With so many incidents and storylines it is hard to remember a more action-packed weekend since the event began in 1981
Feared disruption from environmental protestors did not materialise at this year’s TCS London Marathon but the event still produced more than enough drama. Perhaps more than on any occasion in its long history.
As the dust settles on the British capital, here are nine storylines from the 2023 race.
Hassan the drama queen
Surely there has never been an elite women’s race so packed with excitement? Dropped from the lead group and finding herself around half a minute behind the leaders, Sifan Hassan stopped to stretch before mounting an incredible comeback. With 2km to go she almost collided with a motorbike after suddenly veering across the road to grab a drink. Soon afterwards she won a three-way sprint down The Mall to claim victory on her debut. It was brilliant, breathless stuff.
An unpopular theory
Hassan’s 2:18:33 was one of the slowest winning times in recent years. If Brigid Kosgei had rolled up in her 2:14 shape, or Peres Jepchirchir, Almaz Ayana or Yalamzerf Yehualaw in their previous 2:17 form, would the Dutch athlete have been able to get back into contention? Paula Radcliffe from 20 years earlier would have been almost an entire kilometre further up the road, for example.
On Sunday the leaders were on schedule to run 2:17 for much of the race as well but slowed, unwittingly allowing Hassan to catch them. Still, the Olympic 5000m and 10,000m champion could only beat the best on the day – and, who knows, she may have run even harder and faster if she’d needed to!
Away from the races themselves there was intrigue and controversy behind the scenes relating to commercial aspects alone. Eilish McColgan’s much-publicised sponsorship dispute aside, the men’s winner Kelvin Kiptum appears to have got mixed up in an even bigger row with the Kenyan racing in Nike despite reportedly having a deal with Chinese brand Qiaodan. Then there was the strange case of Kosgei, who dropped out only three minutes, sparking theories that she only started to fulfil some of her race fee requirements.
Kawauchi’s crazy racing calendar
The Japanese runner Yuki Kawauchi has earned a reputation for being a prolific racer. He often runs a marathon roughly once every month but in 2018 sprang to fame by winning the Boston Marathon men’s title. In London on Sunday he was the fastest non-elite competitor with 2:13:18. Impressively he has already run three marathons already in 2023, too, with victories at the Ishigakijima (2:18:05) and Saga Sakura (2:11:32) events and 12th place at the Osaka Marathon (2:07:35).
Innes FitzGerald is undoubtedly the most exciting young distance runner in Britain right now. Just 17, she has swept all before her in recent months with victories in the English Schools, English National and Inter-Counties cross-country championships before successfully defending her Mini London Marathon under-17 crown.
She is also one of the most interesting athletes in the country, too. Her environmental principles are well known after she chose to skip a trip to the World Cross Country Championships in Australia this year due to aircraft emissions. But on Sunday the West Country athlete headed from the Mini Marathon to “the big one” protest in central London where she was part of the Champions for Earth group at the demonstration.
Last year the Mini London Marathon was moved from Sunday to Saturday to give it its own slot in the spotlight rather than being a buried and potentially over-looked on the ‘main marathon’ day. It has proved a good move and is the only realistic way that organisers can also grow the event from its current 7000 participants to an ambitious target of 50,000.
Next year they should consider expanding the post-race presentation area, though. Currently the ceremony unfolds fairly quietly in an enclosed area close to the finish line and features only the championship and London Boroughs race winners, with stars like Eliud Kipchoge and Jake Wightman presenting prizes. AW hears that a few silver and bronze medallists have felt a little left out, though, after being handed a voucher as their reward and then told they are free to leave.
Relentless rise of super shoes (and CGMs)
If you felt self-conscious as a club runner wearing super shoes three or four years ago, the scenario has flipped on its head. It is increasingly hard to spot any of the quicker or more committed runners wearing ‘traditional shoes’. Indeed, even in the Mini Marathon the majority of kids are wearing fast footwear these days.
While it’s unlikely this will catch on in quite the same way, another trend seems to be the use of continuous glucose monitors (or CGMs) with runners like Sifan Hassan sporting a sensor on her upper left arm. These help runners plot their pre and mid-race fuelling strategies and are becoming all the rage with runners like Eliud Kipchoge and Eilish McColgan also using them. Look out for a review on them in the May issue of AW magazine.
Kudos to Farah
Amid all the medals and the media coverage, it’s easy to forget that Mo Farah is a tough little character who never shies away from a scrap. He’s threatened to get involved in charity boxing in the past and of course his gritty nature has helped him endure countless gruelling training sessions and races. Running long distances, after all, is a pain game.
We were reminded of this on Sunday when despite an underwhelming 10km warm-up race in Gabon a fortnight earlier he started the race in determined fashion and, rising to the occasion, was still leading Emile Cairess as the No.1 Brit at halfway. Following this Father Time caught up with him and the 40-year-old faded to third Brit as Phil Sesemann out-kicked him in the final metres. He resisted the temptation to drop out, though, and his 2:10:28 smashed Andy Davies’ British M40 record by almost four minutes as he went down fighting.
Thommo tears up
Finally, my moment of the weekend goes to another British veteran runner, Chris Thompson, who unexpectedly choked up during this post-race chat below on Sunday. Thommo, 42, wears his heart on his sleeve and, while he might not be the fastest British marathon man these days, he is still running impressive times and remains the undisputed and undefeated champion of media interviews.
» Look out for our London Marathon coverage in our May magazine. Subscribe here