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Sunday, April 13, 2008

London Marathon 2008 Results & Report

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



A Deal Or No Deal said...

Great recap, thanks, though I did watch it. I agree that it was ridiculous to focus on the minor placings in the women's race and then cheer on Dan Robinson for 12th place.

Lel ran a fantastic race. I can't believe how easy he made that look. He has a case to be the greatest marathoner ever between victories (two at New York, three at London) and times. He's now the fourth-fastest ever. I wouldn't consider him the favourite at Beijing if, before today, his career hadn't been about winning races without regard to time.

Paris, now London and later Rotterdam will give us some very fast times this spring, I expect.

Anonymous said...

Good report.Just a comment on the early pace: the first 5k is slightly downhill, so particularly fast starts are common in london.

Still very ambitious, but in terms of effort the first 10-15k were probably quite even(it's not all in the numbers!).

Anonymous said...

I think it's only fair to point out that the BBC coverage is far more elaborate than the general feed you were obviously following.
On digital tv (generally available in the UK) you can choose interactively between a mixed feed (the one you saw) and the men's race or the woman's race.
So moaning about the BBC's coverage is quite unfair as they catered for the general public AND those interested specifically in the men's race AND those interested specifically in the women's race respectively.

Apart from that, very nice analysis!

Anonymous said...

This was also the GB Olympic team selection race ! I'm sure that if this were considered the U.S. trials there would be just as much coverage for the ' minor placings '. Watching Dan Robinson race for just outside the top ten against Olympic champ Baldini doesn't happen every year on BBC, in fact this was by far the best of the ten years I've seen them cover the race. Normally we are subjected to hours of either just Paula Radcliffe or people dressed up in costumes. Be thankful you got to see a few hours of the top 20 in both men's and women's races.

Anonymous said...

Lel is a great marathon racer and to class him better than Haile is unfortunate.Haile has had the worlds best at 5km 10km 21.1km 25km
Need I go on.He has a sub 3min30 1500m Top10 of all time faster than Coe Ovett etc etc.Yes Lel can race but he is nowhere near Haile.
Haile has never lost a10km track RACE in 10years Olympic Gold in 10000m.Lel has age over Haile but he will never fill those shoes.

Anonymous said...

Interesting comment, but you're wrong. HG most definitely lost the 10,000 in 2004.

Christos Dimitrakakis said...

What of the masai warriors? How did they place?

Anonymous said...

HG hasn't run faster then Coe at 1500m.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi everyone

Thanks for the comments.

Just to respond to a couple of them: First, thanks to the second poster for pointing out the downhill first 5km, useful information. I still think the tempo was too quick, but it gives some context, so thanks!

Then regarding a coverage, a lot of people jump to the defence, so I have to respond. First of all, no one is criticizing the BBC specifically - in fact, those three letters appear nowhere in the post. What I am saying is that given the world-class reputation of London, and the fact that we had the greatest ever race going on at the front, then the feed FOR THE WORLD should have been of that race.

I realise that in the UK, the digital feed allows this selection. But that means that the same selection can be made for the world feed, surely? Now, I'm all for the fact that this was your Olympic trials in the UK - that's great, and well done getting a guy in under the qualifying time - here in SA (I'm not in the USA, so the comment there is not relevant), we would celebrate that the same. But my point is, if it's possible to split that feed, then why beam those particular images around the world, when you have the choice?

Again, I realise this is the "elitist" approach - but I can assure you that the global appeal of London, especially to people who wake up at 4am in the USA, is the elite race. And to repeat, given that London is the WORLD'S greatest marathon, why push the generic feed to the world. Unless it's impossible to switch between them, then I'm not sure I see the logic.

And then to the second last commenter - I am not sure that you're quite right when you say Lel is "nowhere near Haile Gebrselassie". In fact, after today, I have him 40 seconds slower on the all-time list, in a tactical race, with three big wins in a row, when Haile Gebrselassie has only ever won time-trial marathons. Haile Geb is a fabulous track runner, and the fastest ever marathon runner, yes. The greatest of all time? Yes, I believe that. And perhaps when I do a post about track running and fast marathon running, I'll give him the credit that is obviously due as the greatest ever.

But this was a post about a marathon race, and until Geb wins a RACE, instead ofa time-trial, Martin Lel is today's best, and I believe the greatest marathon racer ever. I just hope he gets a shot at the world record in a time-trial with no competition, because he'll run it mighty close.


A Deal Or No Deal said...

I think Geb might be the greatest runner ever, but Lel's case is for the greatest marathoner ever. No one can match Geb's range of 3:31-2:04, but he hasn't yet beaten a world-class field the way Lel has done many times. Geb's case is very good and I think he's a couple more marathons short of cementing it, with or without winning some races, he's just that good at running fast times.

runner said...

Thanks for the recap.
What about the Rotterdam Marathon? It was also a great race and course record of 2:05:49. A recap of this race would be great as well.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Runner, and thanks for visiting us here at The Science of Sport.

In fact, we just posted a shorter report of Rotterdam, and you can red that here:

Rotterdam 2008 Results and Report

Kind Regards,

Anonymous said...

I have to say, having watched London, there is very little way anyone will beat Lel in the Olympics. Kicking like that, off that pace, and doing it so comfortably, is incredible. And he did look relaxed all the way. I dont think a slow race would make much difference.
The only question is the heat. Baldini says he can manage the heat better than others, but I don't think his form in London shows he will be anywhere near the front, heat or not.

What do others think of the Beijing marathon, having watched London?

Anonymous said...

Your Geb vs. Lel comment is completely off the mark. All major marathons are time trials these days. Both Berlin 2007, where Geb ran his 2:04:26, and London 2008 had pacemakers carrying the load for the first 30 km. Don't kid yourself into thinking London was a tactical race simply because there were three men still in contention by the last mile.

Also, it is much easier to run in a pack than to run solo. London was so fast BECAUSE it was a tight race - it ensured that the pace would never lag for long. When it did relax, someone like Hall ran up to the pacemakers and told them to push it.

Geb, on the other hand, ran solo for the last 12km of his world record. Much more difficult, and a much more impressive feat. No one is there to remind you to push the pace.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Anonymous

To a point, you're right. But you throw five of the world's ten best marathon runners in a race, where they're all together with 12 km to go, and the tactical racing that happens will slow the pace. That happened on Sunday, just check the table above, a dramatic slowing in pace from 30 km - or is a 3:05/km expected? I also predicted this would happen on Saturday (see the previous post) and it's far more likely that as you increase the strength of the field, you reduce the chance of a record

That said, you have a point about the pace being pushed, but in this particular race, other than Hall, no one was pushing it. This race was all about the win, and you saw what Lel is capable of at the finish - why push it on in the middle when you can do that?

So I don't agree that all marathons are time-trials, I think that's an over-simplified view of a tactical race. But unfortunately, we'll never know, because Lel doesn't run paced time-trials against the clock and Gebrselassie seems unlikely to run another marathon race against anyone faster than about a 2:07 - he'll run Berlin, maybe Dubai, Berlin, and then I suspect his days of 2:05 or faster will be over.

And that will bring to an end a magnificent career - there's no question of that, and it's odd to me to see how people over-react with such emotion when the legend is in any way slighted. He's not, he's still the greatest ever runner, but you'd be hard pressed to argue against Lel as a great marathon racer...