Mary Keitany predicts winner of 'tough' London Marathon

Like mother, like daughter: Three-time London Marathon champion Mary Keitany and her daughter, Samantha Jerop, do an easy run in Iten, Elgeyo-Marakwet County on August 31, 2020. Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Keitany is one of the world’s most decorated marathon runners and third fastest on the all-time list behind fellow Kenyan world record holder Brigid Kosgei and Great Britain’s Paula Radcliffe

Three-time London Marathon champion Mary Keitany won’t be at the starting line when this year’s race blasts off near The Mall on October 4.

One of Kenya’s greatest women marathon runners ever won’t be in the elite-only field tackling the 19.6 laps of the 2.12-kilometre loop course crafted in a “biosecure bubble” orchestrated by the coronavirus pandemic.

As the athletes power down Horse Guards Road onto Birdcage Walk, Spur Road past the iconic Buckingham Palace and back to The Mall, Keitany won’t be in the mix.

And she will be missed in the final, extra 1,345 metres to the finish line…

Keitany, 38, one of the world’s most decorated marathon runners and third fastest of all-time (two hours, 17 minutes and one second) behind fellow Kenyan world record holder Brigid Kosgei (2:14:04) and Briton Paula Radcliffe (2:15:25) will miss out of the action owing to an unfortunate twist of events.

Three-time London Marathon champion Mary Keitany (right) and her husband, Charles Koech, who is also her coach, relax on the balcony of their house in Iten, Elgeyo-Marakwet County on August 31, 2020.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

Ideally, she would have lined up in London had the race gone ahead in its traditional April date but this year, she was invited to the Boston Marathon the same month.

Sixes and sevens

But with the coronavirus rearing its ugly head in March postponing all sports events, the marathon calendar was at sixes and sevens with the Boston race first postponed, and then cancelled altogether.

And with the London Marathon re-angled for October 4, Keitany suffered an injury and couldn’t sign up.

“Many are wondering why I’m not in the line-up this year, but I had been invited for the Boston Marathon race which I later cancelled due to an injury.

“The race has been postponed to next year and I have enough time to prepare because this will be my debut in the race,” she told Nation Sport.

Keitany’s is the familiar story of athletes who came from humble backgrounds, rising to the pinnacle of their sports careers.

At 38, “Mama Samantha” is still strong and difficult to dislodge from the zenith of distance running.

Like mother, like daughter: Three-time London Marathon champion Mary Keitany and her daughter, Samantha Jerop, do an easy run in Iten, Elgeyo-Marakwet County on August 31, 2020. Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

Unknown to many, Keitany picked an injury when she competed in London Marathon last year but still wound up fifth in 2:20:58 in a race won by her compatriot Brigid Kosgei (2:18:20).

Finished second in New York

She went on to compete in the New York Marathon race where she finished second (2:23:32) at Central Park behind fast-rising compatriot Joyciline Jepkosgei (2:22:38).

Keitany has been nursing a hip injury since she lined up for the New York race and her doctor had advised her to take a one-month break, but she declined because she had done adequate preparations for the race.

“I didn’t know why I couldn’t move in the London Marathon. I was just feeling some pain and my body couldn’t react and after several check-ups I found I had an injury a few weeks to New York Marathon race,” said Keitany.

The London Marathon this year will be an elite-only race that has attracted, among others, world record holder Kosgei, who is also the defending champion, and world marathon champion Ruth Chepng’etich.  

They will be joined by 2018 winner Vivian Cheruiyot, Frankfurt Marathon champion Valary Jemeli and débutante Edith Chelimo.

In the men’s category defending champion Eliud Kipchoge will be competing against compatriots Amsterdam Marathon champion Vincent Kipchumba, Rotterdam Marathon Marius Kipserem and 2016 Mumbai Marathon champion Gideon Kipketer, along with a galaxy of Kenenisa Bekele-led Ethiopian stars.

Keitany said the unpredictable English weather on race day was largely behind her mixed results in London. “Since I started participating London Marathon, I have registered different results and, of course winning three times."

The outcome normally depends on the preparation and the weather during that period.

Three-time London Marathon champion Mary Keitany (right) and her husband, Charles Koech, who is also her coach, relax on the balcony of their house in Iten, Elgeyo-Marakwet County on August 31, 2020.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

On the October 4 line-up, Keitany says this is the best selection and that she’s eagerly waiting to see how it will unfold.

“It will be a battle because the pacemakers selected are also good. This is a race we are all waiting to watch and I know it will be interesting and tough,” said Keitany.

She observes that to train for a marathon, an athlete needs up to four months with serious training in the third month and finalising in the last month before the race, when one can cover from 200 to 300 kilometres a week in training.

Anything can happen

“One has to prepare well and you can’t predict a race up to the last few kilometres because anything can happen with your body."

“A good example is the Boston and Chicago marathon where we saw athletes competing in a group up to the last 50 metres when Lawrence Cherono won both races in a sprint finish,” she explained.

Three-time London Marathon champion Mary Keitany laughs during an interview at their home in Iten, Elgeyo-Marakwet County on August 31, 2020.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

Taking an early lead is also another factor which can contribute to success.

“When I broke the (women’s only) world record in 2017, we just started the race in a high pace with my pacemaker, and by the time the other athletes reacted, I was very far and that’s how I won the race.

“Even elite athletes have pressure during training and before the race starts, but for me that disappears when the race starts and I have to get focused to the finish line."

“Many athletes will hang on until the 35km mark where they will start dropping,” she added.

Kipchoge

Her prediction for the men’s race on October 4 is that Kipchoge will carry the day, but that it will be a tight race.

World Marathon Record Holder Eliud Kipchoge (second left) and other athletes from Global Sports Communication Camp in Kaptagat, Elgeyo-Marakwet County training at Kipchoge Keino Stadium in Eldoret town, Uasin GIshu County on September 8, 2020.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

World Marathon Record Holder Eliud Kipchoge during training at Kipchoge Keino Stadium in Eldoret town, Uasin GIshu County on September 8, 2020.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

“I have seen Kipchoge training and I know he will win the race though it will be a tough one and we might see a sprint finish from the athletes.

“Ethiopia also has very good athletes but let’s wait for the battle next month,” is her verdict.

Mary Keitany’s achievements:

2007   World Road Running Championships 2nd Half marathon           1:06:48 NR

2009   World Half Marathon Championships 1st   Half marathon           1:06:36 AR

2010   New York Marathon 3rd      2:29:01

2011   London Marathon 1st           2:19:19

2011   New York Marathon 3rd       2:23:38

2012   London Marathon 1st           2:18:37 AR

2012   Olympic Games 4th               2:23:56

2014   New York Marathon 1st       2:25:07

2015   London Marathon 2nd          2:23:40

2015   New York Marathon 1st       2:24:25

2016   London Marathon 9th           2:28:30

2016   New York Marathon 1st       2:24:26

2017   London Marathon 1st           2:17:01 (World record-women only)

2017   New York Marathon 2nd      2:27:54

2018   London Marathon 5th           2:24:27

2018   New York Marathon 1st       2:22:48

2019   London Marathon     5th      2:20:58

2019   New York Marathon 2nd      2:23:32