London Marathon Friday Notes: Brigid Kosgei Is Not 100%, Eilish McColgan Withdraws

LONDON — We’re just two days out from the 2023 TCS London Marathon and the excitement is building in the British capital. The star-studded women’s race has been making headlines since the field was announced in February and this morning we got to hear from some of the main players.

Just look at this photo from the press conference.

(Bob Martin for London Marathon Events)

The combined resume of the women in that photograph:

  • Three Olympic gold medals
  • Three World Championship gold medals
  • Two World Half Marathon titles
  • World records in the mile, road 10k, and marathon (also world records in the 10,000 and half marathon, though those have since been broken)
  • Major marathon victories in London (x3), Chicago (x2), Tokyo, Boston, New York, and the Olympics

And that doesn’t even include Almaz Ayana (2:17:20 pb, 1 Olympic and 1 World Championship gold in 10,000), Genzebe Dibaba (2:18:05 pb, 1500m world record holder), or 2:17 marathoners Sheila Chepkirui and Tadu Teshome. We should see a sensational race on Sunday, where the field will be targeting the world record for a women’s-only marathon of 2:17:01 set by Mary Keitany at 2017 London. The weather (rain is in the forecast Sunday morning) could prevent that, but we should still see a terrific race.

Here are a few final notes to get you ready ahead of the big day.

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Eilish McColgan is out

McColgan’s debut had been generating buzz in recent weeks as she is Great Britain’s best marathon prospect since Paula Radcliffe. On March 4, she broke Radcliffe’s British 10,000m record by running 30:00.86 at The TEN in California, and followed it up by running a British half marathon record of 65:43 in Berlin on April 2.

But it was clear McColgan, who raised her volume significantly for this buildup, was riding a thin line between fitness and injury. She was scheduled to run the NYC Half on March 19 but had to withdraw with bursitis in her knee, and she was seen struggling after crossing the finish line in Berlin with what she today revealed to be a hamstring tear.

McColgan ran through a similar hamstring injury in 2017, but in the days leading up to London, her knee flared up again and it did not respond well enough to treatment for her to race 26.2 miles on Sunday. It is the second year in a row McColgan has had to withdraw from London — she pulled out last fall after issues with fueling during training.

“Trust me, I’ve tried but it’s just got to the point where it’s not going to be feasible to run a marathon this weekend,” McColgan said on a Zoom call with media. McColgan later put out statement on Twitter expanding on her withdrawal.

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McColgan also noted in her tweet that she had been told (unclear by whom) she would not be allowed to race this weekend due to a sponsor clash with a London Marathon sponsor. McColgan recently began working with nutrition company Science in Sport (she is seen above wearing the company’s logo on her bib in Berlin), and clarified that was the source of the problem, but said neither she nor SIS understood the reason behind the conflict (presumably with Lucozade, the sports drink provider for the London Marathon).

McColgan was in the midst of a career year and her marathon prospects for London were looking bright. Her biggest challenge moving forward, should she continue to pursue the marathon, will be getting her body to a place where it is able to withstand the extra mileage of training for and racing the marathon distance. For now, she is remaining optimistic.

“There will be another London Marathon in my future where, hopefully, I will be able to perform well,” McColgan said.

Kenenisa Bekele missed a month of training but is still searching for one last great marathon

Bekele, who set a master’s world record of 2:05:53 to finish 5th in London last fall, was not at any of this week’s press events but I did get the opportunity to briefly chat with his agent Jos Hermens this morning. Hermens told me that Bekele’s buildup was not ideal — he missed a month of training — but that Bekele, who turns 41 in June, still wants to run one more great marathon before retiring. Hermens also told me Bekele wants to run the 2024 Olympic marathon in Paris. That, of course, is dependent on Bekele being selected — remember, Bekele wasn’t picked in 2016 or 2021 (Ethiopia used a trials race to pick its team in 2021 and Bekele did not run the trials).

Brigid Kosgei giving it a shot despite a late hamstring injury

Kosgei is incredibly hard to beat when she’s on her game, but in recent years she has had to battle a series of ill-timed injuries. The first came just one week out from the 2021 Olympic marathon, where she twisted her foot on a stone. Then last year, a knee injury caused her to withdraw from London in October. By December, Kosgei had healed and said her buildup had been great — “all the way, my training is going good” — until two weeks ago, when she developed a hamstring injury. Kosgei had to take a week off and said that while she is worried about the hamstring, she will give it her best shot in London.

The injury doesn’t mean Kosgei can’t still run well — even after her issue before the Olympics, she wound up earning the silver medal — but with such a strong field in London, any weakness will be magnified.

The last time Kosgei ran a marathon, in Tokyo in February 2022, she ran 2:16:02 — at the time, the third-fastest performance in history (it’s now #6). She also holds the world record at 2:14:04 from 2019 Chicago and believes she is capable of taking it faster one day if she can put together a healthy buildup and race in good conditions.

“I really believe in myself that if I train well, and no injury, no something disturbing my mind, I will reduce my world record,” Kosgei said.

Peres Jepchirchir ready for rain

Jepchirchir, the Olympic champion, was slated to defend her NYC Marathon title last fall. But during her preparations, Jepchirchir was receiving a massage when she felt discomfort. She went to get an examination in Germany and it revealed a disc in her back was pressing down on nerves in the surrounding area. Jepchirchir wound up withdrawing from NYC but says she has been healthy since January and has experienced no issues in her London buildup. She says her fitness is on par with where it has been ahead of her previous marathon victories — remember, Jepchirchir has never lost a marathon outside of Kenya, with wins in Saitama (2019), Valencia (2020), the Olympics (2021), New York (2021), and Boston (2022).

Jepchirchir’s last three victories have all come in unrabbitted races — she did not have to run faster than 2:21 to win any of those marathons. But Jepchirchir ran 2:17 to win Valencia and says she is excited to tackle a flat course again.

“I prefer the fast course…to run up and down is not easy,” Jepchirchir said.

Jepchirchir said it could be tough to run super fast on Sunday with the rain, but she thinks she will handle the conditions fine, pointing to her win at the very wet 2016 World Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff.

Defending champion Yalemzerf Yehualaw is prepared and ready to run fast

Yalemzerf Yehualaw ran her first two marathons last year, and both were extremely impressive: 2:17:23 in Hamburg, 2:17:26 in London, both victories. This time around, Yehualaw feels even more prepared, saying she put more focus on long runs and upped her mileage in her buildup — though she still has some speed in her legs, as witnessed by her 29:19 10k on the roads in Valencia in January (closing in 14:32 for her second half). Yehualaw said the strong field should produce fast times, mentioning the 2:17:01 women’s-only WR and even Paula Radcliffe‘s 2:15:25 course record from 2003.

“With the pacemakers and with those great athletes, I hope we will do a course record or a women’s-only world record,” Yehualaw said.

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