”
BBC commentator Gabby Logan tried to see if Paula might compete like this again, but Paula said she realized when training in Kenya her body can’t handle the training anymore.
Results below. LRC Analysis below that.
|1||Tigist Tufa (KEN)||02:23:22|
|2||Mary Keitany (KEN)||02:23:40|
|3||Tirfi Tsegaye (ETH)||02:23:41|
|4||Aselefech Mergia (ETH)||02:23:53|
|5||Florence Kiplagat (KEN)||02:24:15|
|6||Jemima Sumgong (KEN)||02:24:23|
|7||Priscah Jeptoo (KEN)||02:25:01|
|8||Ana Dulce Felix (POR)||02:25:15|
|9||Volha Mazuronak (BLR)||02:25:36|
|10||Rkia El Moukim (MAR)||02:26:33|
Quick Take #1: This race certainly didn’t go as expected.
The pre-race hype focused on Kenya’s “Fantastic Four” or the “Fabulous Five” which included 2014 LRC World #1 Tsegaye. However, none of these women were the ones who made the first push for home.
Additionally, there was talk of fast times and even the women’s-only world record of 2:17:42 (Radcliffe’s 2:15:25 came in a mixed race), but the times weren’t fast at all.
Quick Take #2: Tigist Tufa learned her lesson from Dubai and has come a long way in two years
Three months ago, Tufa built a huge lead in Dubai as she went through halfway on 2:18:00 pace, only to crater afer 30k as she eventually wound up a DNF.
She had the opportunity to do that again today as she could have gone with the rabbits, who consistently had a gap of 10+ meters on the field during the first half of the race. But the 28-year-old elected to be patient, waiting until the 23rd mile before breaking from the pack with Mergia (she dropped Mergia with a 5:04 24th mile).
Two years ago, Tufa’s PR was just 2:40:45 but she’s made a ton of progress since then and now she’s a major champion. That is a crazy transformation in a short time. If you remember the 2013 NYC Marathon and two women with a huge lead that the rest of the field didn’t respect? One of them was Tufa.
Quick Take #3: More evidence that rabbits can be pointless
The pacemakers were supposed to take the lead group through halfway in 69:15 to 69:30, but when no one wanted to go with them, they slowed down (and still managed to gap the leaders — the last split for them we got was 1:25:16 at 25k, at which point they were only on 2:23:54 pace but still had 13 seconds on the leaders).
One of the reasons the field may have not wanted to go with the rabbits was they ran the 6th mile (5:08) way too fast.
In fact, the lead group ran so slowly that they made not one, but two sets of rabbits irrelevant. The pacers for the second group caught the lead group at mile 12, at which point the second group merged with the first. Since the “second group” was now running in the lead, the pacers were unnecessary as the leaders would control how fast the second group ran from that point on.
Rabbits aren’t always pointless and are necessary in record attempts such as Berlin. But there’s no point in a major marathon like London shelling out dough for pacemakers when the elite field is going to ignore them. Those funds could go toward beefing up the prize money. Instead, it ended up wasted on a race in which the winning time was 2:23:22 — the slowest since 2008.
Next year, London very well could serve as the Kenyan Olympic Trials. If that’s the case, don’t have rabbits at all. Let them race on their own as that’s what they have to do in the Olympics.
(5k splits from race website, mile splits from TV broadcast)
More: Discuss this race in our forum: Official 2015 London Marathon Live Discussion Thread.
*Thank you Paula!
Screenshots from the BBC Broadcast appear below. Click for larger image.