Kenya’s Mary Keitany took 41 seconds off the women’s-only world record* at the Virgin Money London Marathon, running 2:17:01 at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race on Sunday (23).
Keitany said in the build-up to this year’s race she was in shape to break Paula Radcliffe’s mark of 2:17:42 and while she demurred when asked about the possibility of bettering Radcliffe’s outright mark of 2:15:25, Keitany was running minutes inside Radcliffe’s schedule in the first half.
Paced by her training partner Caroline Kipkirui, Keitany cut loose from arguably the most accomplished field in race history with an astonishingly fast third mile 4:37. Through 5km in 15:31 and 10km in 31:17, Keitany was running at close to 2:10 pace while the second group – which was already beginning to splinter – hit 10km in 31:31, exactly half a minute faster than Radcliffe in 2003.
Keitany, who covered the fourth and fifth miles in 4:56 and 4:59 respectively, was still within sight of the second group at 10km but the 34-year-old was away and clear with a succession of mile splits faster than 5:10 through the 10-mile mark in 50:41. Her half marathon split of 1:06:54 was the fastest in marathon history (Radcliffe ran 1:08:02 in 2003) and her advantage had extended to 59 seconds over the chasers, including track greats Tirunesh Dibaba, Vivian Cheruiyot, former winner Aselefech Mergia and world silver medallist Helah Kiprop.
“I know Mary is a fast runner and I was following my own pace and until halfway, I was on track but I was never expecting she would go that fast and maintain it,” said an incredulous Dibaba after the race.
This early pace had already torn the second group asunder. Former winner Tigist Tufa and world champion Mare Dibaba had lost more than three minutes on the second group with the latter dropping out after the 30km mark.
Keitany was also beginning to slow with a 14th mile of 5:21 before four successive miles in the 5:14-5:18 range. Through 30km in a pending world record of 1:36:05, Keitany was still 31 seconds faster than Radcliffe in 2003 but her preceding 5km split of 16:22 was her slowest thus far.
Keitany’s mile splits had started to drift into the 5:20 range and while Dibaba seemed to be running with more fluidity, her lead stayed at more than one minute through 35km in 1:52:39. The overall world record was beyond reach but Keitany was still on course to smash Radcliffe’s women’s-only world record.
Dibaba was running at a fantastic pace in just her second marathon, but after such a fast start she had to stop due to stomach cramps in the 23rd mile. She quickly gathered herself, but in spite of her fantastic credentials over the shorter distances there was no way she was going to catch Keitany.
After covering the preceding two miles in 5:27 and 5:25 respectively, Keitany spurted again with a 26th mile in 4:56 to ensure she would take a sizeable chunk off Radcliffe’s 12-year-old women’s-only world record with 2:17:01, the second-fastest time in the history of women’s marathon running.
“I want to thank the pacemaker who was taking me all the way to 14 miles,” said Keitany. “From there, I started to go alone and see how my body was.”
Dibaba rallied in the closing stages to finish second in 2:17:56, taking more than a minute from Tiki Gelana’s Ethiopian record and becoming the third-fastest woman in history.
“I haven’t decided yet but my gut feeling is I’ll be running the 10,000m on the track,” said Dibaba on her plans for the IAAF World Championships London 2017 this summer.
Mergia was beset by leg cramps in the closing stages but the 2010 champion accrued another podium finish in third in 2:23:08 while Cheruiyot, who equalled her half-marathon lifetime best of 1:07:54 en route, faded to fourth on her debut in 2:23:50.