Mile World Record Holder Sifan Hassan To Make Marathon Debut In London

Olympic 5,000 and 10,000 Champ Sifan Hassan To Debut at 2023 TCS London Marathon

By Jonathan Gault
February 2, 2023

Few things build hype like marathon debuts, and with Hellen Obiri and Letesenbet Gidey both debuting last fall, the Netherlands’ double Olympic champion Sifan Hassan is easily the biggest name in women’s long distance running who has yet to run a marathon. That will change on April 23 when she will attempt the 26.2-mile distance for the first time at the TCS London Marathon.

(LRC Five Thoughts on the Incredible 2023 London Marathon Fields)

While Obiri and Gidey are both world champions on the track like Hassan, the best comparison here isn’t either of them. It’s Mo Farah. Hassan is making her marathon debut two years after winning Olympic gold in the 5,000 and 10,000 — just like Farah when he debuted in London in 2014. They’re similar in age (Farah was 31 when he debuted, Hassan 30). Most importantly, Farah’s debut did not mark a permanent switch to the marathon. After London, he did not run another marathon for four years (Farah is also in this year’s London field). On Wednesday during a video call with media members, Hassan made clear that she is still very much focused on the track: she said she intends to run a track season this summer and has been balancing her marathon training with the speed sessions she needs to prepare for track races.

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“I’m just staying on the track,” Hassan said. “I always say to my manager, I want to do marathon without really preparing for marathon. I totally have not considered moving to the marathon [exclusively]…The combination is very, very hard. It’s just challenging me… Sometimes I do some longer distance and next day I’m sprinting for 1500m or 5000m.”

How did it go for Farah? In 2014, he finished 8th in London in 2:08:21 (almost four minutes behind winner Wilson Kipsang) and returned that summer to win European titles on the track at 5,000 and 10,000 meters. He would go on to add five more global track titles from 2015-17.

The women’s debut marathon record was broken three times in 2022 — from Yalemzerf Yehualaw‘s 2:17:23 in Hamburg to Almaz Ayana‘s 2:17:20 in Amsterdam to Gidey’s 2:16:49 in Valencia. Don’t expect a time like that from Hassan. True, Ayana, Gidey, and Hassan are all world champions at 10,000 meters. But Hassan has also run 1:56 for 800m and 3:51 for 1500m and athletes with that sort of speed don’t typically become top marathoners (of course, they don’t typically run 29:06 for 10,000 or 65:15 for the half as Hassan has done). Hassan says the most important thing is to learn how it feels to race 26.2 miles.

“When I [said I] want to do marathon, when I hear from everybody, it made me scared,” Hassan said. “Some people say with 1k left you just don’t want to run and you just die or your legs don’t work. I hear a lot of these stories. 

“I don’t think I’ll just shut up and run 2:30. But I just don’t want to put any [expectations out there]…I don’t want to put pressure on myself. I just want to see the way [I feel]. I can’t just dream about it. I will know.”

Hassan has a bit of crazy in her. More than anything, she’s driven by testing her limits as a runner. That’s what motivates her to try things no one else would consider, like the 1500/10,000 double at Worlds or the 1500/5,000/10,000 triple at the Olympics. And that’s why she wants to run a marathon now. When she told her manager Jos Hermens she wanted to run one, he presented a few options. She chose London, which annually attracts the top fields in the world. It’s hard, Hermens told her. I don’t care, Hassan said.

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“I just want to be with the best and see how I run,” Hassan said. “…I’m just a curious person.”

After London, Hassan will return to the track with renewed vigor. The Tokyo Olympics broke Hassan, not just physically, but mentally. She tried to return to training multiple times last year but her motivation was lacking; it took until May, just two months out from Worlds, for her to finally resume. She still came close to medals in Eugene (she was 4th in the 10,000 and 6th in the 5,000). Expect a return to the podium at this year’s World Championships in Budapest in August.

“I’m 100% recovered from Olympics,” Hassan said. “It’s almost two years. I’m just excited to [be] back on the track and compete with all the athletes, the great and fastest athletes…I’m more ready than ever, just like before the Olympics.”

More: LRC Five Thoughts on the Incredible 2023 London Marathon Fields

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