The Other Men in London: Which Dark Horses Could Surprise? Is Lawrence Cherono the Next Marathon Superstar

By Jonathan Gault
April 20, 2018

LONDON — If someone else besides Eliud Kipchoge, Kenenisa Bekele, Mo Farah or Guy Adola wins the 2018 Virgin Money London Marathon you better be prepared to talk about them.

That’s what this article is about. Friday the stars retreated from their media obligations and I could turn my attention to some of the other runners who conceivably could win London. I look at the other men’s hopefuls below and the women’s non-superstar hopefuls in a separate article. Also, I also caught up with the top American threats in each race, Sam Chelanga and Stephanie Bruce, read about them there.

First, let’s run through a few of the essential details about Sunday’s race. We’ve already covered the big names (Bekele, Kipchoge, Adola, Farah) here.

What: 2018 Virgin Money London Marathon
When: Sunday, April 22, 2018. Women’s elite race starts at 9:15 a.m. (4:15 a.m. ET); men’s elite race starts at 10:00 a.m. (5:00 a.m. ET)
Where: London, England
How to watch (U.S. viewers): Live on NBC Sports Network or streaming via NBC Sports Gold. Coverage begins at 3:30 a.m. ET.
How to watch (UK viewers): Race will be live on BBC One from 8:30 a.m. BST.

Previous LRC 2018 London marathon coverage: LRC In London, Day 1: Mo Farah Wants The British Record — And Potentially A Lot More — As He Returns to the Marathon * LRC Breaking 2:15:25: Can the Women’s World Record Go Down at the London Marathon? An LRC Examination * LRC A Marathon for the Ages in London? Eliud Kipchoge vs. Kenenisa Bekele Has the Potential to Be an All-Timer; Plus More From Men’s Media Day

Full LRC coverage * Race website * Course map

Abbott World Marathon Majors

London will serve as the culmination of Series XI of the Abbott World Marathon Majors, which began with last year’s London Marathon. Daniel Wanjiru (London champ) and Eliud Kipchoge (Berlin champ) can clinch the outright series title with a victory, while Abel KiruiGuye Adola, and Kenenisa Bekele can all tie current leader Geoffrey Kirui with a win (at which point, it would go to a vote of the WMM race directors). Remember, it’s now $250,000 for the series victory, $50,000 for second, and $25,000 for third (previously, it was $500,000 for first and nothing for second or third).

Men’s elite field

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Name Country PB Comment
Kenenisa Bekele Ethiopia 2:03:03 2 DNFs in 3 starts in ’17 but 3rd & 2nd in last 2 Londons
Eliud Kipchoge Kenya 2:03:05 Marathon GOAT hasn’t lost at this distance in 4+ years
Guye Adola Ethiopia 2:03:46 Gave Kipchoge a scare with fastest debut ever in Berlin
Abel Kirui Kenya 2:05:04 2-time world champ trains with Kipchoge’s group in Kaptagat
Lawrence Cherono Kenya 2:05:09 Set CRs in Amsterdam & Honolulu in last 2 races
Daniel Wanjiru Kenya 2:05:21 Defending champ, though he didn’t have to face Kipchoge in ’17
Tola Shura Kitata Ethiopia 2:05:50 Wins in Rome & Frankfurt last year
Bedan Karoki Kenya 2:07:41 3rd in his debut in ’17; ran 58:42 at RAK Half in Feb
Ghirmay Ghebreslassie Eritrea 2:07:46 World champ in ’15, NYC champ in ’16, but only 6th in London in ’17
Yohanes Gebregergish Eritrea 2:08:14 PR’d for 7th in Tokyo last year, then 7th at Worlds
Amanuel Mesel Eritrea 2:08:17 8th last year but hasn’t PR’d since ’13
Mo Farah Great Britain 2:08:21 One of the best ever on the track will be looking to significantly lower his PB
Tatsunori Hamasaki Japan 2:11:26 Kawauchi Lite? Coming off 2:11 PR in Hofu — his 6th marathon of ’17
Fernando Cabada USA 2:11:36 Most recently finished 20th at CIM in December
Ihor Olefirenko Ukraine 2:12:04 5th at Xiamen in January
Jonny Mellor Great Britain 2:12:57 Ran nice 4-min PR to place 10th in Berlin last year
Sam Chelanga USA 2:15:02 After HM PR of 60:37 in Jan, should run big pb here
Aaron Scott Great Britain 2:17:46
Stephen Scullion Ireland 2:17:59
Matthew Clowes Great Britain debut

The Next Marathon Superstar?

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Lawrence Cherono — Kenya, 21 years old, 2:05:09 pb (2017 Amsterdam)
Last four marathons:
1st 2016 Honolulu (2:09:39), 2nd 2017 Rotterdam (2:06:21), 1st 2017 Amsterdam (2:05:09), 1st 2017 Honolulu (2:08:27)

If the World Marathon Majors and Dubai represent the equivalent of the major leagues in baseball, then Cherono represents the red-hot prospect who has been tearing up Triple-A pitching. In 2016, he won two “Triple-A” marathons in Prague (2:07:39) and Honolulu (2:09:39), smashing the 12-year-old course record of 2:11:12 in the latter event. But that was just a taste of what was to come in 2017. He began with a big PR of 2:06:21 to take second in Rotterdam in April. Next, he ran another PR to break the course record in Amsterdam. Finally, he returned to Honolulu, where he retained his title and lowered his own CR to 2:08:27 on the hilly course.

Several big names have run (and won) on those courses before. Haile Gebrselassie won Amsterdam in 2005. Wilson Kipsang won Honolulu in 2012. Daniel Wanjiru set the CR (which Cherono would go on to break) in 2016 and won London six months later. Cherono ran faster on those courses than all of them. And it’s not like these are isolated incidents: Cherono has finished first or second in his last seven marathons (and 10 of 11 in his career), so he’s clearly very consistent as well.

There’s still a bit of mystery around Cherono — Tilastopaja shows no results for him prior to 2014 (when he was 26 years old) and no results at any distance other than the marathon. But if he wins (or comes close) on Sunday, we’ll learn a lot more about Cherono very soon.

One more note for the skeptical among you: Cherono is represented by Rosa & Associati, which has had several of its athletes fail drug tests in recent years, highlighted by WMM champs Rita Jeptoo and Jemima Sumgong. That doesn’t mean drugs are the cause of his big breakthrough last year at age 29, but the association is worth noting.

The Half Marathon Stud

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Bedan Karoki — Kenya, 27 years old, 2:07:41 pb (2017 London), 58:42 half
Last two marathons: 
3rd 2017 London (2:07:41), 4th 2017 Fukuoka (2:08:44)
Prep race: 58:42 win at RAK Half on February 9

Most guys don’t go from finishing 4th at Fukuoka to contending for the win in London. But most guys aren’t half marathon beasts like Bedan Karoki. In his life, the 28-year-old Karoki has run eight half marathons and won six, including the last two titles at the ultra-competitive RAK Half. His most recent performance, shaving 10 seconds off the course record, was his most impressive. It goes without saying that you’re a stud if you run 58:42 for the half anywhere, but by doing it at RAK, Karoki is in elite company. Check it out:

Men who have broken 59:00 at the RAK Half

58:42 Bedan Karoki
58:52 Patrick Makau — 
Former marathon WR holder. 2-time major champ. 2:03:38 pb.
58:53 Sammy Wanjiru — 2008 Olympic champ. 4-time major champ. 2:05:10 pb
58:54 Geoffrey Kamworor — 3-time World Half champ. 2-time World XC champ. 2017 NYC Marathon champ. 2:06:12 pb.
58:56 Stanley Biwott — 2015 NYC Marathon champ. 2:03:51 pb.
58:58 Geoffrey Mutai — 4-time major champ. CR holder in New York and Boston. 2:03:02 pb.
58:59 Wilson Kipsang — 5-time major champ. CR holder in Tokyo. 2:03:13 pb.

The six guys directly below Karoki were/are all marathon studs. That’s a good sign for Karoki, but it doesn’t guarantee success in the marathon — the half marathon WR holder, Zersenay Tadese, has famously struggled in the marathon. Karoki is also a fantastic 10,000 runner — in the last five global champs, he’s finished 5th, 6th, 4th, 7th, and 4th — and it’s possible that the half marathon is his sweet spot.

But his debut in London last year went very well (2:07:41 for third) and though he was slower in Fukuoka in December (4th in 2:08:44), he still has massive potential at the 26.2-mile distance.

The only problem is that Karoki had to scratch from the World Half Champs last month with a hamstring injury. London is hard enough, but if he’s not 100%, he has no chance at springing the upset.

The Defending Champ

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Daniel Wanjiru — Kenya, 25 years old, 2:05:21 pb (2016 Amsterdam), 59:20 half
Last two marathons: 
1st 2017 London (2:05:48), 8th 2017 Worlds (2:12:16)
Prep race: 61:43 for 2nd at Big Half on March 4

Wanjiru enters 2018 London as under-the-radar as a reigning champion possibly could, overshadowed by the Star Wars clash between Kipchoge and Bekele. The fact that Wanjiru beat Bekele — and everyone else — last year obviously makes him a contender again in 2018, but there are questions about him. He was only 8th at the World Champs in London in August in conditions similar to the warm weather expected on Sunday. And in January, he was just 25th at the Houston Half Marathon, where he could only manage 62:55 — a rough result. However, his next race, at the Big Half in London on March 4, went better, as he finished second, just three seconds behind Mo Farah. Though the time was only 61:43, I’m mostly ignoring that as it was a tactical race and Wanjiru beat out a solid athlete, Callum Hawkins, for second by two seconds. Wanjiru said that since then, his training has gone well.

It’s important to remember that Wanjiru didn’t look great in his prep race before London last year — he was only 12th at RAK in 62:16. Though the Big Half came at a later date (March 4 vs. February 10), it was definitely a better result, so it’s possible Wanjiru could be even better than last year. But even that may not be enough to slay the dragon at the top of the men’s field that is Eliud Kipchoge.

Coming In Hot…

Tola Shura Kitata — Ethiopia, 21 years old, 2:05:50 pb (2017 Frankfurt), 60:10 half
Last three marathons: 
3rd 2017 Xiamen (2:10:36), 1st 2017 Rome (2:07:28), 1st 2017 Frankfurt (2:05:50)
Prep race: 60:20 for 4th at Houston Half Marathon on January 14

Whatever you want to call him (we’re going with Kitata, but have seen numerous combinations of his three names) Kitata is a man to watch in London. He debuted at age 19 with a 2:08:53 in Shanghai in 2015 but failed to break 2:10 in his next five marathons, though to be fair, all of them came in a 12-month span, which left him with little recovery time between races. But he ran a sizeable PR of 2:07:28 to win in Rome last April and knocked another 1:38 off his best to win Frankfurt in October. Now he gets his first test against a World Marathon Major field.

World Champs Who Shouldn’t Be Forgotten

Abel Kirui — Kenya, 35 years old, 2:05:04 pb (2009 Rotterdam), 60:11 half
Last two marathons: 
4th 2017 London (2:07:45), 2nd 2017 Chicago (2:09:48)

Ghirmay Ghebreslassie —  Eritrea, 22 years old, 2:07:46 pb (2016 London)
Last two marathons: 6th 2017 London (2:09:57), DNF 2017 New York

Kirui (the 2009 and 2011 world champ, as well as the 2016 Chicago champ) and Ghebreslassie (the 2015 world champ/2016 NYC champ) enter London on different trajectories. Kirui was 4th last year and then began working with Patrick Sang‘s group in Kaptagat before Chicago last fall, where he finished second behind Galen Rupp. Sang is happy with how Kirui has progressed since then and said that he’s in shape to run a PR if the weather cooperates on Sunday.

Ghebreslassie, meanwhile, took a step back in London last year, finishing 6th after taking 4th the year before. His next marathon was even worse as he dropped out in New York in November. I heard from his agent that the beginning of Ghebreslassie’s London buildup wasn’t great, but he is one guy who won’t be fazed by the conditions as he’s a great hot-weather runner, as evidenced by his win in steaming temps at the World Champs in Beijing three years ago.

The American

(We profile Chelanga and Stephanie Bruce here, but if you’re just interested in Chelanga keep reading).

Sam Chelanga — USA, 33 years old, 2:15:02 pb (2017 Chicago), 60:37 half
Last two marathons: 
DNF 2016 Olympic Trials, 15th 2017 Chicago (2:15:02)
Prep races: 60:37 for 6th at Houston Half on 1/14; 43:16 for 2nd at US 15K champs on 3/10; 61:23 for 14th at World Half on 3/24

Chelanga is still a novice in the marathon, as he dropped out of his first at the 2016 Olympic Trials (today, he described it as “a long tempo” rather than a serious race) and was humbled in his second last year in Chicago, fading to 2:15:02 after hitting the wall at 35k and splitting 17:46 for his next 5k.

Chelanga has lowered his mileage from his last buildup. Before Chicago, he spent 3-4 weeks at 130 mpw with a high of 147. This time around, he has tried to keep his mileage at 120 mpw, and no more than 130 mpw. Overall, Chelanga is pleased with his training. He ran a 27-second PR of 60:37 to finish 6th at the Houston Half in January, a performance which surprised him.

“I just felt good,” Chelanga said. “I didn’t even know how fast I could run. In fact, I only saw it the last 10 seconds. I was like, Oh wow, look at the time.

That run came before Chelanga was in the thick of marathon training, but he was pleased with his runs at the US 15K champs (43:16 for second behind training partner Leonard Korir) and 61:23 at a windy World Half Marathon Champs, where he finished as the top American. As a result, Chelanga is confident in his speed, but the question is whether he can hold up through 26.2 miles.

“Have I done enough to give me the endurance?” Chelanga said. “Because I know I’ve got the speed. And I’m just hoping that my endurance is there and I can hold a good pace on Sunday.”

Just what pace that will be is TBD. Chelanga wants to run in a group for the first half, but if the top guys go out on world record pace, Chelanga knows he can’t hang with them. But he’s not afraid to be aggressive.

“I’m probably going to choose a group that goes 64:00 [or] 63:00 [for the first half],” Chelanga said. “I think personally, I think I can risk it up to 62:30. I can risk it. I know it’s a bad idea, but if they went that pace, I would go with them.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean Chelanga will be trying to run 2:05, however. He clarified off-camera that his plan is to back off the pace in the second half, but he would be all right going out hard with a pack in the early stages in order to avoid being gapped and being forced to run most of the race alone.

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