© Copyright – 2014 – Athletics Illustrated

There is a fantastic amount of interest and intrigue centred on British athlete Mo Farah for running his first marathon this Sunday at the 2014 Virgin Money London Marathon. Despite the fact that there are athletes entered into the race that are already successful marathon runners, the interest in Farah is greater than the collective of all his competition and it stems from three major factors: He is English, therefore a hometown favourite, he is the 2012 London Olympic double gold medallist (5,000 and 10,000 metre distances) and he is coached by the divisive, but legendary marathon runner Alberto Salazar who heads up the Nike Oregon Project.

Saying this, it is unlikely – albeit possible – that Farah could conceivably win in this first go at the distance; however, it could be an unforgiving act to follow Kenenisa Bekele’s Paris Marathon debut from last week. Bekele won and broke the course record with his 2:05:03 performance. Should Farah do anything less than run sub-2:05 or (gulp) outright win, it could be construed as an inferior performance.

The men’s field in London may be the deepest ever and more than one athlete may run under the current world record of 2:03:23. But let’s face it, the drama about this race lies with the fact that the marathon can eat runners alive regardless of whether they own two Olympic gold medals or not. The marathon is a bogey monster for many, even the vaunted, world-class elite athletes who come to take advantage of the considerable prize purse that is available, including the $55,000 just for winning.

Not only is he the defending double Olympic gold medallist in the 5,000 and 10,000 metre distances, he also owns the European record for the 1500 metre distance, which he accomplished during the 2013 track season, with his incredible 3:28.81 performance, he also holds the British 10,000 metre record of 26:47.57. Clearly, he has demonstrated great range; however, so far, in his efforts at the half-marathon distance, he has yet to dominate. So the intriguing questions are can he stay with the big boys? And if he does, will he be dragged out too fast and be led into a 20-mile hole of cramping and bonking?

Nearly as much attention has been heaped upon Ethiopian Bekele for his debut marathon performance last week in Paris. During that race, Bekele broke the course record of 2:05:12, with his time of 2:05:03, and that effort is generally agreed upon in the world-wide running community to be an exceptional debut marathon performance, even if it was accomplished by Bekele, the current world record holder in both the 5,000 and 10,000 metre distances; Paris is a rolling course and he ran the race pretty much alone, which is no easy feat. Paris piqued interest so-much-so that traditional media is analysing how fast Bekele can possibly run a marathon if given the right set of circumstances. Is a sub-2:02:30 in the cards?

In recent years, the best marathon runners have run half-marathons under the 60-minute benchmark.  For example Kenyan, Wilson Kipsang who holds the marathon world record of 2:03:23 has run as fast as 58:59 in the half-marathon. Countrymen Patrick Makau has run the two distances in 58:52 and 2:03:38, while Dennis Kimetto owns bests of 59:14 and 2:03:45. The Emperor, Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia has run the half-marathon as fast as 58:55 and has twice run the marathon distance under 2:04.00. There are a several athletes who have yet to run under 2:04.00, but have run the half-marathon under 60:00, including Kenyans Eliud Kipchoge, who has run the marathon as fast as 2:04:05, James Kwambai  with his 2:04:27, Geoffrey Mutai having gone as fast as 2:04:15 and Ethiopian Ayele Abshero with his 2:04:23. Farah has yet to run a half-marathon under 60:00. Neither has Bekele, but in their only head-to-head competition at the distance, during the Bupa Great North Run Half Marathon, Bekele prevailed in a final sprint to the finish, looking relaxed while Farah – well Farah looked like he usually does at the end of a race – a real-life, made-by-Disney-Pixar caricature complete with a giant, wild-eyed grimace of pain that seemed to evoke a sort of masochistic look of pleasure.

Farah is up against stiff competition including Kipsang with his 2:03:23, which again is the world record, Olympic and world champion Stephen Kiprotich, reigning London champion Tsegaye Kebede and the course record holder Emmanuel Mutai. Saying this, the course itself and not just other athlete’s past performances, matter greatly too in considering what will transpire on the streets of London.

Five of the 10 fastest marathon times have been run on one course: Berlin. The others are Chicago twice and Rotterdam twice and Dubai once. London has hosted some very fast times including at least 12, sub-2:06s including a 2:04:40 by Emmanuel Mutai and 2:04:44 by Kipsang, in 2012 and 2011, respectively. Is London a fast enough course to host a world record? This has not been proven recently by the men; however, England’s Paula Radcliffe has run two of the world’s fastest times in London, including the seemingly untouchable 2:15:25. She has won London and New York three times each as well as Chicago once.

There is something special about the length of the marathon. Ask any marathon runner who tries the short ultra-marathon distance of 50k how they feel about the marathon distance, inevitably they will tell you that the 50k is easier because the distance is long enough that the pace must be tempered so that the “edge” is taken off the effort and therefore the runner can go longer, before leg cramps or bonking sets in.

The marathon is also exponentially tougher than the lesser-known race distances of 20 miles and 30 kilometres. The extra 10 to 12 kilometres is a long way, after first running 32 kilometres and ironically, it is generally agreed upon that the real race starts at the 32 kilometre mark (20 miles), or for many it is all over at this point, even for the world-class, that is, if they start too fast. There is no way out of the deep, dark hole once a marathon runner has dug in; once it is over, it is over.

Will Farah be pulled through the first 32 kilometres faster than he is prepared for and dig himself that proverbial hole? The top athletes are capable of making him do precisely that. In marathon running it is a matter of who wants to pay more in the currency of pain to collect more in prize money.

Finishing fourth in 2:05:00 or slower will put him out of the bulk of the money and certainly there is no sense of victory finishing back of third position. He could go for the win and fade to 2:08 for example and that may very well be considered a failure by some. He will be measured against Bekele’s 2:05:03 that was run on the tougher Paris course, without the aid of elite competitors. Farah can only really experience success Sunday by either winning or finish in the 2:03s. If he finishes in the 2:03s, his positioning will be less important.

The London Marathon is part of the World Marathon Majors. In 2012 it was the world’s largest marathon with 36,748 participants finishing the race. The event was first run in 1981, 2014 will be the 34th running of the event.


           Men                      Women

1              $55,000               $55,000

2              $30,000               $30,000

3              $22,500               $22,500

4              $15,000                $15,000

5              $10,000                $10,000

6              $7,500                   $7,500

7              $5,000                   $5,000

8              $4,000                   $4,000

9              $3,000                   $3,000

10           $2,000                   $2,000

11           $1,500                   $1,500

12           $1,000                   $1,000

Total:     $156,500              $156,500

Total prize money: $313,000

Men                                     Women    

Any runner recording sub:        Any runner recording sub:

2:11:00  $1,000                    2:28:00  $1,000

2:10:00  $3,000                   2:27:00  $3,000

2:09:30  $5,000                   2:26:00  $5,000

2:09:00  $10,000                2:25:00  $10,000

2:08:30  $15,000                2:24:00  $15,000

2:08:00  $25,000               2:23:00  $25,000

2:07:00  $50,000               2:22:00  $50,000

2:06:00  $75,000               2:20:00  $75,000

2:05:00  $100,000              2:18:00  $100,000

Any runner achieving the following will receive, in addition to the above:

First in race and men’s course record (2:05:10) – $25,000

First in race and women’s only course record (2:17:42) – $25,000

First in race and men’s world record (currently 2:03:59) – $125,000

First in race and women’s only world record (currently 2:17:42*) – $125,000

Discussion here.