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Kenya’s Mary Keitany threw caution to the wind here today. She blasted through the first half of the 37th Virgin Money London Marathon in a scorching 1:06:54, and held on to finish alone on The Mall in 2:17:01, the pending IAAF world record for an all-women’s marathon. Her performance broke Paula Radcliffe’s previous all-women’s mark of 2:17:42 set in 2005 by 41 seconds (Radcliffe’s 2:15:25 time set in 2003 still stands as the women’s world record in the marathon in a mixed gender race due to male pace-makers that day). Keitany’s time is also the second fastest women’s marathon of all-time in a mixed gender race.
“I want to say it was a great day for me,” said the tiny 35-year-old mother of two who has won the last three editions of the TCS New York City Marathon.”It was really amazing.”
It was also very lucrative. Not considering her appearance fee or any unpublished bonuses from either the race organizers or her sponsor, adidas, Keitany earned $305,000 in prize money and time bonuses: $55,000 for the win, $100,000 for sub-2:18, $25,000 for the course record and $125,000 for the world record.
“I’m really excited about my great time that I did today,” she told reporters.
Keitany made her intentions known very early in the race. After a quick and potentially sustainable 5:15 first mile, she and pacemaker Caroline Chepkoech surged ahead, running the second mile in 5:09 then the third (downhill) mile in a head-snapping 4:37. The duo cleared 5K in a sizzling 15:31, and the record attempt was on.
“It was inside world record pace,” Keitany said. “I was prepared for any pace as I was preparing.”
With the rest of the women out of sight and out of mind, Keitany and Chepkoech concentrated on the task at hand. Wearing an all-black kit, Keitany hit 10K in 31:17 (15:46), 15K in 47:15 (15:58) and 20K in 1:03:26 (16:11), all personal bests for her pacemaker, Chepkoech. Her arm warmers came off about 10 miles into the race as Keitany’s brow began to glisten with sweat.
Chepkoech set another PB of 1:06:53 at the half-marathon point with Keitany one second behind. The pair were well up on Paula Radcliffe’s halfway split of 1:08:02 from her absolute world record run of 2:15:25 set here in 2003.
Soon, the pacemaker stepped off leaving Keitany all alone on a sub-2:14 pace with only the chants of the crowds to help her.
“After the pacemaker dropped out, I just went alone to the finish line,” Keitany said matter-of-factly.
In the past, Keitany has made a bold first half run which ended poorly. In the 2011 New York City Marathon, she ran 1:07:56 for the first half and faded badly to finish third, passed by Ethiopians Firehiwot Dado and Buzunesh Deba in Central Park. However, she was determined not to let that happen in London.
“I was ready today,” Keitany said when asked about that fateful race in New York, a course she would ultimately master. “If somebody is following me I can still push. I was ready.”
The kilometers passed, and the sun came out making things just a bit warmer. Keitany’s pace was slipping, but it wasn’t collapsing. She ran the 5K through 25K in, 16:17 then the next two 5K blocks in 16:22 and 16:34. She smashed the 30K world record by two minutes, clocking 1:36:05 at that point, and had built-up a 75-second lead over second and third place Tirunesh Dibaba and Helah Kiprop, the only women who remained within striking distance.
“She’s not falling apart; she’s still running,” observed Paula Radcliffe on the BBC broadcast.
Keitany slowed a bit more in the last 5K segment through 40K to 16:59, but she had already locked down the record and put the race out of reach. Dibaba was suffering from stomach distress and had stopped and vomited around the 30K mark. The Ethiopian then gathered herself and went on to finish second in an excellent 2:17:56, making her the third-fastest woman of all time.
“This is my second marathon as you all know,” Dibaba said in the post-race press conference. “Yes, I have recorded a fast time, a personal best. I am satisfied with the results.”
The always consistent Aselefech Mergia, who won this race in 2010, passed Kiprop before 40K to clinch third place in 2:23:08. Vivian Cheruiyot, in her debut, finished fourth in 2:23:50, followed by Australia’s Lisa Weightman (2:25:15 PB) and America’s Laura Thweatt (2:25:38 PB). Kiprop faded badly in the final seven kilometers to finish seventh in 2:25:59.
“Just sheer will,” said Thweatt of what carried her through the second half when she was hurting. “It was just one of those days in the marathon when it all comes together. I got into a rhythm and was just able to keep it.”
In the battle among British women for World Championships selection and the British national title, Aly Dixon (14th in 2:29:06 PB) and Charlotte Purdue (15th in 2:29:23 PB) clinched team berths (Dixon also retained her national title). Five-time Olympian Jo Pavey was forced to drop out. She recorded her last split of 1:29:09 at 25K.