5 Things to Watch at 2024 London Marathon: A STACKED Women’s Race & Bekele’s Last Ride?

How will Tigst Assefa run in her first race since her epic 2:11:53 world record in Berlin?

Neither defending champion is returning to the 2024 TCS London Marathon. And while it hurts not to have Sifan Hassan or the late Kelvin Kiptum, who tragically died in February, in this year’s elite field, there is still plenty to get excited about in London. The women’s race is the highlight, where a historically deep field consisting of nine sub-2:18 women will target the women’s-only world record of 2:17:01. Tigst Assefa, who set the world record of 2:11:53 in her last race in Berlin, leads the way, but there are some huge names behind her including Olympic champion Peres Jepchirchir, former world record holder Brigid Kosgei, and two-time Chicago champion Ruth Chepngetich. Three of the four fastest women in history will be on the start line on Sunday morning.

Ethiopia’s Tamirat Tola, who ran a 2:04:58 course record in New York his last time out, heads the men’s field, while his countryman, 41-year-old Kenenisa Bekele, will make his case for a fourth Olympic marathon berth.

Here are the main stories to follow ahead of Sunday’s race, which starts at 9:25 a.m. local time (4:25 a.m. ET).

*Full elite fields *How to watch

1) The women’s race is seriously stacked (again)

If you want proof of how much the sport of marathoning has changed in the last five years, look no further than the women’s start list of the 2024 London Marathon.

Article continues below player.

On the left is the all-time list in the women’s marathon as it stood on April 21, 2019. On the right is the start list of the 2024 London Marathon.

World all-time list as of 4/21/19
2024 London Marathon elite field
Athlete PB Athlete PB
Paula Radcliffe 2:15:25 Tigst Assefa 2:11:53
Mary Keitany 2:17:01 Brigid Kosgei 2:14:04
Ruth Chepngetich 2:17:08 Ruth Chepngetich 2:14:18
Worknesh Degefa 2:17:41 Tigist Ketema 2:16:07
Tirunesh Dibaba 2:17:56 Megertu Alemu 2:17:09
Gladys Cherono 2:18:11 Peres Jepchirchir 2:17:16
Vivian Cheruiyot 2:18:31 Joyciline Jepkosgei 2:17:23
Ruti Aga 2:18:34 Yalemzerf Yehualaw 2:17:23
Brigid Kosgei 2:18:35 Sheila Chepkirui 2:17:29
Catherine Ndereba 2:18:47 Tsige Haileslase 2:22:10

There is no comparison. The three fastest women in London this year have all run significantly faster than anyone in history as of just five years ago. In April 2019, only five women had ever broken 2:18 in the marathon. Almost twice that number will line up on London on Sunday (nine).

The disparity tells us two things: 1) The London field is incredible; 2) The definition of a “fast” time has changed dramatically in the last five years.

Jepchirchir, Kosgei, Assefa, & Chepngetich in London ahead of Sunday’s race (Bob Martin for London Marathon Events)

Make no mistake, the London field is stacked. You’ve got Tigst Assefa fresh off a world record in Berlin, the reigning champion in Dubai (Tigist Ketema), the reigning Olympic gold and silver medalists (Peres Jepchirchir and Brigid Kosgei), three former London champs (Kosgei, Joyciline JepkosgeiYalemzerf Yehualaw), and three of the four fastest women in history (Assefa, Kosgei, and Ruth Chepngetich). The nine sub-2:18 women on the start line is easily the most ever assembled for one marathon (2023 London had the previous record with six). Of course it is easier to assemble a field of sub-2:18 women when there are more of them floating around (in 2019, only five women had ever broken 2:18; that number is now 26). But you still have to go out and get them to run your race. Props to London for doing that.

Time will be on the minds of some athletes on Sunday as London is setting up the race with female pacers in order to break Mary Keitany‘s women’s-only world record of 2:17:01 set in London in 2017. But we at LetsRun.com are more interested in who wins the race. Which leads to the next topic…

2) What does world record holder Tigst Assefa do for an encore?

Tigst Assefa has enjoyed a stunning rise to the top of women’s marathoning. After running the 800 meters for Ethiopia at the 2016 Olympics, Assefa moved to the roads in 2018 due to a nagging Achilles injury that became irritated when she raced in spikes. After an inauspicious 2:34:01 debut at the Riyadh Marathon in March 2022 — a race Assefa was not prepared for and ran largely for the appearance fee — she stunned the world with her 2:15:37 victory in Berlin in September 2022. One year later, Assefa returned to the German capital and outdid herself, launching women’s marathoning into a new stratosphere with her 2:11:53 win that took more than two minutes off Brigid Kosgei’s 2:14:04 world record.

Embed from Getty Images

It was a performance that sent the running world scrambling for answers. The question most pertinent to Sunday’s race in London: Is Assefa really almost two minutes better than everyone else in the world? Or is someone like Sifan Hassan (2:13:44 in Chicago in October) or Hellen Obiri (who has won Boston-NYC-Boston in the last 13 months) capable of running 2:11 too, under the right conditions?

Neither Hassan (who was 4th in Tokyo) nor Obiri (who just won Boston) will be in London, but the competition should be stronger than Berlin last fall, where Assefa ran alone for the final 16 miles. As the world record holder, she will have a massive target on her back in London.

It’s going to be interesting to see how this race plays out. When Assefa ran her 2:11:53 in Berlin, she went out in 66:20, then picked it up to 65:33 for her second half. In London, however, the goal is “only” the women’s-only world record of 2:17:01. That’s 68:30 pace at halfway. London hasn’t announced a target halfway split, but even if the pacers are aggressive and target 2:15:00, that’s 67:30, which is more than a minute slower than what Assefa split in Berlin.

Sunday is shaping up for near-perfect marathon weather in London from a temperature and sun perspective (45-50 during the elite races, overcast) although it’s a little windier than ideal (9-10 mph with gusts to 18). If Assefa is in the same sort of shape as Berlin, does she just sit with the female pacers until they drop, then try to hammer it home? Or does she take off on her own before then?

3) Can Olympic medalists Peres Jepchirchir and Brigid Kosgei get back to their best?

When Hellen Obiri won Boston on Monday, she became just the fourth woman in the World Marathon Majors era (2006 – present) to win three WMM events in a row. Two of the other three are running London on Sunday: Brigid Kosgei (who won Chicago-London-Chicago-London from 2018-20) and Peres Jepchirchir (who won the Olympics, New York, and Boston from 2021-22). Both women have shown that, at their best, they can be the best in the world.

But things can change quickly in the marathon. Jepchirchir and Kosgei went 1-2 in the 2021 Olympic marathon, but both have battled injuries in the ensuing three years. Both of them were named to Athletics Kenya’s six-woman provisional Olympic team earlier this month, but Obiri’s win in Boston means there are essentially only two spots still available on the team. Each woman will need to run well on Sunday in order to be selected for Paris.

Embed from Getty Images

Jepchirchir was the world’s top marathoner as recently as two years ago, when she wrapped a streak of five straight marathon victories from December 2019 to April 2022. Since then, however, she has started just one marathon. She had to withdraw from New York in 2022 due to injury, then finished 3rd in London in her comeback last spring. Things looked to be headed in the right direction when she won a record-tying third World Half Marathon title in October 2023, but she developed a calf injury a month later that forced her to withdraw from New York for the second consecutive year. Though she returned in February to run the RAK Half, she finished a well-beaten 7th in 67:19, more than two minutes behind the winner.

Kosgei, meanwhile, has seen her last two London Marathons derailed by hamstring injuries as she had to withdraw in 2022 and stepped off within the first mile in 2023. Last fall, she was 4th in New York — her first marathon finish in 18 months — and has been trending in the right direction recently. On December 16, just six weeks after NYC, she won the Abu Dhabi Marathon in 2:19:15. And in her tuneup for London, she won the Lisbon Half on March 16 by over three minutes in 65:51.

Both Jepchirchir and Kosgei are still only 30 years old. If they can stay healthy, they should have a few more years of quality marathoning left in them. But in their absence, Assefa has raised the bar. For Jepchirchir or Kosgei to regain their status as World #1, returning to their previous level may not be enough. They may have to surpass it.

Who wins 2024 London?

Your vote has been counted. Thank you!

What will the women's winning time in London be?

Your vote has been counted. Thank you!

4) Can Tamirat Tola complete a Boston/London sweep for coach Gemedu Dedefo?

Heading into the spring marathon season, coach Gemedu Dedefo hatched a plan. Dedefo coaches two of the world’s best marathoners, Sisay Lemma and Tamirat Tola, each of whom were coming off a course record victory last fall (Lemma in Valencia, Tola in New York). In an ideal scenario, both men would head to the Olympics this summer to represent Ethiopia. So Dedefo decided to split them up this spring: Lemma would run Boston and Tola would run London. The reasoning: if they ran the same race, even if both men ran great, whoever finished second among them might get dinged by the Ethiopian federation for failing to win.

Embed from Getty Images

So far, so good: Lemma won Boston on Monday and will almost certainly be on the Ethiopian Olympic team. Now it’s Tola’s turn.

With the death of Kelvin Kiptum and the withdrawal of Geoffrey Kamworor this week, Tola is the top returner from London last year (3rd in 2:04:59). His 2:04:58 in New York in November — which broke Geoffrey Mutai‘s 12-year-old course record — coupled with his history of big-race success (2017 Dubai champ, 2017 world silver, 2021 Amsterdam champ, and 2022 world gold) make him the favorite going in.

Should Tola win, Dedefo would become the second coach in three years to sweep Boston and London in the same year — Claudio Berardelli did it in 2022 with Evans Chebet and Amos Kipruto.

But Tola only ran 59:46 in his tuneup race at the RAK Half on February 24, which put him more than a minute behind winner Daniel Mateiko, who is also running London. If Tola is the favorite, he is only a slight one. Here are four other men who could win:

  • Daniel Mateiko, Kenya (no pb): Mateiko, who trains with Eliud Kipchoge under coach Patrick Sang in Kaptagat, has big-time potential. He owns a half marathon pb of 58:26 and has broken 59:00 six times, including his two most recent races: 58:36 at the Antrim Coast Half in August and that 58:45 at RAK in February. He paced Kelvin Kiptum in London last year and came through halfway with Kiptum in Chicago last fall in 60:48, holding on for 18 miles before dropping out.
  • Alexander Mutiso, Kenya (2:03:11 pb): After dropping out of his debut at 2020 Tokyo, Mutiso, a 57:59 half marathoner, has finished on the podium in all three of his subsequent marathons: 2:03:29 for 3rd at 2022 Valencia, a 2:05:09 win at 2023 Prague, and most recently a 2:03:11 pb for 2nd at 2023 Valencia.
  • Leul Gebresilase, Ethiopia (2:04:02 pb): Gebresilase is very consistent and very good at finishing on the podium but has won just one of his 11 career marathons. Still, he has an impressive track record that includes 2nd and 4th at the last two Londons and a bronze at Worlds last year. After running in the 2:04s five times, can he finally get under 2:04 and earn a major marathon victory?
  • Seifu Tura, Ethiopia (2:04:29 pb): Tura won 2021 Chicago and was 2nd a year later. Last year he was 5th in both London and Chicago.

5) Does Kenenisa Bekele have one last surprise in him?

It’s pretty remarkable that, two months shy of his 42nd birthday, we are even discussing Kenenisa Bekele‘s chances of making a fourth Olympic team. Bekele made his Olympic debut 20 years ago by winning the 10,000 in Athens, and four years later earned double gold in Beijing, repeating in the 10,000 before delivering a virtuosic performance in the 5,000. He was 4th in the 10,000 in 2012 but was left off the Ethiopian marathon team in 2016 — a decision that looks bad in retrospect given Bekele won Berlin that fall, missing the world record by six seconds. When Bekele missed the Olympics again in 2021, it looked as if his dream of a fourth Olympic berth was dead.

Embed from Getty Images

Bekele has persevered. With a new sponsor supporting him — he signed with the Chinese brand Anta last year after 20 years with Nike — Bekele ran a masters world record of 2:04:19 to finish 4th in Valencia in December. A flicker of hope for Paris.

Let’s be real: Bekele’s chances of making the Olympic team this summer are slim. He’s 41, he’s had injury/motivation issues throughout his marathon career, and his most recent race went poorly as he ran just 63:59 at the NYC Half on March 17 while battling stomach problems. Motivation shouldn’t be an issue this time — Bekele knows he must perform in London to be selected — but he’s facing an uphill battle. 2:04:19 may be a great time for a 41-year-old, but Bekele does not get bonus points for his age. He was only the third Ethiopian finisher in Valencia.

Realistically, Bekele will need to win on Sunday to put himself on the team, though 2nd or 3rd could be enough to do it if he runs in the 2:03s. It’s unlikely, but with Bekele — who was written off before winning Berlin in 2016 and 2019 — it’s never impossible.

Bekele is not the only athlete whose Olympic hopes are on the line in London: every Ethiopian and Kenyan in the elite field will be making their case for selection on Sunday.

Who wins 2024 London?

Your vote has been counted. Thank you!

What will the men's winning time in London be?

Your vote has been counted. Thank you!

What about the non-Africans?

It’s also a big race for British marathoners. Philip Sesemann is already on the Olympic team, but the remaining two spots are up for grabs. Emile Cairess, who ran 2:08:07 to finish 6th last year, is the only other Brit with the standard and in strong position to be selected. The other contenders for the spot are Mahamed Mahamed (currently 82nd on the Road to Paris list by virtue of his 2:08:42 pb from 2023 Valencia), former NCAA 10,000 champion Marc Scott (making his debut), and two-time Worlds 4th placer Callum Hawkins. Hawkins has not finished a marathon since 2019 after a hellish injury cycle that has included ankle surgery, a torn hamstring, and stress fractures in his femur and pelvis.

US Olympic Trials third placer Leonard Korir will be hoping no Brit aside from Cairess runs fast as anyone who hits the 2:08:10 Olympic standard will automatically move ahead of Korir on the Road to Paris list. Currently Korir is in a good spot — in fact, his Olympic chances actually improved over the weekend even though Korir only ran 2:12:49 in his attempt to hit the Olympic standard in Rotterdam. That’s because CJ Albertson‘s 2:09:53 for 7th in Boston moved Albertson up into 71st in the rankings, ahead of Australia’s Liam Adams. Entering the weekend, Korir had been behind Adams in 72nd, and even though Korir himself did not improve his ranking, if USATF is awarded a third Olympic spot, it will go to Korir. So for Korir’s Olympic qualification purposes, Albertson being ahead of Adams is as good as Korir being ahead of Adams himself.

Talk about 2024 London both now and as the racde happens on our world-famous fan forum / messageboard: Official 2024 London Marathon Discussion Thread .

Want More? Join The Supporters Club Today
Support independent journalism and get:
  • Exclusive Access to VIP Supporters Club Content
  • Bonus Podcasts Every Friday
  • Free LetsRun.com Shirt (Annual Subscribers)
  • Exclusive Discounts
  • Enhanced Message Boards