Daniel Wanjiru won the Amsterdam Marathon last October in 2:05:21 with a sizeable negative split, but the 24-year-old was not considered a threat to succeed Eliud Kipchoge as the champion of the men’s race.
Wanjiru has only raced once this season, finishing 12th at the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon in 1:02:16 – which was won by Bedan Karoki in 59:10 – but Wanjiru still arrived in the British capital full of confidence for his World Marathon Majors debut.
“I did 62 there and I took it as part of my training and I knew I was OK to do the marathon,” he explained after the race. “After that race, I told my manager ‘I’m ready to win the London Marathon’.
Wanjiru was firmly ensconced in the group through halfway in 1:01:43 but at this point, arguable pre-race favourite Kenenisa Bekele was beginning to fall off the pace.
At 30km, Bekele was 18 seconds adrift of a leading group of five athletes including Wanjiru, but once the Kenyan made his break with 4:52 in the 21st mile, the Ethiopian began to reel in those ahead of him.
Bekele passed two-time world champion Abel Kirui just after the 35km checkpoint and then Karoki came into sight. The gap to Wanjiru had reduced to 14 seconds but the Kenyan was not fatiguing, nor was he daunted by the looming presence of the world 5000m and 10,000m record-holder who made up a significant gap on Wilson Kipsang to win the Berlin Marathon last September.
“I was not scared because in a competition, anything can happen,” said Wanjiru, who had kept something in reserve. “You have to plan what to do if someone is coming from behind.”
The gap between Wanjiru and Bekele reduced to five seconds for a while but Wanjiru, who was contesting his fourth marathon to date, was still running strongly and held Bekele off with a brilliant finishing mile of 4:27.
Wanjiru crossed the finish-line on The Mall in 2:05:48 and while Bekele had to settle for second in 2:05:57, the Ethiopian was upbeat after the race.
“I’m happy I finished this race. Of course, after Dubai, I lost some weeks because of injury so for me, coming back from injury and competing like this is encouraging for later races,” said Bekele, alluding to his fall at the Dubai Marathon in January which caused him to drop out.
A podium finish seemed improbable at halfway when Bekele began to lose ground. After the race, Bekele explained he developed blisters on his feet at about the 15km mark and said he “changed his style to protect it” which led to hamstring problems in his right leg. After 30km, Bekele said he was “feeling better and I increased the pace.”
By contrast, Karoki felt in excellent condition at the halfway point on his marathon debut before the distance caught him out in the last six miles. He staggered across the line in third in 2:07:41, four seconds ahead of Chicago Marathon winner Abel Kirui.
“When I saw 61 at halfway, I was expecting to run 2:03,” said Karoki. “But after 30km, I felt tired and I got a blister problem which forced me to slow down. I know, maybe next marathon, I’m going to better than today.”
Tanzania’s Alphonce Simbu ran a well-judged race, moving from 15th at halfway to fifth in 2:09:10 with world champion Ghirmay Ghebreslassie from Eritrea the sixth runner to finish within 2:10, clocking 2:09:57.
Club runner Josh Griffiths, who was entered in the race as part of the mass start, was the top British man, clocking 2:14:49 on his marathon debut to earn selection for the World Championships. Alyson Dixon finished 14th in the women’s race in a PB of 2:29:06 to also secure her spot on the home team for later this year.