Women’s London Marathon Preview: The “Fantastic Four” Lead A Great Field
April 24, 2015
With the Boston Marathon in the books, it’s time to shift our attention to the spring’s other major marathon — the 35th Virgin Money London Marathon, which will take place on Sunday. Earlier this week, we looked at the ridiculously stacked men’s field. Now it’s time to examine the women’s field, which is also stacked. London brings back four women who have combined to win the past five races (Aselefech Mergia, Mary Keitany, Priscah Jeptoo and Edna Kiplagat), a woman who set the world half marathon record two months ago (Florence Kiplagat) and LetsRun.com’s #1-ranked marathoner in 2014, Tirfi Tsegaye. In all, there are four women with pbs under 2:20 and four more under 2:22. At the top, it’s definitely a better field than the one assembled in Boston on Monday (two under 2:20, four more under 2:22).
We tell you everything you need to know about Sunday’s women’s race below.
What: 2015 Virgin Money London Marathon
When: Sunday, April 26, 2015. Women’s elite start at 9:20 a.m. (4:20 a.m. ET); men’s elite start at 10:10 a.m. (5:10 a.m. ET)
Where: London, England
How to watch (U.S. viewers): Live online at UniversalSports.com or tape-delayed on Universal Sports Network (TV) starting at 9:00 a.m. ET. (Sponsored: If you don’t get Universal Sports and would like to get it and BeINTV (Great international soccer) and tons of international news via SlingTV, the new cut the cord service, for $10 a month on your computer or Roku click here. With SlingTV you won’t be able to watch live as you get access to the TV part of Universal Sports but it does automatically DVR everything on the network)
How to watch (UK viewers): Coverage begins on BBC Two at 8:30 a.m. and then switches to BBC One at 10:00 a.m.
Prize money (amount is the same for men’s and women’s races)
1st: $55,000 6th: $7,500 11th: $1,500
2nd: $30,000 7th: $5,000 12th: $1,000
3rd: $22,500 8th: $4,000
4th: $15,000 9th: $3,000
5th: $10,000 10th: $2,000
Several time bonuses, from $100,000 for sub-2:18 or $75,000 for sub-2:20 down to $1,000 for sub-2:28
Women’s only course/world record (2:17:42): $150,000
Abbott World Marathon Majors
London is one of six Abbott World Marathon Majors (AWMM) events (Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, New York). AWMM changed its scoring system earlier this year (previously, champions were crowned over a two-year cycle; now the cycle is one year plus one race). Currently we are in AWMM Series IX, with the standings as follows after two races (Tokyo and Boston):
T-1. Birhane Dibaba, 25 points
T-1. Caroline Rotich, 25 points
T-3. Helah Kiprop, 16 points
T-3. Mare Dibaba, 16 points
T-5. Tiki Gelana, 9 points
T-5. Buzunesh Deba, 9 points
At the end of the series (which concludes at the 2016 Tokyo Marathon), the athlete with the most points wins the $500,000 grand prize. Scoring is 25 points for a win, 16 for 2nd, 9 for 3rd, 4 for 4th and 1 for 5th. Only two races can count in a given series.
|Name (Country) PB||Comment|
|Edna Kiplagat (KEN) 2:19:50||Two-time defending world champ won London in ’14 but was only 13th in NYC|
|Mary Keitany (KEN) 2:18:37||Two-time London champ (’11/’12) won NYC in Nov., then RAK Half on Feb. 13 in 66:02|
|Aselefech Mergia (ETH) 2:19:31||’10 champ won 3rd Dubai Marathon title on Jan. 23 (2:20:02)|
|Florence Kiplagat (KEN) 2:19:44||’14 runner-up broke HM WR for second year in a row, running 65:09 on Feb. 15|
|Priscah Jeptoo (KEN) 2:20:14||’13 champ has won two majors and has Olympic silver from 2012|
|Tirfi Tsegaye (ETH) 2:20:18||Won Tokyo & Berlin last year, setting PB in Berlin|
|Jemima Sumgong (KEN) 2:20:41||Runner-up in three majors (including NYC last year)|
|Tigist Tufa (ETH) 2:21:52||PR was 2:40 in Nov. ’13 but got down to 2:21 last year after wins in Ottawa & Shanghai|
|Tetyana Gamera (UKR) 2:22:09||PR’d to win Osaka on Jan. 25; 7th last year|
|Tatyana Arkhipova (RUS) 2:23:29||Olympic bronze medalist hasn’t run good marathon since then|
|Ana Dulce Félix (POR) 2:25:40||’12 Euro 10k champ was 8th last year|
|Alessandra Aguilar (ESP) 2:27:00||5th in ’13 World Champs marathon|
|Rkia El Moukim (MOR) 2:28:12||6th in NYC last year; 5th in NYC Half on March 15 (70:14)|
|Iwona Lewandowska (POL) 2:28:32|
|Mary Davies (NZL) 2:28:57|
|Elvan Abeylegesse (TUR) 2:29:30||Double Oly. silver medalist (5k/10k in ’08) was 5th in Euro Champs marathon|
|Diane Nukuri (BUR) 2:29:35|
|Sonia Samuels (GBR) 2:30:56|
|Alyson Dixon (GBR) 2:31:10|
|Emma Stepto (GBR) 2:32:40|
|Volha Mazuronak (BLR) 2:33:33|
|Rebecca Robinson (GBR) 2:37:14|
The Half Marathon Studs
Mary Keitany — Kenya, 33 years old, 2:18:37 pb (2012 London), 65:39 half
Last two marathons: 1st, 2014 New York (2:25:07); 4th, 2012 Olympics (2:23:56)
Tuneup race: 66:02 for 1st at RAK Half on February 13
Florence Kiplagat — Kenya, 28 years old, 2:19:44 pb (2011 Berlin), 65:09 half (WR)
Last two marathons: 2nd, 2014 Chicago (2:25:57); 2nd, 2014 London (2:20:24)
Tuneup race: 65:09 half marathon WR at Barcelona Half Marathon on February 15
To call these women half marathon specialists would be inaccurate since they’ve combined to win five major marathons. So let’s just call them what they are: the two greatest half marathoners in history. Kiplagat has the two fastest times in history on legal courses (65:09 and 65:12); Keitany has the next two (65:50 and 66:02; she’s also run 65:39 at the Great North Run, which isn’t record-eligible). Both are former world half marathon champions. And when they meet on Sunday, something will have to give.
When we initially analyzed the women’s field upon its release in January, we noted that when a woman runs a historically-fast half marathon, she has a great record of success in her next marathon (three wins and a second). Then we said this:
That means you should pay close attention some of this winter’s fast half marathons, such as RAK (February 13), Barcelona (February 15) or Lisbon (March 22). If someone runs particularly fast at one of those races, that woman has a shot to lay down a really fast time in London. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Florence Kiplagat and Keitany, the two half marathon studs, attacking a sub-2:19 together.
We hope you took our advice as Keitany ran what was then the third-fastest legal half marathon of all time at RAK (it’s now fourth) and, two days later, Kiplagat ran 65:09 in Barcelona to take three seconds off her own world record.
It’s very difficult to pick a favorite with a field this strong, but Kiplagat and Keitany are the best bets given that they’ve proven they’re in great shape and the rabbits plan to go out aggressively (Alberto Stretti reports that they are aiming for a 69:00/69:30 split at halfway). Perhaps one or both of them blow up by going out that fast, but if anyone is going to hold onto that kind of pace, it’s going to be one of those two (Keitany’s 2:18:37 pb is tops in the field; Kiplagat’s 2:19:44 is third).
Keitany is more likely to be the one pushing the pace after the rabbits drop out, as Kiplagat told Athletics Weekly on Wednesday that, “I am ready for any pace. If it is slower I am there, if it is faster, I am there. The most important thing is winning, not about the time.” Keitany, on the other hand, said this to Kenya’s Standard Digital: “This is the right time for me to lower my marathon personal best. I have competed in the course for long and this would be ultimate time.”
Of the two, Keitany has the better chance to win and she should probably be the overall favorite in the race. After all, Kiplagat broke the WR for the half marathon before London last year too and only wound up second. Keitany, meanwhile, is coming off a win in New York and has won London twice in her career, including a 2:18:37 clocking in 2012 that ranks as the fastest non-Radcliffe marathon of all time.
The Defending Champ
Edna Kiplagat — Kenya, 35 years old, 2:19:50 pb (2012 London), 67:41 half
Last two marathons: 13th, 2014 New York (2:36:24); 1st, 2014 London (2:20:21)
Kiplagat always runs great in London. She’s run this race four years in a row and finished second, second, second and first in that span. Her age (35) and a disappointing 13th-place showing in her last marathon in NYC are reasons for caution, but it is going to take more than that for us to write off the two-time defending world champion. She was in great shape before NYC, running 67:57 to win the Great Scottish Run in October (her second-fastest half ever and fastest on a legal course) and finished a similarly-disappointing 9th in New York in 2013, only to come back and win London five months later.
Kiplagat didn’t run a prep race before London so it’s a bit risky to pick her over women such as Keitany and Florence Kiplagat, who have proven they’re in fantastic shape. But Edna’s record in London is impeccable. Discount her at your own peril.
Former Champs on the Comeback Trail
Aselefech Mergia — Ethiopia, 30 years old, 2:19:31 pb (2012 Dubai), 67:21 half
Last two marathons: 1st, 2015 Dubai (2:20:02); 42nd, 2012 Olympics (2:32:03)
Mergia ran her first London Marathon in 2010 and though she crossed the line third that day, she has since been upgraded to champion after Russian dopers Lilya Shobukhova and Inga Abitova were disqualified retroactively. Mergia went on to win Dubai in 2011 and 2012 before taking time off to have a child (she gave birth to daughter Sena in July 2013). Mergia’s comeback from pregnancy took longer than expected, however. She had aimed to run Frankfurt last fall but she decided against it when it became clear she wasn’t in good enough shape. She delayed her return until January in Dubai, 18 months after giving birth.
That proved to be a wise decision. Mergia outkicked Gladys Cherono to win Dubai in 2:20:02 and take home $200,000 and now three months later she’s in London gunning for another title. Still only 30 years old, Mergia appears to be back to her pre-pregnancy form. The only question is whether she can recover from Dubai in time to run well in London. Before Dubai, she hadn’t run a marathon for two and a half years; she’s had only 13 weeks to recover for London.
Priscah Jeptoo — Kenya, 30 years old, 2:20:14 pb (2012 London), 65:45 half
Last two marathons: DNF, 2014 London; 1st, 2013 New York (2:25:07)
Tuneup race: 69:21 for 3rd at Lisbon Half Marathon on March 22 (winner 68:22)
When Jeptoo finished her last marathon in New York in November 2013, she was the best female marathoner on the planet. She won that race in NYC and had also won London earlier that year. NYC was the peak of one of the most impressive starts to a marathon career ever.
Priscah Jeptoo’s First Nine Career Marathons
Jeptoo looked ready to defend her London crown last year as she won the competitive RAK Half by 1:11 in February, crushing marathon studs Rita Jeptoo and Mare Dibaba in the process. But a calf injury caused her to drop out after 16 miles. She lost enough time due to the injury that she wound up withdrawing from NYC last fall as well.
While we won’t know until Sunday if Jeptoo is back to her pre-injury level, her comeback appears to be going well so far. In November 2014, she ran 46:59 for 15K, which is worth 2:22:17 in the marathon according to the McMillan calculator (we praised Jeptoo last fall for passing up a lucrative appearance fee in NYC because she felt she wasn’t properly prepared to defend her title). Jeptoo ran 69:21 for the half marathon on March 22 in Lisbon, finishing third (59 seconds behind winner Rose Chelimo).
Jeptoo’s final effort before London came at the Milan Marathon on April 12, where she ran the first 30k of the race in 1:41:53 (2:23:17 marathon pace) before dropping out, as planned. Jeptoo had a 10-second lead at that point and looked good in the race, though it is possible that such a hard effort only two weeks out from London could hurt her on Sunday.
These Two Could Definitely Win It
Tirfi Tsegaye — Ethiopia, 30 years old, 2:20:18 pb (2014 Berlin), 67:42 half
Last two marathons: 1st, 2014 Berlin (2:20:18); 4th, 2014 Milan (2:36:23)
Despite the accomplishments of all the women listed above, Tsegaye ended 2014 as LetsRun.com’s #1 marathoner on the year. That doesn’t mean we’d necessarily pick her to win over someone like Keitany, but based on what she accomplished in 2014 (a course record in Tokyo and win in Berlin), Tsegaye had a better year than anyone else in the women’s marathon.
London will be her biggest test yet. While winning a major marathon is an impressive accomplishment, Tokyo and Berlin (on the women’s side) don’t carry the same cachet as London or New York. Tsegaye’s pedigree (she also won Dubai in 2013) and pb suggest that she belongs among the group of contenders for this year’s London crown.
Consider, however, that Tsegaye has never raced any of the other top women (Keitany, F. Kiplagat, E. Kiplagat, Mergia, Jeptoo or Jemima Sumgong) over the marathon distance. In fact, she’s only raced two of them over any distance, losing to Keitany at the 2009 World Half Champs (66:36 to 69:24) and losing to Kiplagat at the 2012 Rome-Ostia Half Marathon (66:38 to 67:42). London will prove whether she truly earned her #1 ranking in 2014 or whether it was due to weak competition in the races she won.
Jemima Sumgong — Kenya, 30 years old, 2:20:41 pb (2014 Boston), 68:32 half
Last two marathons: 2nd, 2014 New York (2:25:10); 4th (3rd if you remove Rita Jeptoo), 2014 Boston (2:20:41)
Sumgong has yet to win a major, but has come agonizingly close on two occasions as she was second by two seconds in Boston in 2012 and finished three seconds behind champion Mary Keitany in New York last fall (you could also argue she’s the rightful 2013 Chicago champ given that she finished behind doper Rita Jeptoo). Keitany was in great shape last fall and if Sumgong could challenge her for 26 miles in New York, it stands to reason that she should be able to compete with her in London five months later. Sumgong is still waiting for a breakthrough performance — whether it be a major victory or big PR — to move into the very top echelon of global marathoners. London could be it.
If You’re Looking For a Dark Horse…
Tigist Tufa — Ethiopia, 28 years old, 2:21:52 pb (2014 Shanghai), 70:03 half
Last two marathons: DNF, 2015 Dubai; 1st, 2014 Shanghai (2:21:52)
Tufa, who used to train with Buzunesh Deba in New York before relocating to Addis Ababa in December 2013, has enjoyed a meteoric rise over the past year and a half. Entering the 2013 New York City Marathon, she owned a marathon pb of 2:40:45 and had never broken 70:00 for the half marathon (she still hasn’t). Since then, she’s done the following:
The DNFs are off-putting, but she has PR’d in all four of the marathons she’s finished during that span, lowering her PR by a ridiculous 18:53 in a one-year span. Tufa is a fearless runner and with an aggressive run in London, she has an outside shot at the win or at the very least a PR.
That aggression has a drawback though, as we saw earlier this year in Dubai. In that race, Tufa went through halfway on 2:18:00 pace and built a huge lead over the field. No marathoner, save for Paula Radcliffe in her prime, can hold that pace and, sure enough, the pack reeled her in by 35k. Within a couple of kilometers, the pack had put 47 seconds on her and Tufa ultimately wound up a DNF. With the pace expected to be hot in London (69:00 to 69:30 through the half), will Tufa go with it and hold on this time? The 28-year-old has yet to hit her ceiling, so it will be interesting to see how she fares on Sunday.
Best of the Rest
- Tetyana Gamera of Ukraine is the fastest non-African in the elite field thanks to her 2:22:09 clocking to win the Osaka Marathon on January 25. She’ll look to build on her 7th-place finish last year.
- Portugal’s Ana Dulce Felix was 8th last year (2:26:46) but finished just 12th in New York in November. She ran 70:27 for 5th at the Lisbon Half Marathon on March 22 and ran 31:34 for 10,000 on the track on April 11 to finish second to Sara Moreira (who withdrew from London) at the Portuguese Championships.
- Russia’s Tatyana Arkhipova claimed bronze in London at the 2012 Olympics, but since then she has failed to run a good marathon since then. Basically, she’s the Russian Ryan Hall. She didn’t compete at all in 2013, and when she did return to competition, it was disappointing as she was just 13th at last year’s Boston Marathon in 2:30:29. Her next marathon was even more disappointing as she managed just a 2:31:47 to take fourth in Istanbul last fall. She’s still only 32, so she should have a few good marathons left in her if she can figure things out.
- Rkia El Moukim of Morocco was 6th last year in her debut in New York (2:28:12), where she was outkicked by Desi Linden. She ran 70:14 to take 5th at the NYC Half on March 15, one spot (and 21 seconds) behind Boston champ Caroline Rotich.
- There is one final woman worth mentioning, though she’ll be starting with the masses and not the elite women: Paula Radcliffe. The greatest female marathoner of all time, Radcliffe won London three times, setting the world record of 2:15:25 there in 2003 — a mark that hasn’t been approached 12 years later. Now 41, Radcliffe will be running her final marathon on Sunday (her most recent marathon was a third-place finish in Berlin in 2011, where she ran 2:23:46). She has no time goal after missing six weeks of training due to an Achilles injury suffered in Kenya in February. Instead, she simply wants to close out her marathon career on her own terms in London after a foot injury denied her the chance to do so at the 2012 Olympics.
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