Martin Lel: The greatest marathon runner in the world - London Marathon Champion 2008
The London Marathon, every year the deepest and most competitive marathon in the world, lived up to the hype today, and it was Martin Lel who defended his title and confirmed his status as the greatest racer in the world - he won in a time of 2:05:21, winning the highest quality marathon in history. Three men broke 2:06, three more broke 2:07, but it was Lel who retained his crown as the greatest runner in the world with another royal performance.
The table below shows how Lel put his race together, depicting the splits and paces at various distance intervals. It is followed by a graph showing the pace per 5km interval, along with some highlights indicated on the graph.
How the race unfolded - superhuman early pace, too fast too soon
The early pace was incredibly fast. Last week's Paris Marathon saw about 20 men together until halfway. This race broke up almost from the start. And given that the field was so deep and full of quality, to see a group of only 12 men well clear of the field after only 3km was a surprise - that group, which included Lel, Limo, Goumri, Wanjiru and Hall (all our favourites from yesterday's preview), was clearly moving quickly.
The first split of note was at 5km - 14:21, which is absolutely incredible. It works out to 2:52min/km, which projects a time of 2:01 for the marathon, and also explains why such a large split would occur in such a quality race.
The 10km mark was reached in 29:10 - still a projected world record time of 2:03:04, though the pace had dropped somewhat between 5km and 10km - "only" 2:58 for this interval. All the big names were there - Kibet and Baldini were absent, but realistically, they were never going to feature in a sub-2:06 race, never mind a sub-2:03! (Incidentally, Kibet was 30 seconds down at 10km, perhaps a more sensible strategy)
Pacemakers gone but the relentless pace continues
Often, the problem with the super-human early pace (apart from the fact that I don't believe it's physiologically possible at this stage for anyone to run under 2:03), is that the pace setters are likely to drop out sooner than they might on a reasonable (2:05-something) pace. And in a race with 11 superstars, that would cause a drop-off in the second half pace, as everyone starts watching everyone else, biding their time, and recovering from the early explosion.
That didn't happen in London, at least at first! It's difficult to say when the pacemakers did drop out, but it was sometime between 22 and 27km (we got to watch the mediocre British women running 2:30 during this time). At about 30km, the race split, and a select group of five went off the front. Lel, Wanjiru and Mutai of Kenya were accompanied by Goumri of Morocco and Deriba Merga of Ethiopia. Ryan Hall, the great USA hope, had been dropped off, perhaps a victim of the early pace, along with Felix Limo of Kenya
That split was caused by a subtle increase in pace - 2:56/km between 25 and 30km. Absolutely incredible that the pace could increase at all, but once the pacemakers dropped off, the big five moved clear and then it was race on.
I then did not see any of the elite men's race for about 10 minutes, as once again, the world feed focused on either the women's minor placings, or the footage of Dan Robinson catching up to Stefano Baldini. Not to take anything away from Dan Robinson, but when a 2:05 race is going on in the front, watching the 2:12 finishers at the 35 km mark was a somewhat frustrating experience!
In any event, some drama was being missed, because when we finally cut back to the race at the 35km point, Mutai of Kenya had dropped off, and Ryan Hall was beginning to catch up. That was caused by quite a dramatic slowing in the pace - the 5km interval from 30 to 35 km was covered in 15:25 - only 3:05/km. That allowed Hall a look in, but then Lel pressed on and the pace increased again.
The final 2km - Lel's territory and a spectacular finish
At 40km, the lead group was down to 3, Merga having been dropped off. Lel was looking majestic, Wanjiru looked strong, and Goumri, tucked in in third place, didn't look overly distressed. What must have been going through Goumri's mind at this stage - he'd run two marathons, and twice been in this exact situation, and twice had been destroyed by Lel's finishing kick. In the end, it didn't matter, because with 1km to go, Goumri was gapped - not by much, but 5m at this stage is telling.
And so it was down to two. I am a huge fan of Lel's, I think he is the royalty of world distance running. And with 1km to go, he looked every bit the king of the road. He glanced at his watch, looked over his shoulder, and looked more like a world class runner who was passing a weekend jogger. And with 400 yards to go, they swept right onto the final straight, and Lel moved clear, with almost no effort. Wanjiru was pulled apart in the final 300m, and Lel was glancing at his watch for the time....That's how easy it was - Martin Lel, the greatest marathon runner in the world, destroyed the best field ever assembled and did it looking comfortable. Absolutely majestic - in a paced time-trial, the kind that Gebrselassie likes to run, Lel would break the world record, I have no doubt.
The women's race: Irina Mikitenko claims her first London title
In the absence of Paula Radcliffe, the Japenese and the Chinese, including last year's champion, Chou Zhonxiu, the women's race was always going to be wide open. Before the race, the two big favourites were the two Ethiopians, Gete Wami and Berhane Adere.
In the end, it was Mikitenko who took it out, winning what was a somewhat weaker women's race, thanks to the absence of those big names.
How it unfolded
The women's race was without pacemakers, which had major implications for the race strategy. With perhaps five or six big favourites who were content to sit in the group for the first part of the race, the early pace was relatively sedate. All the big names had recently put in good performances over the shorter distances, and so the indications were there that they might wait out the first half and then push on in the second.
And so it turned out, the early pace relatively slow. After about 5km, Constantina Dita of Romania, one of the more experienced runners in the field took up the pace. At 10km, the runners were on course for a 2:27 - very slow by big marathon standards. However, it was getting faster and faster, and a time that slow was never going to happen once the real racing began.
From 10km to 15km, the pace was really ramped up, a series of 3:20 kilometers bringing a split in the lead group, which broke up into 10 runners. At 15km, the projected time was 2:25:48, testimony to how much the speed had increased.
Soon after halfway, the pace increased as Irina Mikitenko pressed on, and the group was cut to seven women - Adere and Wami were there, though in Wami's case, her reaction to the move was a little sluggish. The pace was still 2:25, which is not remarkable, but it was up and down, according to the mile splits provided.
Disaster struck for Gete Wami at about the 30km mark, when she fell at a drinks station. She lost about 60m, but valiantly closed the gap. She then settled on the shoulder of Mikitenko, and soon became part of a break of three athletes. Adere was dropped, surprisingly, with about 5 km to run, and the gaps opened rapidly under the pressure of Mikitenko's surge.
At this stage, it was still Wami's race, though she kept holding her hip, perhaps affected by the fall. And then with a few kilometers to run, it was Mikitenko who emerged from a tunnel with a gap of 20m over Zakharova. Wami was in third, even further behind, and her bid for the London title was disapparing fast. The pace from 35km to the finish averaged 3:18, which is how the gaps were created. It was surprising that gaps were created and that Wami and Adere, in particular, were dropped off this pace, but Wami will cite her fall as the reason.
In the end, it was Mikitenko who took that title in a time of 2:24:14, in what must be described as a mediocre race. The times were mediocre, the racing not especially tight, and were it not for Wami's fall, a race lacking excitement on the whole.
For the rest, there was not much that Paula Radcliffe will be concerned about - her attention will be on the Japanese and Chinese runners who were not in London, along with the Kenyans.
So another fantastic men's race in London, Martin Lel confirming his status as the greatest racer in the world. A real shame that Gebrselassie was not there, but I suspect he'd have had his work cut out to match this performance. Lel is now lined up for Beijing, where he'll be the big favourite, and few would bet against him, barring the heat and its effects. I'd love to see Lel race in a non-competitive, paced marathon, where he has the support of pacemakers and no competition, to try to break that world record. He certainly has the credentials.
Join us again tomorrow for more analysis and insight into the race
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Sunday, April 13, 2008
Martin Lel: The greatest marathon runner in the world - London Marathon Champion 2008