Felix Limo: Why London Marathon could spring up surprises

Former London Marathon champion Felix Limo during the interview at his home in Kapseret, Uasin Gishu County, on September 3, 2020.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Predictions: Women’s race tight but I’m placing my bet on Vivian Cheruiyot, says Limo
  • Former winner advises that for an athlete to perform well in a race, it’s not about training only, but also a matter of good calculations, says this years’ edition is a little bit tricky because the athletes will race in 19 clockwise laps of 2.15 kilometres on a circuit course

The cacophony of noise on the KLM flight to Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport in April, 2004, was disturbingly loud.

One of the passengers called out a member of the cabin crew, complaining that he couldn’t enjoy his nap.

Pointing towards a group of Kenyan passengers, the visibly annoyed traveler asked the crew member to negotiate some calm.

The group was largely made up of Kenya athletes, headed to the Rotterdam Marathon.

They would disembark at Schipol and make the approximately one-hour drive to the port city.

Among the group was Felix Limo, a 24-year-old rising marathon star who had finished second in the Amsterdam Marathon the previous year.

Former London Marathon champion Felix Limo explains a point during the interview at his home in Kapseret, Uasin Gishu County, on September 3, 2020.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

VIP security in tow

And as the passengers filed through immigration into the arrivals area, the reception that greeted Limo and his team made them stand out from the rest of the passengers, including the one deprived of his nap.

With VIP security in tow, Limo was escorted into a waiting limousine for the drive to Rotterdam.

Along the airport road, past Amsterdam city, posters featuring Limo either modelling the latest Adidas running products or marketing the 2004 Rotterdam Marathon whizzed past.

Later that evening, local television featured commercials of Limo endorsing a washing soap product.

Limo was the marquee signing by Rotterdam Marathon race director Mario Kadiks.

And the Kenyan star didn’t disappoint, racing to a new course record two hours, six minutes and 14 seconds.

It was his first marathon win, and the first of many more to come, perhaps the biggest of them all being the 2006 London Marathon in which he floored giants including Ethiopian legend Haile Gebrselassie, Kenya’s Martin Lel, South Africa’s Hendrick Ramaala, USA’s Khalid Khannouchi and Italian great Stefano Baldini.

Isn’t a foregone conclusion

He certainly knows a thing or two on what it takes to win in London, and that’s why he maintains that this year’s race on October 4 isn’t a foregone conclusion with so much attention on the two fastest marathoners — Kenya’s world record holder Eliud Kipchoge and his Ethiopian rival Kenenisa Bekele.

Former London Marathon champion Felix Limo on phone during the interview at his home in Kapseret, Uasin Gishu County, on September 3, 2020.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

“Don’t underestimate the underdogs...,” he gave his assessment to Nation Sport last week, warning that October 4 will see a tough battle making it hard to predict the winner in the men’s race.

Limo acknowledges the power of Kipchoge and Kenenisa, but is quick to argue that the two must be careful someone could upset the apple-cart.

“Bekele missed Kipchoge’s record by only two seconds and that means they’re almost at par,” Limo argues.

“The only thing that will determine the winner is who will react first, but if they start waiting each other to make a move and end up lowering the pace, someone else can win the race which is common in marathons.”

Tricky race

He said that this years’ edition is a little bit tricky because the athletes will race in 19 clockwise laps of 2.15 kilometres.

But he maintains Kipchoge and Kenenisa’s track experience could hold them in good stead.

“Remember both athletes were in the track before and running in a loop might not be a problem. In fact, Kipchoge during the INEOS 1:59 Challenge was running in the same style and this might be easy for him.”

In April 2006, Limo, then 26, lined up for his debut London Marathon.

Though a novice in marathon running, he wasn’t overawed by the stellar start list.

“When the race started, we went as a group of eight athletes to 30km and then there was a change of pace since the pace makers had dropped and that is the point Haile dropped too,” he reminisced.

Kenya’s Felix Limo (left) keeps Ethiopian legend Haile Gebrselassie at close quarters during the 2006 London Marathon which Limo won.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Coached by Patrick Sang

“By 35km, only four athletes had remained and when I saw the finish line, I decided to go for the glory and no one reacted,” said Limo who was coached by Patrick Sang, also Kipchoge’s coach.

Prior to his London victory, besides Rotterdam, Limo had the Berlin and Chicago marathons which motivated him to work extra hard in training.

In 2007, Limo was again in the start list as a defending champion but lost the battle, emerging third in 2:07:47 in a race won by Lel (2:07:41) ahead of Morocco’s Abderrahim Goumri (2:07:44).

Limo advises that for an athlete to perform well in a race, it’s not about training only, but also a matter of good calculations.

“In marathon, one needs to use the energy and good calculations to know how the pace is changing and strike when the time is ripe,” added Limo.

His thoughts on the women’s race on October 4?

“It will be a tight race and I’m placing my bet on 2018 champion Vivian Cheruiyot who might be a surprise winner.

“Though I know it will be tough and if that slips her, then the world record holder Brigid Kosgei will carry the day,” he adds.

Limo retired in 2013 after picking up a back injury and decided to venture into business, a move he says he doesn’t regret.


Marathon great Felix Limo chills out in his tea plantation in Nandi County.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

NTV will broadcast the London Marathon live and exclusively on October 4.

The women’s race will start at 9.15am, Kenyan time, with the men’s race being flagged off at 12 noon. The wheelchair race starts at 3pm.

Felix Limo’s career highlights:

2003: Amsterdam Marathon, second ( 2:06:42);

2004: Rotterdam Marathon, winner (2:06:14);

2004: Berlin Marathon, winner (2:06:44);

2005: Rotterdam Marathon, third (2:09:01);

2005:  Chicago Marathon, winner (2:07:02);

2006: London Marathon, winner (2:06:39)

2007: London Marathon, third (2:07:47)

2008: London Marathon, eighth (2:10:35);

2008: Fukuoka Marathon, fifth (2:10:59)

2009: London Marathon, 10th (2:09:47);

2009: Seoul Marathon, seventh (2:13:13);

2010: Vienna City Marathon, seventh (2:11:34);

2011: Tokyo Marathon, fifth (2:10:50);

2011: Berlin Marathon, fourth (2:10:38).

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