2022 London Marathon W Preview: Y-Squared vs. Joyciline Jepkosgei & a Whole Lot More
By Jonathan Gault
September 29, 2022
LONDON — It’s time for the TCS London Marathon, which means, as is tradition for a LetsRun.com London preview, it’s time for me to cite another statistic about the crazy depth of the field. For the 2022 edition, which will take place on Sunday, it’s this: for the first time in history, a marathon will feature seven women with personal bests under 2:19.
Just five years ago, that concept would have been insane considering, at the end of 2017, just five women had ever run under 2:19. In 2022, however, you have to be a lot faster than that to win in London. The super shoes, of course, have played a role in that development. And Joyciline Jepkosgei, who will attempt to repeat as champion on Sunday, says that as the fast times have poured in across the globe — most recently Tigist Assefa‘s 2:15:37 in Berlin on Sunday — it has caused her to reconsider what the world’s best women are capable of running.
“[Watching Berlin] was a crazy experience to me that it is possible for us women to run even that time because our role model now [is] the marathoner who has run 2:14, Brigid Kosgei,” Jepkosgei told LetsRun on Wednesday. “She give us a lot of morale that every woman athlete, we are capable to run that time.”
Jepkosgei, who ran 2:17:43 to win London last year (#8 all-time), will be among the favorites on Sunday but she won’t have it easy, even after Kosgei withdrew on Monday with a hamstring injury. Yalemzerf Yehualaw, who ran the fastest debut marathon in history in winning Hamburg in April (2:17:23) is her toughest challenger, with 2019 Berlin champ Ashete Bekere (2:17:58 pb) and Worlds silver medalist Judith Korir (2:18:20 pb) among the other notable entries.
The word is that the race should be fast, with Mary Keitany‘s 2:17:01 from 2017 London — the world record for a women’s-only race — the target on Sunday.
Let’s take a closer look at the field and see who could win what is, once again, the world’s most competitive marathon.
What: 2022 TCS London Marathon
When: Sunday, October 2
Where: London, England
How to watch: In the USA, Canada, and Australia, FloTrack has the rights to the race. In the UK, the race will air on BBC2 from 8:30-9:25 a.m. with coverage switching to BBC1 from 9:25 a.m. to 2:35 p.m. You can find all international rightsholders here.
If you need a VPN, LetsRun.com recommends NordVPN.
Elite women: 9:00 a.m. BST (4:00 a.m. US EDT)
Elite men: 9:40 a.m. BST (4:40 a.m. US EDT)
Top entrants (full elite field)
|Yalemzerf Yehualaw||Ethiopia||2:17:23||Set debut record in Hamburg in April|
|Joyciline Jepkosgei||Kenya||2:17:43||Defending champ was 7th in Boston in April|
|Ashete Bekere||Ethiopia||2:17:58||PB in Tokyo, but DNF’d Worlds|
|Joan Melly||Romania||2:18:04||PB to win Seoul in April|
|Sutume Kebede||Ethiopia||2:18:12||2nd in Seoul in pb|
|Judith Korir||Kenya||2:18:20||Big PB for 2nd at Worlds|
|Alemu Megertu||Ethiopia||2:18:51||PB to win Seville in Feb|
|Hiwot Gebrekidan||Ethiopia||2:19:10||PB to take 5th in Tokyo|
|Mary Ngugi||Kenya||2:21:32||3rd in Boston|
|Charlotte Purdue||Great Britain||2:23:26||PR’d last year in London; DNF Worlds due to illness|
|Reia Iwade||Japan||2:23:52||11th Nagoya in March|
|Steph Twell||Great Britain||2:26:40||68th at Olympics|
|Rose Harvey||Great Britain||2:27:20||PB in Seville, DNF Worlds|
Yalemzerf Yehualaw, Ethiopia, 2:17:23 pb (2022 Hamburg)
Yehualaw’s debut marathon this spring could not have gone better. She and her team deliberately picked Hamburg to ease her into the marathon rather than immediately throwing her into the high stakes of a major. It worked: Yehualaw ran a debut record (and at the time, Ethiopian record) of 2:17:23 to win the race by almost nine minutes. Now she’s ready to tackle her first major against a much stronger field in London.
Initially, however, Yehualaw wasn’t supposed to be here. She had planned on focusing her fall season on the World Half Marathon Championships, scheduled for Yangzhou, China, in November. But in July, World Athletics announced the race had been canceled, causing Yehualaw to change plans.
London is not a bad backup option. And Yehualaw — aka Y2 — should start as the favorite. Her 2:17:23 makes her the fastest woman in the field, and her performances at shorter distances suggest she may be capable of running even faster. In February, she ran 29:14 in Castellon, Spain, to smash the world record for 10k on the road. And in her tuneup for London at the Antrim Coast Half Marathon on August 28, Yehualaw ran 64:22, the fifth-fastest half marathon ever run by a woman. Her personal best for that distance is 63:51 — #2 all-time behind only Letesenbet Gidey.
Yehualaw’s coach Tessema Abshero is optimistic about her chances, noting that she is better prepared mentally for London than Hamburg now that she knows how it feels to race 26.2 miles.
“[Based on her training], her performance at this moment, 2:15, 2:16, 2:17 is okay,” Abshero says. “But like all races, it depends on the weather, it depends on the day. It depends on how the athlete is feeling. She’s preparing for breaking her personal best. That means 2:16, 2:17. Her preparation went very well, really fantastic. So I think she can run under 2:17.”
Add all that up and you have one of the most talented distance runners in the world in supreme shape. That’s the kind of woman who wins London.
The defending champ
Joyciline Jepkosgei, Kenya, 2:17:43 pb (2021 London)
Jepkosgei hit her first three marathons out of the park, winning New York in 2019 in her debut, running 2:18:40 for 2nd in Valencia in 2020, and winning London last fall in 2:17:43. Jepkosgei’s hot streak came to an end in marathon #4, in Boston in April. In that race, Jepkosgei ran with the leaders through 23 miles but the relentless tempo (they ran miles 6-16 at 2:14 pace) got to her in the end and she would fade to 7th in 2:24:43.
Jepkosgei wasn’t too bothered by the performance, however. Though she has now run four marathons, she still considers herself something of a marathon novice and learned a few lessons on that day — including that she is better-suited to London than Boston.
“[Boston] was a great race for me,” Jepkosgei says. “I get more experience. My training was good, but when I arrived at Boston, the course was not favorable for me. I reached a point, one leg was not good. I was not feeling 100%.”
Jepkosgei’s agent Gianni Demadonna told LetsRun that he believes Jepkosgei was not quite in her best shape at Boston. She was still able to hang with Peres Jepchirchir and Ababel Yeshaneh for most of the race, but Demadonna says it took all she had just to stay with them and once she got dropped, the wheels totally fell off.
“She was 80%, 85% shape and you can not expect to race with two athletes like Peres and Ababel [when that is the case],” Demadonna says.
Jepkosgei’s potential is clear — we know she can win this race if she’s at her best. But she did not make any time predictions.
“My target is to cross the finish line knowing that I [have done] my best,” Jepkosgei says. “That’s it.”
Big spring breakthroughs
Ashete Bekere, Ethiopia, 2:17:58 pb (2022 Tokyo)
Joan Melly, Romania, 2:18:04 pb (2022 Seoul)
Alemu Megertu, Ethiopia, 2:18:51 pb (2022 Seville)
All three of these women are coming off big spring marathons in which they set a personal best. Bekere was 2nd in Tokyo behind Brigid Kosgei, Melly took almost three minutes off her pb to run 2:18:04 and win Seoul, while Megertu PR’d by more than two minutes to win Seville in 2:18:51. (Yes, the Seville and Seoul Marathons are 2:18 marathons in this new era). This is something London typically does a great job at — recruiting a bunch of athletes who have run fast in the previous marathon season. It’s possible only one of Bekere, Melly, and Megertu ends up running well on Sunday, but if one of them can make another breakthrough in London, they’ll have a shot at the win.
Mary Ngugi of Kenya is also worth mentioning here. While she didn’t run a time in the 2:17’s or 2:18’s this past spring, she did run a big pb of 2:21:32 in Boston — a quick time for Boston’s tricky course. That got her 3rd for the second straight year in Boston (she ran 2:25:20 in 2021). A World Half Championship medalist in 2014 and 2016, Ngugi has some speed, but has yet to test herself on a fast course, running New York and Boston (three times). If she’s fit, she should be in line for a big pb.
Judith Korir, Kenya, 2:18:20 pb (2022 Worlds)
Korir was one of the three women’s pros at Wednesday’s press conference, and it was interesting to hear the story behind her rapid rise to the silver medal at the World Championships. Korir grew up running in school and knew she had some talent but didn’t compete beyond that level as she had to stay at home and help out on the family farm (she is one of seven children), where they grew maize, potatoes, beans and raised cattle.
But in 2017, Korir decided to give running another shot (her World Athletics profile says she was 21 at the time; Korir said today she was 24) and began training in Brigid Kosgei’s camp in Kapsait in 2018. Since then, Korir has improved steadily, from 2:45:04 in her debut in Belgrade in April 2019 to 2:18:20 at Worlds in Eugene in July.
The concern about Korir is that most of her buildup was geared around pacing in London, not racing. She took three weeks off after Worlds, then spent the next month getting ready to pace in London. She said she only decided two weeks ago that she was going to finish in London. And she didn’t seemed thrilled about that fact.
“I was ready to prepare to pace, but unfortunately I was told to come and finish,” Korir says. “So I am not rested.”
Korir was asked to expand on that statement and, with some gentle prodding, eventually said she was excited to race on Sunday and now feels psychologically prepared to do so.
Reading too much into pre-race comments can be dangerous, but it’s rare for an athlete to be negative in a press conference. Even athletes who aren’t in shape will put on a brave face to ensure themselves (and their competitors) that they’re ready to go. Based on Korir’s comments today, I don’t feel confident in her ability to win on Sunday.
The local favorite
Charlotte Purdue, Great Britain, 2:23:26 pb (2021 London)
Purdue won’t contend for the individual win, but the native of Windsor (incidentally the location of Wednesday’s press conference) has a strong record at the London Marathon, running a personal best all four times she has raced it. She’ll be a strong bet to finish as the top British woman in London for the third time in four years.
Purdue’s most recent London was her most successful as she clocked 2:23:26 to finish 10th last year, making her the third-fastest British woman of all time, though Jess Piasecki has since bumped her down to #4. Piasecki ran 2:22:27 in Seville in February, which might be attainable by the 31-year-old Purdue on a good day on Sunday. But with Paula Radcliffe‘s 2:15:25 British record light years away, moving up a couple spots on the GB all-time list isn’t a huge motivator for Purdue.
“Even if I was #2, it’s still second-best,” Purdue says. “I’ll just focus on trying to run faster every time and try to get as fast as I can be.”
Purdue has had an up-and-down 2022 so far. She was pleased to finish 9th in her first Boston Marathon in 2:25:26 and said her buildup for World Championships “went really well” only to find herself struggling to breathe in Eugene. She ultimately dropped out less than halfway into the race and later discovered the source of her breathing difficulties: a positive COVID test.
All of that training was not for naught, however. After taking a couple of weeks to recover from COVID, Purdue was able to resume normal training and since then things have gone smoothly leading into London.
“My legs were obviously fine, because I didn’t run for seven days [after Worlds] and didn’t run a marathon which I’d tapered for,” Purdue says.
JG prediction: As good as Joyciline Jepkosgei is, my belief is Yalemzerf Yehualaw is better. All signs point to a big race from the Ethiopian on Sunday. If the rain holds off on Sunday, it should be cool enough (high of 62) to run quite fast. I predict Yehualaw wins with a time in the low-2:16’s, breaking the women’s-only world record in the process. If it does end up raining, the time may end up a few minutes slower.
More: Kenenisa Bekele: “[2:01:41] Is Not Enough. I Want More” In a one-on-one exclusive with LetsRun.com, Bekele reveals that even at 40 he’s motivated by the marathon world record, but even he knows it won’t come in Sunday’s London Marathon.
*MB: Does Bekele break Kipchoge’s London record? Update: Bekele tells Letsrun he still wants the WR.