Men’s World Championship Marathon 2019 – Review

On Sunday 5 October 2019, Qatar’s capital city played host to the second ever night-time marathon at the World Athletics Championships. In this post, I’ll answer the question “What happened during the 2019 men’s World Championship marathon?” and explore the important running lessons all runners can learn.

What happened in the race?

The men’s marathon was packed with quality athletes from across the world. Although cooler than the women’s race, the course and nighttime conditions were the same and would still severely test the athletes. The 29-year-old Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa stood as one of the favourites, finishing as runner-up in the 2019 Boston Marathon earlier in the year.

After less than 90 seconds, Derlys Ayala made a significant break. He continued to check his watch and pour water over himself as he extended his lead. Sweden’s Adhanom Abraha attempted to push on with him, but the majority of the field dealt with his move. Ayala had a projected finish time of 2 hours and 6 minutes in the early stages. His competitors remained calm. A few athletes ran a few metres in front of the main pack but this was only temporary. Ayala ran the first 5 kilometres in 15:06, one minute ahead of everyone else.

The Paraguayan looked smooth in his arm drive and leg turnover, and maintained his minute-lead through 10 kilometres. His time was an impressive 30:40, but Ayala’s face began to show a new story. His eyeline was more often than not projected downwards. But the lead remained over one minute at 15 kilometres. Callum Hawkins even surged at this stage, but it was only temporary.

Paul Lonyangata of Kenya then surged. The field began to string out a little. Adhanom Abraha then surged. Ayala started to slow by 17 kilometres. Zersenay Tadese, the former half marathon world record holder, reacted best. Ayala was being reeled in by the others. Six athletes, including Lelisa Desisa, breezed by Ayala before the halfway mark. Ayala soon dropped out, exhausted by his lone running. Tadese, Desisa, Mokoka, Geremew and Kipruto were now the lead group.

The defending champion, Geoffrey Kirui, then led the race at 25 kilometres. Four different groups formed along the long stretch of road. The lead kept changing. The pace surged and dropped. Kirui was dropped first. Then before 32 kilometres Tedese fell off the pace. Four athletes led, then Tadese returned to the lead pack. The South African Mokoka surged at 35 kilometres. Tadese and Desisa appeared to be dropped by the front three. They spread across the road. 

With 2 kilometres to go, Hawkins reached the lead pack. Mokoka instead began to fade. With 1 kilometre to go, the three East Africans surged and a significant gap developed between them and Hawkins. Kipruto was dropped. Desisa gritted his teeth. Geremew looked relaxed. Desisa then sprinted with  250 metres to go. He broke the tape to win the gold medal by four seconds, having never looked in control of the race.

Running lessons from the race

There were three running lessons from the men’s World Championship marathon; 1. Confidence can falsely lead runners to run too fast too soon; 2. Looks can be deceiving, and 3. Patience can significantly benefit marathoners.

Confidence can prove counterproductive

Although self-confidence is important to all athletes, too much can result in sub-par performances. The Paraguayan’s early front running dominated the first half of the race. It was clearly pre-planned. He had achieved a new personal best of 2:10:27 two weeks previous, and presumably wanted to see if he could produce another outstanding performance. But he dropped out of the race as soon as he was caught at halfway. The plan did not work.

Four nations had no athletes finish the race despite having at least one on the start line. Notable DNFs included multiple Paris Marathon champion Paul Lonyangata, 2019 London Marathon third place finisher, Mule Wasihun, and the 2018 Commonwealth Games marathon silver medalist, Solomon Mutai. Although less men dropped out than in the women’s race, Doha still tested the athletes to their maximum. Overconfidence meant there were no happy endings for some athletes.

Fatiguing appearances can be deceiving

An athlete’s running technique and facial expressions can tell a lot about how the athlete is feeling. However, sometimes it can be deceiving. Desisa looked more fatigued in the second half of the race compared to his rivals. His arm drive was far from efficient and he didn’t appear relaxed. But he triumphed, and even did a victory dance after the race. Kenya’s Korir’s excessive forward posture, and grimaces by other athletes couldn’t hide their discomfort. But it’s athletes who can push through the inevitable pain that make the most of their talents. Appearances are not everything. 

Patience in the marathon can offer rich rewards 

The most surprising performance of the evening was by Great Britain’s Callum Hawkins. Except for a brief stint at the front of the race he maintained relatively consistent five-kilometre splits. When others began to fade he was able to gain momentum as he passed them. Many of them had faster personal bests than him. He tested the best athletes in the world and except for the final surge with a kilometre to go, he had a great opportunity to win a global medal. Unfortunately for him it wasn’t to be but his racing strategy was certainly effective. 

Desisa, on the other hand, didn’t make a serious move until the final few hundred metres. Having the patience to wait until there can be no response from your competitors shows the experience and class of the Ethiopian. This performance would have been a satisfying one for the 29-year-old, who won silver in the marathon at the 2013 World Athletics Championships  in Moscow.

Conclusion

The 2019 men’s marathon at the World Championship was a cagey race. The lead pack surged throughout, which meant the racing was enthralling and unpredictable. With 18 athletes in the elite field (equivalent to 24.7%) unable to finish the race, the Doha humidity once again defined the race. Still, the race rewarded those who were patient and not over-confident; a marathon lesson that everyone can employ in any conditions.

Women’s World Championship Marathon 2019 – Review

On Sunday 27 September 2019, the city of Doha was host to the first ever night-time marathon at the World Athletics Championships. In this post, I’ll answer the question “What happened during the 2019 women’s World Championship marathon?” and explore what lessons all runners can learn from this historic race.

What happened in the race?

The women’s marathon was full of experienced champions. But the 70% humidity, and 32℃ temperature levelled the field. Although cooler than earlier in the day, conditions were at the limit of what the organisers would allow for the race to go ahead. The 25-year-old Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich stood on the start line as the favourite. She didn’t disappoint.

The course was along the Corniche in downtown Doha. Crowds were not as huge as would have been expected. But those who were along the waterfront promenade saw athletes slightly more than six times throughout the 7-km flat loop.

Athletes took sponges and doused themselves within the first 90 seconds of the race. Most athletes sensibly took on water in the early miles. Sardana Trofimova, an authorised neutral athlete, was an early leader. She opened up a five-second lead. But it only lasted another kilometre or so. The East Africans then pushed on and subsumed her into the lead pack. The lead group contained 16 athletes. They ran the first 5 kilometres in 18:21. This pace predicted a 2:34 marathon finish. 

Salpeter then lead from the front but Chepngetich took over at 7km. Chelimo used her hands to signal to move closer to aid stations. Salpeter surged at times, dropping her drinks bottle as she retrieved a towel. The lead group ran 10 kilometres in 36:44. But Chepngetich soon surged. Three athletes responded, her compatriot Visiline Jepkesho, Bahrain’s Rose Chelimo and Ethiopia’s Ruti Aga. The field was strung out along the road.

At 13 kilometres Chepngetich held a nine-second lead, but she slowed so that a new lead pack emerged before 15 kilometres. Four athletes ran alongside her; Helilia Johannes, Edna Kiplagat, Rose Chelimo and Visiline Jepkesho. Before the halfway point athletes were starting to drop out of the race, including Aga and Britain’s number one marathoner Charlotte Purdue. The lead pack ran the first half of the race in 1:16:40. Jepkesho dropped off the pack before 25km. Salpeter continued to chase for many miles by herself. But she dropped out just after 31 km.

At 35km a decisive break happened on the last lap. Chepngetich surged with a 3:19 kilometre. Only the defending champion Rose Chelimo could stay within touching distance. The Kenyan’s slight head bobbing and high arm drive was pronounced as she extended her lead. She began lapping other athletes. Her lead extended to 30 seconds with a few kilometres to go. Whilst Chelimo appeared to slow, with justifiably tired legs, Chepngetich maintained a quick leg turnover and relatively high knee lift.

At 39km Johannes pulled ahead of Kiplagat. It was then that the medals would be decided. Chepngetich won the first gold medal of the 2019 World Athletics Championships. She never needed to look back.

Running lessons from the race

There were three running lessons from the women’s World Championship marathon; 1. negative-split pacing remains a winning race strategy for the marathon ; 2. tough conditions are too difficult for some experienced athletes to cope with, and 3. extra fluids are crucial in humid conditions.

Negative-split pacing is still most effective strategy for marathon

Although conditions were brutal for the athletes to run peak performances, Chepngetich proved why a slight negative-split strategy is the best race strategy. Her second half was 37 seconds faster than her first. She was one of only two athletes in the top ten to record a negative-split performance (the other athlete was Mizuki Tanimoto). As a result she won the race in an eventually comfortable 1:03. Her strength in the final seven kilometres showed that rather than surging excessively, she could simply maintain. As most athletes slowed slightly, she did not. 

Even experienced athletes can’t always execute in tough conditions

The field of athletes was strong. Yet, experienced athletes, could not cope with the tough conditions. This was partly surprising because as professional athletes they would presumably have trained specifically for the conditions. Although it was sensible to drop out of the race if athletes were genuinely struggling, the early exits showed in part that athletes had obviously severely underestimated the challenge. Heat tolerance and pain thresholds are different for every athlete, but every athlete would have been aware of the conditions well in advance.

There were sixteen nations who had no athletes finish the race despite having at least one on the start line. Most surprising were Ethiopia, Uganda, Italy and Great Britain. Notable DNFs included marathon national record holder for Israel, Lonah Salpeter, who won the 10,000m gold at the 2018 European Championships. Charlotte Purdue, the best British marathoner this year, also suffered in Qatar’s conditions.

Extra fluids are essential in humid, hot conditions

Athletes drank more during the race than what would usually be expected in a marathon. The humid and hot conditions meant that athletes sweated much more rapidly than under cooler conditions. This meant that athletes were more prone to heat exhaustion, especially if they had not adequately acclimatised themselves to the conditions pre-race. Most, if not all athletes took advantage of their special drinks, available to them every 5 kilometres. Another water station was set up so that no runner was too far from any fluids. To ensure everyone got what they needed, there was always a spread of athletes whenever they reached water stations. Athletes poured water over their heads, and weaved across the road.

It must be emphasised though that although hydration is important during hotter conditions, slowing your pace to an appropriate level is just as crucial for success. The demands of the marathon are rigorous even on favourable days. This is why it wasn’t unsurprising to see no athlete record a personal best. Even the champion Chepngetich ran 15:35 slower than her personal best set only eight months ago in Dubai.

Conclusion

The 2019 women’s marathon at the World Championship was a unique race. Not only was the evening time, hot weather and repetitive course different from other World Championships, it was controversial. With 28 athletes in the elite field (equivalent to 41%) unable to finish the race, many would argue that this was far from ideal for spectators, coaches or athletes. 

There should be recognition that the athletes all worked hard to get to Doha. Still, there should be as many questions asked of the organisers as there should be of the athletes. The relatively low finishers’ rate for such an important race shows neither the organisers or athletes truly grasped this Middle Eastern challenge to the detriment of the sport.

Chicago Marathon 2019 – Review

The Bank of America Chicago Marathon is one of six World Marathon Majors and has one of the flattest courses. On Sunday 13 October 2019, the American city was host to a new women’s world record and a highly competitive men’s race. In this post, I’ll answer the question “What happened during the 2019 Chicago Marathon?” and what lessons all runners can learn from this major race.

What happened in the elite women’s race?

The elite women’s race was dominated by one woman. Brigid Kosgei. She intended to break the marathon world record. With no other athlete in the field capable of running that fast, she would spend much of the race with her personal male pacemakers, never needing to look back down the road. 

Kosgei set her pacemakers to run 68 minutes for the half marathon. She comfortably slotted behind them and had dropped her competitors by 5 kilometres. She maintained a strong, fast high arm drive throughout. Her face was a picture of concentration. Her head remained still and her posture was strong, proving her superior core strength.

Some watching would have been sceptical of her fast early 5 kilometre splits, especially when she was 38 seconds faster than Radcliffe’s world record at 10 kilometres. Gaps only formed when she retrieved her bottle at the aid stations. Otherwise it was as if she was glued to her personal pacemakers.

At the halfway mark she was 63 seconds ahead of Radcliffe’s record, in a time of 1:06:59. Her 5 kilometre splits remained under 16:08, with no sign of slowing. Even when the pacemakers stopped running Kosgei kept her composure, finishing in 2:14:04. She had broken the world record by 1:21, when no woman had even got within a minute of Racliffe’s mark before this. To add to her incredible performance she also finished the race in 23rd position overall, showing there’s more to come from this special athlete.

Even though Kosgei is only 25 years old, her impressive running record had already showed that this performance was possible. She proved again why she is world number one in the women’s marathon.

What happened in the elite men’s race?

The elite men’s race was packed with great athletes. The battle seemed to be whether Mo Farah could defend his title, or whether an East African would prove once again their dominance of the 26.2-mile course. The race finished with two Kenyans and two Ethiopians sprinting for the tape. Kenya’s Lawrence Cherono, the 2019 Boston Marathon champion, executed the most savvy of race strategies to win by a second. 

Despite having two pacemakers, the lead pack continued to stretch out then bunch together during the first seven miles. From there, gaps started to appear. Six men emerged as the lead group. Mo Farah, the defending champion, his training partner Bashir Abdi, and the 2017 champion Galen Rupp had fallen significantly behind. One of the pacemakers also couldn’t keep up with the pace, falling away before the halfway mark.

Dickson Chumba surged multiple times but could not shake off his competitors. Stronger winds soon became a factor. The six men ran in single file behind the pacemaker for several miles. Surprisingly, Chumba was the first man to drop off the lead pack just after 30 kilometres. Then the pacemaker left his position and the real racing began. Karoki ran at the front then Cherono took his turn. Ethiopia’s Seifu Tura was dropped at 1:53. Debela then led the race.

Into the last mile, Cherono and Dejene Debela surged. Asefa Mengstu gritted his teeth to stay with the group. Cherono soon found himself at the back of the group. Debela appeared to push on as he kept looking at his watch. But Cherono’s final sprint proved too strong; he was crowned champion.

Abdi finished in fifth place, less than 30 seconds behind the winner, whilst Chumba faded into seventh position. Farah also had a disappointing race, crossing the line in 2:09:58 for eighth place. It was his slowest time since becoming a marathoner.

Running lessons from the race

There were three obvious running lessons on display at the 2019 Chicago Marathon; 1. you should run fast if you feel good on race day; 2. reduce pre-race distractions where possible, and 3. never ignore injuries regardless of where you are in a race.

Run fast if you feel good on race day

Kosgei’s fast running was a testament to her feeling good and making the most of her current form. Her attempt at breaking Paula Radcliffe’s world record was still very ambitious. Her recent block of training must have gone well. Ultimately, she was coming into the race with many factors in her favour.  Her previous personal best of 2:18:35 was more than two minutes faster than the next best athlete. As defending champion she was the clear favourite for the race. 2019 had already been a stellar year for her. She had won six of her six races, including the Virgin Money London Marathon and the SimplyHealth Great North Run. Perhaps it was inevitable that one day she would become the world record holder.

Reduce pre-race distractions where possible

Professional athletes are primed to focus on their training and racing. But distractions can still be unproductive at best and frustrating at worst. Sadly, three prominent athletes found themselves questioned by the media pre-race about the recent doping ban of famous running coach Alberto Salazar. Top US athletes Galen Rupp and Jordan Hasay had been coached by Salazar. Neither finished the race despite high expectations of performing well. Even Mo Farah, who had been coached by Salazar during his track career, did not perform at his usual high standard. These pre-race distractions would not have relaxed their minds going into an important race of their seasons. As none of them have been accused of doping, this would have been an unfortunate and saddening moment in their careers. Hopefully, they will bounce back stronger.

Don’t ignore injuries however close to the finish 

Aside from the negative media attention, pre-existing injuries would not have helped athletes competing. Galen Rupp found himself running alone in the top ten for much of the race. It was his first race since the 2018 Chicago Marathon. An Achilles injury and subsequent surgery meant that most of his year was focused on recovery. He had withdrawn from the Philadelphia Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in September. His morning ended just before the 23-mile mark. Despite being so close to the finish line, it remains a sensible decision to drop out of a race to receive medical attention rather than push through an obvious injury. The consequence of ignoring such pain could be that more recovery time is needed. The medium- to long-term is always crucial for professional athletes.

Jordan Hasay could not finish the race either, dropping out early in the race after suffering from a hamstring injury in the first few miles of the race. It was another disappointment for the USA team, but again she made the right decision. 

Conclusion

The 2019 Chicago Marathon was packed with exciting racing and fast times but also disappointing performances. Brigid Kosgei smashed the course and world record, proving her current dominance of the event. Whilst in the men’s race, the sprint finish between four athletes reminded audiences again of how East Africans are simply unstoppable. But the race was nonetheless overshadowed in part by the ban of Alberto Salazar. Although coaches exist to support their athletes, in extreme cases like this they can also hinder. Especially when the mass media become interested.

Read the report of the 2018 race in which Mo Farah won his first marathon.

Great Scottish Run 2019 – Review

The Great Scottish Run is one of the biggest running events in Scotland and attracts many elite athletes and recreational runners of all abilities. On Sunday 29 September 2019, Glasgow hosted stand-out half marathon performances from East Africans, who dominated the race. In this post, I’ll answer the question “What happened during the 2019 Great Scottish Run?” and what lessons all runners can learn from this popular race.

What happened in the elite men’s race?

The elite men’s race focused on whether anyone could usurp Britain’s Chris Thompson, who had won the previous two years. Zane Robertson of New Zealand, and a host of quality East Africans looked to do just that. Stephen Kiprop and Micah Kogo of Kenya, Timothy Torotich of Uganda and Yemane Tsegay of Ethiopia seemed best placed to test Thompson’s recent dominance of the event.

However, well before halfway, Thompson looked beaten and Robertson had dropped out. Torotich’s convincing triumph over the rest of the field returned the title to Uganda, after a four-year wait.

The steep hill during the first mile did nothing to separate the lead pack. But it didn’t take long to shake up the athletes. Kogo, Kiprop and Torotich pushed the pace just before five kilometres and established a quick twenty-metre gap. Thompson was sweating a lot after less than fifteen minutes, and his title defence was realistically over by four miles.

The three East Africans were soon out of sight. Torotich surged several times without a breakthrough, until the halfway mark. It was through Pollok Park that Torotich broke his Kenyan rivals. He ran hard, completing the seventh mile in 4:28. Although he couldn’t quite maintain the same fast mile splits, he didn’t need to. He kept a thirty-second lead at 10 miles and never looked in danger of being caught.

Kogo was runner-up, whilst Kiprop came third. This was despite Spain’s Benabbou managing to run beside Kiprop at 11 miles. Kiprop then surged and was four seconds away from second place. Fifth place Eritrean got a lifetime best by over two minutes. The Eritrean Weynay Ghebreselassie finished in fifth place with a lifetime best of 1:04:22, over two minutes faster than his previous best performance.

Although Torotich won the race by 59 seconds, he showed visible signs of working hard. He frequently wiped his face of sweat, his head moved a lot in the closing miles and his breathing was noticeably heavy. However, he stayed strong by using his fast, short arm drive to great effect.

What happened in the elite women’s race?

The elite women’s race was all about Kenya’s Edith Chelimo, who was the outstanding favourite, racing against fellow Kenyan Nancy Kiprop, Ethiopian Askale Merachi and a number of European runners. Chelimo ran as expected, alone, in a new course record.

Chelimo broke away within the first few minutes of the race. She looked relaxed throughout, looking slightly down, her head still, her posture strong and upright. She continued her dominance, leading by 59 seconds at the 10 kilometre mark. Male club runners helped her in the early miles. Then she was alone. She eventually ran a new course record of 1:07:38, 19 seconds faster than the previous record. Although she admitted post-race that she wanted to run 1:06:00, she should be proud of her amazing performance.

Although Nancy Kiprop and Askale Merachi worked together for much of the race, the Kenyan surged in the closing miles to beat Merachi by ten seconds and claim second spot.

Running lessons from the race

The 40th edition of the race revealed three important lessons for all runners: 1. you can race by yourself if you’re strong mentally; 2. you can’t expect a great performance (relative to your own standards) if you aren’t fully recovered from a previous race, and 3. sparsely located supporters can’t deter top athletes from performing.

Racing alone isn’t negative

In both the men’s and women’s elite races, the eventual champions spent much of their race running alone. Experienced athletes such as Torotich and Chelimo don’t get easily distracted by their competition. Instead they could run their own predetermined strategy. This was even more impressive when considering that neither checked their watches much throughout the race.

Peak performance requires being fully rested

For all athletes, top performances can only be achieved if you are in shape. This means that any athlete should be fully recovered from any recent races or hard block of training. Despite only a light breeze during the race, with the temperature around 12℃, certain athletes were never going to fare too well on the course.

Defending champion Thompson had to settle with seventh position, several minutes slower than his previous victories in a time of 1:05:31. Post-race the 38-year-old Briton admitted it had been a tough day. He had not recovered fully from his recent victories. This was understandable as he won the Great East Run the previous Sunday, and the Richmond RUNFEST Marathon the weekend before that. Sadly there was no threat from Zane Robertson either, who dropped out with injury at the five kilometre mark.

Sparse support is still helpful

Although there was huge support in certain areas, the race snaked through several parks, which understandably were sparse. This meant that athletes couldn’t draw on the enthusiasm of the spectators. Nonetheless, it was still encouraging in those areas where there were people cheering and clapping. Thompson even slowed as he approached the finish line to acknowledge the crowds’ efforts. Edith Chelimo also praised the Scottish people, saying they helped her to not give up and to keep believing in herself.

Conclusion

The men’s and women’s races at the 2019 Bank of Scotland Great Scottish Run were won by a relatively large margin. With over 8,000 runners completing the 13.1 miles, and tens of thousands running across the running festival weekend it’s a great spectacle for Scottish athletics. However, sub-par performances and even injury are risks if athletes are not fully fit to race. The steep hill at the start of the race should be a warning for everyone that all running achievements are no stroll in the park.

 

Read my reports from other elite races since 2018.

Cardiff Half Marathon 2019 – Review

The Cardiff Half Marathon is an iconic road race for elite athletes and recreational runners. On Sunday 6 October 2019, the Welsh capital was host to some amazing Kenyan performances but sadly a runner also died after completing the event. In this post, I’ll answer the question “What happened during the 2019 Cardiff Half Marathon?” and what lessons all runners can learn from this popular race.

What happened in the elite men’s race?

The elite men’s race was packed with quality athletes, many of whom were Kenyan. Some of the men will have trained together and know each other’s racing tactics. It was no surprise then that a sprint finish decided the eventual champion, 29-year-old Leonard Langat. 

Before even two miles had been run the lead pack contained ten runners, spread almost in single file. After four miles, there were five men at the front. By halfway, four remained. Huge gaps between athletes appeared quickly and remained.

At 10 miles the champion would be either Leonard Langat or Shadrack Kimining. They had dropped compatriots Lotiang and Kimutai with ease. This was despite Langat appearing to struggle for a few miles from the eighth mile. Kimining increased his arm drive but Langat stayed calm, sitting a few metres behind. 

They ran a 4:29 twelfth mile, but Langat refused to be dropped. Kimining appeared to kick several times in the last half mile. As they descended on to the final straight, Langat moved passed and took the inside bend. Both sprinted for the finish line, their arms flailing, their teeth gritted. Langat beat his compatriot by two seconds, and in the process established a new course record for the Cardiff Half Marathon.

Prior to the race, Wilson Chebet, the three time Amsterdam Marathon champion, Japhet Korir, the 2013 World Cross Country champion, and Shadrack Kimining, the 2016 Cardiff Half Marathon champion were the organisers’ favourites. Kimining was the standout man who lead for much of the race. The other two men had to settle for seventh and tenth place respectively. 

At times Kimining appeared to usher others forward to take the burden. But no one did. As a result, he couldn’t ease off the pace. In hindsight, Kimining had paced Langat perfectly. The signs were evident though. Kimining’s forward lean was more pronounced and his gaze slightly further down to the ground than his compatriot’s. Langat’s running style, in contrast, was characterised by an upright, relaxed posture. All the elite men ran hard, but it was the athlete with the most composure who produced the outstanding performance of the morning. 

What happened in the elite women’s race?

The elite women’s race was packed with quality athletes, seven of whom were from Kenya and two from Ethiopia. Once again, the champion was crowned after a sprint finish to the tape.

In contrast to the men’s race, a smaller pack of seven women lead the race alongside male club runners and a male pacemaker. By halfway the lead pack had become five. Just past the hour mark, there were only three main contenders. It was Kenya’s Lucy Cheruiyot who was content to stay at the front. 

With only half a mile left, Azmera Abreha kicked. It was now between her and Cheruiyot. But the Kenyan responded well, ensuring she remained ahead. The final sprint to the finish was intense and close. Cheruiyot won by a metre in the same time of 1:08:20 as the Ethiopian. Although exhausted post-race, lying on the ground, her exhilaration was clear to see.

Kenya’s Paskalia Kipkoech, the 2010 Berlin Half Marathon champion, and Ethiopia’s 20-year-old Birha Mihretu were the organisers’ favourites for the women’s race. But they had to settle for third and fifth respectively.

Despite Cheruyiot continually looking at her watch and glancing back at her competitors in the final miles, she remained composed. Her fluid, high arm drive never faltered and she used all her strength to continue Kenya’s dominance in the women’s race. 

Running lessons from the race

The 17th edition of the Cardiff Half Marathon demonstrated three important lessons for all runners: 1. you can leave your last surge late and it can still be effective against your opponents; 2. when conditions are perfect, you need to take advantage, and 3. always listen to your body – if it’s telling you you’re working well beyond your limit, consider slowing down.

Late surges can be effective

In both the men’s and women’s elite races, the eventual champions used late surges to great effect. Although Langat in the men’s race stayed behind the leader for much of the race, this strategy meant he was in the ideal place to surge when he knew there would be no response from his compatriots. Cheruiyot in the women’s race instead led from the front for almost half the race. This allowed her to control the pace so when her Ethiopian rival surged near the end, Cheruiyot  could respond best and finish what she had started from the 10 kilometre mark.

Perfect weather and course support fast times

Favourable weather conditions, the relatively flat course and huge support from spectators were ideal for fast racing. There were sunny intervals with a fresh breeze, with the temperature around 17°C. This was in contrast with the almost four days of rain prior to the race. 

The pressure was on to produce fast times and the elite athletes didn’t disappoint. The top four men all produced times faster than the previous course record, set in 2017 by third place, John Lotiang. Leonard Langat smashed the course record by 72 seconds. The 28-year-old Kennedy Kimutai on his half marathon debut finished in a respectable fourth place, in a time of 1:00:39. The standard has now been raised for future years, and cements the race as one of the best half marathons in Europe.

Heed your body’s natural warning system

The sad death post-race of the third runner in two years should be a reminder for all runners that you should never ignore excessive physical stress. Although the specific details may never be known, it’s crucial that pushing through extreme pain should be avoided at all costs. If the stress of running becomes too great, slow down, stop and even speak to the nearest medic if in doubt. 

Due to the growth of the event in recent years it has become a member of the Super Halfs Half Marathon Series. The event is a great fundraiser, generating millions of pounds for national and local charities. So it is understandable that people flock to the race and want to push themselves. But it’s important that the health and wellbeing of all runners is prioritised. Runners must therefore take responsibility for their effort levels. 

Conclusion

The 2019 Cardiff University Cardiff Half Marathon was filled with drama but also sadness. The close racing at the front meant it was difficult to predict the winners of the elite men and women’s races with less than half a mile to run. Although it was exciting how the elite field ran, the race is yet again known for the death of a participant. With around 27,500 runners entering, and over half of them women, it’s undoubtedly one of the best sights in Welsh athletics. However, Nicholas Beckley’s death is a stark reminder for all runners to never push yourself when you feel serious physical stress. The result can be devastating for you, your family members and the local community. No personal best is worth dying for; listen to your body and never ignore serious pain.

Read the 2018 review, a race which doubled up as the Commonwealth Half Marathon Championships.

British Athletics Championships 2019 Review

The 2019 Müller British Athletics Championships was set for explosive action. Many athletes were racing not only for their country’s highest accolades. A place on the Great Britain team for the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha in a months’ time was also up for grabs. The surprisingly hot and windy conditions at the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham made qualifying times and positions even harder. 

Butchart Regains his 5K Title

After injury ruled Andrew Butchart out of the 2018 British Athletics Championships, he wanted to show his class in the 5,000m. Despite not running hard from the start, Butchart made a decisive (possibly pre-planned) long kick for the finish line with two and a half laps to go. Butchart’s impressive 2:28 last kilometre meant he finished in 13:54.29. He was the only man to run under fourteen minutes. Knowing that he had booked himself a spot at the World Championships, the Scot even showed off to the camera before officially claiming the title.

McColgan Claims First British Title

The race was even more emphatically won in the women’s 5,000m. Eilish McColgan dominated the race from the start, forging a sizable lead within the first lap. Perhaps, knowing that competitors such as Laura Weightman and Melissa Courtney were not at their best, McColgan ran a superb race alone. She never looked behind her shoulder. It was a gutsy performance and gave the 28-year-old her first British 5k title in a time of 15:21.38. It was more than fourteen seconds ahead of Jessica Judd in second place. 

Lively Sprinters Show Remarkable Quality

Expectations were high for Dina Asher-Smith, who has run so consistently well throughout the Diamond League season. She comfortably won her semi-final in 11.03 then broke her own Championship record from the previous year to record 10.96 and retain her 100m British title. Her dominant performance reminds her competitors to watch out in Doha.

After relative disappointment for Adam Gemili at narrowly missing out on the gold medal in the 100m men’s final, he came blasting out of the blocks for the 200m final. After the bend, Gemili maintained a strong arm drive, quick leg turnover and relaxed posture to comfortably win the title in a new championship record of 20.08. His huge grin showed how ecstatic (and most likely relieved) he was with such an outstanding performance, one that he so richly deserves.

Matthew Hudson-Smith also shone in his home city by clocking a season’s best of 45.15 and winning the 400m title comfortably. Despite recent injuries he is peaking at the right time for an opportunity to excel in Qatar’s capital.


There were so many outstanding performances over the sunny Bank Holiday weekend. But with the World Championships so close, athletes will either have to finish their last training or find another race to attempt to qualify for the event. There is still a lot more running to do before Britain can feel confident they can podium on one of the biggest stages of all.

London Diamond League 2019 Overview

The Müller Anniversary Games at the London Stadium, East London, was the tenth Diamond League meeting of the 2019 season. There were a lot of impressive performances, especially from the athletes of Great Britain, such as Lynsey Sharp winning the 800m and Dina Asher-Smith clocking another sub 11 seconds for second-place in the 100m.

Muir Triumphs on Home Soil Again

Laura Muir won another competitive 1500m race on a UK track with two of her training partners. After a cagey start, where no athlete wanted to push on, the speed was only evident come the last lap. Only the German Konstanze Klosterhalfen could even come close to matching the Scot’s strength and tenacity. But with 200m to go there was no doubt as to Muir’s victory. 

The slightly breezy conditions meant that Muir’s race strategy to kick late was perfect. It’s another confidence boost leading into the 2019 World Championships.

Local Athlete Excels

Laviai Nielsen, the multiple 400m relay medalist, was competing on her home track. Growing up “10 minutes away”, she felt the crowd urge her on. She started very quickly, and was leading going into the final turn of the one-lap race. Although she couldn’t keep her lead to the end, she finished third with a huge personal best of 50.83 seconds. She is also the fastest 400m British woman this season. She achieved this by “running her heart out”.

Norweigan Records Fall

In the men’s 5000m race the young Jakob Ingebrigtsen lined up against imperius East African competitors such as Ethiopia’s Hagos Gebrhiwet and Kenya’s Rhonex Kipruto. Ingebrigtsen stayed behind the leaders for three-quarters of the race but made his first move with three laps to go. He remained patient and made a decisive move with 600m to go. Although he wasn’t quite able to respond to Hagos Gebrhiwet’s final push, his performance was remarkable. His time of 13:02.03 was over six seconds quicker than the previous Norweigan record set over 15 years ago. It was the first senior national record for the charismatic Norweigan. At only 18 years old he continues to impress; his future will surely be littered with more records. 

Filip Ingebrigtsen followed his younger brother’s performance the following day with another national record. This time it was the mile. The 26-year-old lead during most of the final lap, but Ethiopia’s Samuel Tefera won by 0.15 seconds. Still, the Norweigan broke his older brother, Henrik’s five-year record by over a second.

Monaco Diamond League 2019 Overview

The second half of the Diamond League 2019 season continued at Monaco recently. Conditions were warm and windless in the city-state on the French Riviera. The glamour of the area was matched with some astonishing results.

Give Your Best Only When You Need to 

As focused as athletes should be on the start line of any race, it’s vital to stay tuned to the environment. This was demonstrated perfectly in the 400m men’s race. After a false start three athletes ignored the gun signalling the race had stopped. Before halfway, one athlete realised. But two continued running hard, unaware of the lack of competitors around them. 

Jonathan Jones of Barbados ran a personal best only for it not to be officially registered. Neither him nor Anthony José Zambrano of Columbia retarted the race. No wonder – their exertion had effectively rendered another competitive effort impossible.

Another Woman to Contend Sprints

Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas put a strong case forward for contention at the World Championships later in the year. Despite not leading for the first half of the race the Commonwealth 200m champion showed her strong stature as she powered along the final straight. In the process she beat Dafne Schippers and Elaine Thompson.

Miller-Uibo is the seventh woman to win either the 100m or 200m Diamond League race* this season. These performances show the depth of quality of female sprinters. But as it stands the World Championships schedule only allows athletes to compete in one of the two sprints. Decisions will need to be made. More importantly, top form must be reached in order to secure a medal.

World Records are Always Possible

Nijel Amos of Botswana showed once again how powerful he can be in the 800m, leading from the start. Although his form started to waver on the final straight, his time of 1:41.89 is less than a second away from the world record. His brave performance was his third Diamond League win of the season, establishing a new meeting record and world leading time.

As preparation for more to come, Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands broke the 23-year old 1- mile world record. After a relatively slow first half Hassan began to show her class. Whilst gritting her teeth and flailing her arms, her legs were metronomic. She recorded her final two laps in 61.93 seconds and 62.20 seconds to smash the field by over 5 seconds. Such is her form and confidence, Hassan even predicted a greater margin pre-race. It proves that even splits do not always get the best out of athletes, and that world records are always possible if athletes believe enough. It was an especially fitting performance in honour of Gabriele Grunewald

* Excluding non-scoring Diamond League races.

Lausanne Diamond League 2019 Overview

The Swiss city of Lausanne was the location of the eighth Diamond League meeting of the 2019 season. The headquarters of the International Olympic Committee are also situated there. In the warm 27 °C conditions there was every chance that the competition would heat up.

Self-Belief Extends Winning Streak

After winning all three previous Diamond League meetings this season, in Doha, Rome and Rabat, Salwa Eid Nasar was expected to dominate the one-lap event. She stormed out of the blocks and kept passing athletes on her outside as she approached the final straight. However, Aminatou Seyni of Niger in lane four closed on Eid Nasar, spurring her competitor on, before falling short by two-hundredths of a second. 

In running her season’s best the Bahraini 21-year-old also broke a 23-year-old meeting record, maintaining her dominance in the event. Her season has so far been near perfect, becoming the 400m Arab and Asian champion and improving her season’s best at every meeting she has won. She is certainly the woman everyone is aiming to dethrone.

Grit Sometimes Wins Out

The women’s 800m race was contested between Nelly Jepkosgei of Kenya and Halimah Nakaayi of Uganda. With 200m to go the two East Africans broke away and fought for top spot. Although inevitably strong athletes, their ambitions overwhelmed their thoughts. Their form and technique appeared to be secondary. Their heads shook, arms flailed and facial expressions were anything but relaxed. But both achieved a sub-two-minute time to impress the Swiss crowd.

Sadly, the Swiss athletes could only manage fourth, fifth and seventh on home soil.

Always Aim for the Right Mark

The consequences of not counting the laps you’re racing is that you misjudge your effort and lose the race. That’s what happened to Ethiopia’s Hagos Gebrhiwet in the 5000m. He shot off halfway through the penultimate lap, only to celebrate and stop. By the time he reacted to his competitors continuing to race he had lost all momentum. He finished in tenth place. What was most shocking was that he is an experienced middle-distance athlete, having won multiple medals at World Championships and taken victories at multiple Diamond League meetings.

Meanwhile in the men’s 200m event Noah Lyles stormed to his second victory of the Diamond League season after his 100m triumph in Shanghai. The charismatic American was looking for a time closer to 19.4 seconds, which he and his coach had been working on. But by focusing on excellence he still managed to finish in 19.5 seconds, winning by almost half a second. He also recorded a new personal best and world leading time in the process. Not only that, he achieved a new meeting record, usurping none other than Usain Bolt’s previous mark.

Stanford Diamond League 2019 Overview

Instead of Oregon’s city Eugene playing host to the seventh Diamond League meeting of the season, Stanford University in California was the location for the (Steve) Prefontaine Classic. Notable athletes shone in the sun at the halfway stage of the annual elite series.

Top Honours for American Men

Unsurprisingly there was much anticipation for how those on home soil would perform. Christian Coleman stormed to 100m victory in 9.81 seconds. Michael Norman extended his unbeaten form in the 400m race, by maintaining his speed during the last 100m, with compatriots completing the top three. Paul Chelimo’s effort in the two-mile event was also impressive, storming to second place in the last 150m to almost take victory. 

But it was Raj Benjamin who made the most impact on the Cobb Track. His consistency over the hurdles and strength over the final bend and straight meant he won the single-lap event by almost two seconds. Interestingly, he spoke post-race about focusing on technique rather than speed. For him, he proved that both are intrinsically linked.

New Sprint Name Emerges

Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare surprised an astonishingly fast field to win the 200m women’s race, in a season’s best of 22.05 seconds. Dina Asher-Smith, Elaine Thompson and Dafne Schippers could only watch on. The former Commonwealth Games 100m and 200m champion maintained a strong upright posture, and, with a high knee lift, broke the tape in lane eight. 

However, it was not as shocking as first thought. Okagbare’s 100m victory two weeks previous in Rabat against another sprint legend Marie-Josée Ta Lou showed her capacity to beat the best. These performances only add more intrigue to the upcoming World Championships in Doha.

Semenya Proves Her Dominance Again

The famous South African Caster Semenya extended her four-year winning streak at 800m races. It was her 31st consecutive victory over the two-lap event. She accomplished it with apparent ease. She lead from the front and even overtook the pacemaker early in the second lap.

Despite the ongoing controversial legal case with the governing body of the sport her athletic performances have been outstanding. Her 1:55.70 was almost three seconds quicker than anyone else and was a new meeting record. Afterwards it appeared as if she hadn’t even exerted herself that much. She remains the gold standard at the distance and it will be a massive shame if she doesn’t compete at the 2019 World Championships.

Rome Diamond League 2019 Overview

The Italian capital Rome played host to the fourth Diamond League meeting of 2019, last Thursday. More British superstars were challenging themselves early in the season and testing their recent block of training. Unfortunately the Brits had to settle for second place as the opposition outclassed them on the night. It is a reminder that the 2019 World Championships will be hard fought.

Asher-Smith Frustrated but Realistic

Despite beating double Olympic champion Elaine Thompson in last week’s Stockholm 200m race, the Jamaican got revenge in the 100m. Asher-Smith flew out of the blocks and was leading through halfway, but in the last 20-30m Thompson stayed composed and relaxed to win by 0.05 seconds.

Post-race, Asher-Smith reflected that she always aims to win races but this was her best start to any track season. After all, she has only produced sub-11-second performances five times and knows that she can still improve over the closing stages of the race. 

Muir Admits she can Run Faster

Unlike in Stockholm where Muir dominated the entire race, the 1500m field was much larger and more frantic from the start. Within the first 150m Muir had to hold off the pace to save herself from falling. This meant it took her longer to get to the front of the pack. By halfway she was in touching distance of the pair of Ethiopians, Dibaba and Tsegay. With 200m to go Muir took second place from Tsegay but could not overtake the current world indoor champion and current world record holder for 1500m.

Dibaba won by 2-3m but Muir should be proud – she was only a second behind her personal best. Post-race Muir admitted that she could run faster and that her training didn’t produce the results she feels she can. The important aspect is that the Scot has time to improve.

Pozzi Returns to Form 

Andrew Pozzi also had to accept second place, achieving a season’s best of 13.29 in the 110m hurdles. More impressive though is Pozzi’s admission of his mental health issues and the recent life-changing decision to move to the southern Italian city of Formia with legendary sprint coach Santiago Antunez.

His pursuit of greater success has meant he has only just begun his journey to reinvent his technique and speed.


It was a night to remember for the second-place finishers as USA’s Noah Lyles, accustomed to winning sprints, couldn’t quite overtake his compatriot Michael Norman at the line. However, at this stage of the season coming second is vital, if only to spur athletes on to win gold when the time comes.

Stockholm Diamond League 2019 Overview

The Swedish capital of Stockholm hosted the third Diamond League meeting of 2019 last Thursday. The windy and chilly conditions made the racing more challenging. But the quality field still shone considering it is so early in the track season.

Asher-Smith Triumphs Again

After her 200m victory in Doha (the first Diamond League meeting of 2019) British superstar Dina Asher-Smith produced another superb performance against more accomplished opponents. Asher-Smith was almost half a second faster than double Olympic champion Elaine Thompson and over half a second faster than multiple world champion Dafne Schippers.

Although still early in the season, Asher-Smith’s confidence will be rising with that world-leading time. As she explained post-race she must be able to win come September at the World Championships, as “the rest of the world will be [in better shape]”. But, knowing she can beat her rivals, at any time of the season, could be the boost that she needs to continue her outstanding form.

Muir Returns with Style 

Despite her bronze medal at the Westminster Mile late in May, where she never dominated the race, Laura Muir reverted to her front-running in the 1500m race. She stayed patient behind the pacemaker for half the race. Then with one lap to go Muir accelerated and won comfortably by over four seconds.

Muir’s training at altitude in St. Moritz, Switzerland, has already pleased the Scot. But as she mentioned in a recent interview she will need to remain smart with how she selects her races leading up to the World Championships in Doha. After all, she aims to win her first world outdoor track medal of her already impressive career.

McColgan Races Hard Despite Personal Challenges

Eilish McColgan returned to racing at 5000m after “feeling healthy again” and “a runner”. She ran strong throughout the 12.5 laps of the Stockholm Olympic Stadium, maintaining a quick cadence until the line. She finished seventh and was the first Brit home, beating some notable names such as Yasemin Can, Alina Reh and Anna Emilie Møller.

Most impressive is that McColgan demonstrated professionalism and courage. This, all in the aftermath of the shocking burglary of her precious medals from her property in Manchester.

World Relay Championships 2019 Review

The 2019 World Relay Championships last weekend was packed with drama. Unlike in usual athletics events, the constant baton changes between athletes proved the deciding factor in determining winners and losers. As a result the medals were never predictable despite the obvious world-class talent on display.

Reasons for Imperfections

 

Nations with the very best athletes, such as the USA, Jamaica and Great Britain, were surprisingly beaten in the big races such as the 4x 100m men’s relay and 4x 400m women’s relay. Nations such as Poland, Brazil and France claimed some top medals that rewarded their slick transitions and brave running.

  • Not only do athletes need to run fast, they need to work harmoniously with their teammates. This requires extra ‘thinking’ than simply running hard. A higher level of concentration is therefore needed, at a time when athletes have already exerted themselves a huge amount.
  • Athletes will have practised their baton changes many times and yet there were constant errors. This is because any slight changes in position or speed at the changeovers will affect the transition of the baton. Adjusting to any minor changes is crucial but far easier said than done.
  • The atmosphere inside Japan’s Yokohama International Stadium appeared electric at times. The silence before the starting gun sounded then the loud noise of the crowd during the race will have both motivated the athletes and enhanced their nerves, even for the most experienced athletes.
  • With over 600 athletes from over 40 nations across nine different events, the coordination from the organisers needed to be right. But the numerous physical bodies around the athletes would have been new to some of them, and so staying relaxed yet ready to pounce when the time came would have been different than in other individual races.

The 4th edition of the World Relay Championships produced intriguing performances. The event showcased great athletes like Elaine Thompson, the Borlée brothers and Noah Lyles.

But running fast is not always enough to win in a team event. Instead it is the teams that keep the transitions safe and the running consistent that often come out on top. Unsurprisingly, no championship records were set this year. Sometimes getting round the track without any mistakes is all that matters.

Virgin Money London Marathon 2019 Review

It was possibly the most competitive Virgin Money London Marathon in the 39 years of the iconic race. Sir Mo Farah and several notable East Africans were out to dethrone Eliud Kipchoge, whilst four amazing female athletes were vying for more glory in the UK’s capital.

Kipchoge is the Indisputable GOAT

For many, Eliud Kipchoge is considered the greatest marathoner of all time. The way that he can control marathoners from the front is remarkable. By winning his fourth London Marathon title he has won 11 of his 12 marathons to date, and 10th in a row. During the race his relaxed, seemingly effortless running technique and economy was a joy to see. So when he picked up his pace at the 40km mark, whilst also taking a quick drink, he demonstrated his superior class. His smile told everyone watching how phenomenal an athlete he really is. His time of 2 hours, 2 minutes and 37 seconds was the second-fastest marathon time (after his own world record), but his performance is second to no one.

The Best Marathoners are Getting Younger

Beside Kipchoge, this year’s race revealed the prominence of younger athletes. Traditionally, elite marathoners would race shorter distances on the track before advancing to the longer road races. Sir Mo Farah has done exactly that. But due to the lucrative prizes and accolades on offer, plus the fierce competition on the track, more athletes are transitioning to the marathon younger. Not only that, but they are proving that age isn’t synonymous with inexperience.

Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei became the youngest female winner of the London Marathon at the age of 25. This came after winning her first Major Marathon in Chicago last year at 24 years old.

Likewise in the men’s race the silver and bronze medals went to a 27- and 25-year-old respectively. Mosinet Geremew, the Ethiopian who was only 18 seconds behind Kipchoge became the second fastest marathoner of all-time. Kipchoge is over 7 years Geremew’s senior. This could indicate that the younger generation have the opportunity to surpass even the great Kipchoge over the next decade.

Negative Split Marathons Prove Successful

The top two men and and top six women clocked a faster second half of the race compared to the first. Not only did these athletes secure impressive times, they proved that to succeed athletes must always conserve energy during the first 13.1 miles.

Indeed the difference between the eventual winners and the runners-up was the extra speed and strength in the closing mile or so.

The different racing strategies on show supports this argument. Whilst the women’s race was relatively slow for the first half, the leading pack of men maintained a more even split. Regardless of how hard and fast an athlete runs during the race, if they can’t accelerate to a new speed near the end then they are unlikely to win. It appears that to become a champion you must be able to find a new gear even when you’ve already expended so much energy.

World Cross Country Championships 2019 Review

The 43rd edition of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships was set to be a memorable one. 520 athletes from 63 countries were competing for titles in the Danish city of Aarhus last Saturday.

The course, a 2km lap repeated multiple times, consists of constant undulations, with short sections of mud, water and sand. But the 10% gradient of a hill near the end is the true punishing test of strength and stamina.

 

Be in it to Win it

Despite the huge numbers of athletes from East Africa, it was a shame to discover that Belgium and the Netherlands decided against sending a team. Some could argue that due to the dominance of three African nations (Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda) there was little opportunity for others to realistically vie for medals. Indeed, as it turned out, 25 of the 27 medals on offer were scooped up by those impressive countries (Morocco and Japan also each won a medal).

Still, the spirit of running, and especially cross country, is the rich tradition of mass participation. Running is not always about winning but competing amongst fellow athletes. Conversely, to even stand a chance of winning, you need to be on the start line. After all, once the starting pistol sounds, anything could happen.

 

Challenging Sections Separate the Best from the Rest

Even amongst the very best athletes, the repetition of steep hills can be both a leveller and provide a clear advantage to those who have trained to cope with the leg-sapping terrain.

Some athletes slowed, and others powered up the climbs. From a technical perspective, the most efficient and fastest athletes were those who did not bend forward at the hip and maintained quick arm swings. Often these were the athletes that won medals.

 

Looks can be Deceiving

As the downhill sections of the course were just as steep, these became just as difficult to navigate as the uphills. Some athletes kept their running technique similar to when running on the flat. Others had their arms out and away from their body. This is an effective strategy to ensure balance and control of speed.

Hellen Obiri, the senior women’s champion, also demonstrated an odd but ‘natural’ technique. Throughout the race her body swung and her head rocked. Usually this would not be an ideal strategy. But the multiple indoor and outdoor world champion showed her superior strength and endurance. Conversely, it could be used to fool her rivals, as her technique can be misconstrued as fatigue.

Finally, Jakob Ingebrigtsen was Europe’s best chance of a medal. But in the U20 men’s race he could only manage a 12th placed finish. His collapse at the end of the race summed up how the East Africans are still miles ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to running on uneven, grassy, mostly dry ground.

NYC Half Marathon 2019 Review

The 14th edition of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon was the biggest event in its history. Over 24,000 runners took to the streets of New York City last Sunday. There were also 9 Olympians on show as they made their way from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

Despite the chilly early morning conditions, the racing was set to be hot as the winners would be bagging $20,000 each. The current world record holder for the half marathon, Kenya’s Joyciline Jepkosgei, was looking to dominate the American field. This included 2018 Boston Marathon champion Des Linden.

The men’s race was more open, with quality American track runner, Paul Chelimo, debuting at the distance and pitting himself against relatively unknown East African distance runners.


Believe you’re Untouchable

 

Jepkosgei’s pedigree is well-known. She reigns supreme over this distance, so no one expected the undulating course to pose much trouble for her. She was looking to replicate the superior performance that Mary Keitany produced to win the NYC Marathon late last year.

Her relaxed, bouncy stride appeared comfortable as she kept in the lead pack for the first 10k. When she broke away, her strong arm swing helped make the most of her substantial power-to-weight ratio. She kept her focus and eyes on the road ahead, and easily took victory by 60 seconds in 1:10:07.

 

Don’t Look Back in Anger

 

After a relatively slow start, Eritrea’s Daniel Mesfun forged ahead after the first mile. The 31-year-old had already won two half marathons in 2019 and has said he is looking to win the Boston Marathon next month. He made his intentions very clear after less than 10 minutes.

His short, powerful, flat-footed stride and bared teeth suggested that Mesfun was close to his limits. His lead was healthy, which built to as much as 22 seconds at the 15km mark. But he could not disguise his constant looking over his shoulder and several clutches of his stomach. It appeared that he was hoping to hold on to his lead by sheer determination and grit. In the closing stages, as Mesfun inevitably slowed, his rivals prepared their moves.

Many thought it would be the 5,000m specialist, Chelimo, who openly admitted that his recent 100+ mile weeks, and 22-mile long run had prepared him for victory. Although Chelimo did finish strong he could only finish third. Instead it was Belay Tilahun of Ethiopia, who stole the show. Not originally included in the elite field, it was a surprise to find him beside Mesfun with half a mile to race. Then the Ethiopian powered forward, winning by 6 seconds in 1:02:10.


The race illustrated how crucial it is for training to be targeted to the race (unless the race is being used as a tune-up for a more important upcoming race). Outward confidence, from Chelimo and Mesfun, is not always enough if the race strategy doesn’t take into account other astute competitors. Still, as Jepkosgei showed once again, when an athlete focuses on one distance, the outcome can be richly rewarding.

Vitality Big Half 2019 Review

Both the men’s and women’s races were stacked with talent for the second year of The Vitality Big Half.

This already popular event is also the British Half Marathon Championships. But many of the elite runners were testing themselves for the upcoming Virgin Money London Marathon.

As the race unfolded last Sunday, appearances were deceiving, not least because of the strong winds across London.


Sir Mo Wins Second Title in a Row

Expectation was high as is always the case when Farah takes to the streets of London. He quickly established his place in the leading pack once the gun had sounded.

Surprisingly, around the 5-mile mark Farah appeared to be struggling, falling behind his training partner Bashir Abdi and Kenya’s Daniel Wanjiru by 10m. He clutched his stomach and spectators feared the worst. But this blip lasted less than 5 minutes. For the remainder of the race Farah was locked together for the title, until the last 100m, when the sprint finish began.

Farah won by a mere second. But the way he dealt with the brutal conditions and challenging sections shows just how well he can still triumph over adversity.

 

Purdue Comes from Behind to Retain Title

Steph Twell, full of confidence from recent victories at the Armagh 3k  and Chichester 10k, pulled away from her female competitors before the 5-mile mark. She maintained a strong pace in a large group of male runners.

For miles Charlotte Purdue was running alone, battling the wind without any protection from other runners. But she continued to work hard, and with self-belief she would soon chip away at the lead. After 53 minutes at the 10-mile mark, Purdue did overtake Twell, who was slowing. Purdue never let up, running beside and then overtaking male club runners to retain her title and finish in 1:10:38.

She maintained an even pace throughout, which proved to be the best strategy on such a blustery morning.


London saw the best of British half marathon runners compete in far from ideal conditions. But the experience of past champions proved successful. The advice after watching this event is to stick to a race plan. Even if you find yourself alone, it can be easier to judge your effort without distractions. Otherwise you can get carried away with faster runners and find you haven’t the speed endurance or leg strength to end the race strong.

European Indoor Athletics Championships 2019 Review

The 35th edition of the European Indoor Athletics Championships was set to be a thrilling 3-day event. Superstars of European athletics were on show throughout last weekend in Glasgow’s Emirates Arena, including double-defending champion Laura Muir, the three Ingebrigtsen brothers and the enigmatic Karsten Warholm.

The home crowd had huge expectations for Team Great Britain, and the 49 athletes selected would not disappoint.

 

Peak Performance Requires Discipline

 

For many of the competitions there were two or three rounds before the medalists were decided. In less than three days, athletes would be racing multiple times with relatively little recovery. This was even more evident for Laura Muir and Jakob Ingebrigtsen, who were both competing in the 1500m and 3000m events.

Muir raced in the 1500m heat hours before she won 3000m gold. Although she won both races, she controlled the pace from the front to qualify for 1500m final with relative ease. Two days later she admitted she recovered well, storming to a historic double-double. It is a reminder of her superior class, and reminiscent of Mo Farah’s Olympic double-double outdoors (5000m and 10,000m).

Filip Ingebrigtsen, the middle brother of the amazing Norwegian middle-distance family, sadly became an example of ill-discipline. He was focusing solely on the 1500m, which allowed him to qualify for the final with ease, saving himself for a big push to beat his younger brother Jakob. But with just over two laps to go (400m) Filip forced his way passed a competitor on the inside lane. He stepped outside of the track and was later disqualified. His rush to get to the front and win the race was unnecessary; he was fast enough to qualify and yet a lack of patience cost him a place in the final, and most likely a medal.

Less severe were Jakob’s two heats (one for the 1500m and one for the 3000m), in which he wanted so desperately to win that he surged throughout to cover his competitors’ moves. Although he won gold in the 3000m final, his silver in the 1500m final the following day was most likely the result of cumulative fatigue. Still, he could have helped himself out by not running so hard in the heats.

As the legendary Steve Cram reflected in commentary, it is more difficult to recover from races with constant changes in pace, than it is of a steady pace. However, it must be said that Jakob’s accomplishments so far, at the tender age of eighteen, bode extremely well for the future.

 

Character Shines through for Gold Medallists

 

Athletics is a special sport. It is tactical and intense, but it is also individual. Glasgow was awash with gold medallists who more than anything else showed their unique personalities and dominant racing styles.

  • GB’s Muir bares her teeth during the final lap as she acelerates from the rest of the field.
  • GB’s Oskan-Clarke uses her muscular physique and strong front-running to make overtaking her a challenging prospect.
  • Norway’s Karsten Warholm unleashes his incredible leg speed and free-flowing form, all while remaining calm in his facial expression; his humorous and extroverted nature also come alive on camera post-race.

These athletes show that to win one must train and race smart, and feel confident in one’s natural strengths. This makes other athletes fearful. Having a relaxed and humble manner undoubtedly helps.

Grand Prix Athletics in Birmingham 2019 Review

The IAAF World Tour came to Birmingham last Saturday. The experienced international field were all looking to make their mark on the upcoming year with world leads. The competition was intense and ambitions high. But the overriding theme of the event was that others can truly make you run faster.

 

Oskan-Clarke Muscles to Victory Again

 

In the 800m women’s race Briton’s Shelayna Oskan-Clarke again proved her outstanding current form. After becoming national champion she was the woman to beat.

She ran fast to the break in the lanes, and led the pack. Despite Adelle Tracey’s three attempts to pass her on the outside, Oskan-Clarke accelerated just enough to keep in front up to the final straight. Then, when all her competitors appeared to slow, Oskan-Clarke had the strength and stamina to secure her second victory in a week.

She used her superior musculature and characteristic grit to remain unsurpassable. She feels she can get quicker too.

 

Ethiopians Dominate the World

 

In the 1500m men’s race Samuel Tefera and Yomif Kejelcha weren’t focusing solely on winning. They were looking to secure a world indoor record. Kejelcha led his fellow countryman after 1,000m when the pacers moved aside. Their arms drove strongly and quickly as they reeled off lap after lap. Only halfway along the back straight of the final lap did Tefera overtake Kejelcha. He then cut back sharply to the inside lane and powered to the finish line. He recorded 3:31.04, only 0.14 seconds quicker than the great Hicham El Guerrouj’s 1997 previous record.

The two Ethiopians, along with the crowd, made the record possible. Tefera is only 19 years old, and Kejelcha, who only just missed out on an indoor world record for the mile last week, is only 21 years old. These athletes are special and if they continue to run together (and inadvertently pace each other) they will surely be the next generation to make their lasting mark on middle-distance running.

The most promising feature of the race was Tefera’s reaction after the race; he looked calm and was able to jog the victory lap as if he hadn’t given all he had.

 

Laura Muir Continues to Excel

 

The final race of the meet was the women’s mile. Although Laura Muir said pre-race that she was prioritising victory, commenters speculated about a new national record.

After 800m the pacer left and Muir was running without competition. Concentration was high, and during the final two laps you could see that Muir’s legs and arms were working hard to supersede her recent training successes. She stumbled to the ground after she crossed the line from the extreme fatigue.

Muir finished the mile in the third fastest time ever of 4:18.75, breaking a 31-year British record. The home crowd were on their feet, cheering loudly for most of the race. Everyone played a part in her astonishing performance.

British Indoor Athletics Championships 2019 Review

The 2019 British Indoor Athletics Championships, held in Arena Birmingham last weekend, showcased the best of British athletics. The two-day event did not disappoint.

There were so many heats, semi-finals and finals that coverage was non-stop throughout Saturday and Sunday afternoon.

There were storming wins for Laura Muir (in the 3000m) and Tom Bosworth (in the 5000m walk) alongside tight races in the 60m men’s hurdles (David King crowned champion), 1500m men’s (Neil Gourley crowned champion) and the 800m women’s (Shelayna Oskan-Clarke crowned champion) races.

But what impressed me most was Asha Philip’s 60m races on day one.

What shocked me most was how some superstars of the sport failed to win the gold medal, revealing how competitively strong athletics has become throughout Britain.

Composure is Crucial

 

In less than 5 hours Asha Philip, the five-time British Indoor 60m champion, raced three times. She not only won her heat and semi-final but had to contend with a relatively lengthy delay before the start of her final. The equipment needed testing and the athletes all stood around, trying to keep their muscles from cooling. Except for Philip, who sat on the edge of the track, waiting.

Relaxation personified. Then she got up and steadied herself.

She won the final in under a second, beating Rachel Miller, who looked strong throughout. The race didn’t start perfectly either for the Olympic and World Championship medalist.  But she didn’t panic. Up until the final 5 metres of the race Miller looked set to win, but at the line Philip’s superior upper body strength and fast leg turnover ensured her fourth straight national title.

Nothing can be Taken for Granted

 

There were some big names that failed to obtain a medal at these national championships.

  • Andrew Robertson and Richard Kilty (60m)
  • Eilidh Doyle and Meghan Beesley (400m)
  • Lynsey Sharp (800m)

Other senior athletes such as Elliot Giles (1500m), Andrew Butchart (3000m) and Guy Learmonth (800m) had to settle for the minor medals, when their track pedigree had been predicted to shine through.

Although it must be said that experienced athletes may not have been prioritising their training to peak for this event, it reminds us that past performances never guarantee future success.

There will always be others who are prepared to pounce on any weakness. To win (and keep winning) a runner not only needs to give everything they have. They also need to have prepared themselves rigorously for the challenge for those minutes, and often final seconds, when it all counts. Regardless of your talent and work ethic, no runner can take a victory for granted.

Great Stirling Cross Country 2019 Race Review

Although cold, conditions in central Scotland last Saturday were dry. 

Coupled with the fast, flat (for the most part) golf course, the Simplyhealth Great Stirling Cross Country races suited track runners best. 

The 3-team competition may not have resulted in a massive field of runners.

But the rivalries were evident and promised intense racing over distances of 6km, for the women, 8km, for the men, and 4x 1,500m for the mixed relay.

Cross-Training Improves Racing

 

The most impressive performance of the meet was Elena Burkard’s 5-second victory in the women’s race.

The German’s patience during the first three laps meant she could attack the leader, GB’s Charlotte Arter, soon into the final lap. 

Burkard replicated her triumph over Arter in the recent European Cross Country Championships.

Her posture and wide arm drive never faltered as she navigated the grassy fields.

More intriguing is the interview Burkard gave post-race. 

She trains at cross country skiing camps. 

She has learnt that to protect herself from injury she must train smartly. 

Cross-training helps her maintain fitness and develop leg strength without the stressful pounding of excessive running. 

Even though she admits she is poor at this winter sport, it obviously works as a supplementary activity.

Knowing the Route Beforehand Matters

 

During two of the three races, some athletes ran in the wrong direction. 

Hillary Bor, in the men’s race, was still able to win the race, although by less than a second. 

In the mixed relay, the US athlete on the second leg effectively lost her 50m lead due to her decision to veer off course.

Extra marshals positioned at specific points on the course would most likely have eradicated confusion. 

However, the mistakes highlight an important issue. 

All athletes should understand the race course well enough to navigate it alone. 

If there is any uncertainty before the race, then clarity should be sought from the organisers. 

The consequences can mean the difference between winning and losing.

Familiarity with Hills Builds Strength

 

The only testing hills on the course were an incline after the first 100m, and one at the end of each lap. 

Although steep, both are short. 

These stretches give the stronger, more technically superior athletes the edge. 

On the final laps, during every race, the eventual winners would take their chance to power uphill. 

They would gain both greater momentum and lead over their rivals.

This is a predictably effective strategy, as hill running is notoriously tiring. 

If the athlete is primed for this challenge they have the ability to break their opponents. 

Burkard in the women’s race, and Muir in the mixed relay, demonstrated the greatest willingness and correct technique. 

They appeared to make light work of the otherwise hellish sections of the course.

The format of the competition, with athletes vying for individual and team glory (with either Team USA, Great Britain or Europe) is an exciting addition for spectators. 

However, unsurprisingly, with more countries to select from, Europe are never likely to be threatened for the team trophy.

Elite Champions at 2018 European Cross Country Championships

Conditions in the southern city of Tilburg in the Netherlands was as expected for cross country running – muddy, wet, rainy, windy and cold.

But, despite some athletes slipping and falling, the settings did nothing to prevent the athletes from competing hard over compelling distances, ranging from 4 to 10km.

Winners Focus

All the eventual winners had nothing on their minds other than navigating the undulating, winding course as efficiently and as quickly as possible.

They never panicked, whether they had competitors beside them for the majority of the race, or found themselves forging ahead alone, stringing out the rest of the field. The champions also waited for the most crucial times to give their best effort; often over the final bend and straight.

These performances were highlighted further by the immature actions of Ouassim Oumaiz, the U20 Spaniard, who despite finishing second spent sections of the race talking, looking back, and even slapping the hand of Jakob Ingebrigtsen.

As a coach, I reflect on two matters; if he had concentrated more on his own pacing, he could have reduced the nine-second victory of Ingebrigtsen, and, better secured his silver medal, because on another day Serbia’s Elzan Bibic could have made up his two-second deficit.

Position Matters

Every race began with athletes sprinting the 200m straight across the mud flat to the opening of the woods. Cross country, by its nature, is fiercely competitive as tight corners and uneven surfaces mean every step must keep athletes balanced, and every position counts for individual and team glory.

Norway topped the medal table with three golds, helped in huge part by the contribution of the Ingebrigtsen brothers. Although Team GB could only manage team medals, they finished the day with the largest haul of any nation, revealing once again the depth of athletic talent that lies in the United Kingdom.

Believers Succeed

I predicted before the championships that Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen and Turkey’s Jasemine Can would defend their titles. I also suspected that a new champion would be crowned in the senior men’s race, simply due to the extraordinarily strong field.

I was proven right, but the reason is more pronounced in the U23 champions, France’s Jimmy Gressier and Denmark’s Anna Møller. They displayed the belief of champions, accepting their roles as pre-race favourites, running to their strengths – Gressier fast, pushing the pace the entire race, and Møller strategic, waiting for others’ to fatigue before making her final move.

4 Reasons for the New 2018 World Half Marathon Record

When the date for the 28th Valencia Half Marathon finally arrived in late October, there should’ve been no doubt that the world half marathon record was under threat.

Kenya’s Abraham Kiptum lowered the eight-and-a-half-year mark by five seconds, recording 58:18. But it wasn’t just the flat course that ensured a spectacular result in Spain’s third largest city.

#1 Special Conditions

The course is perfect for running fast not only due to the absence of hills, but also the relatively few changes in direction, beautiful weather and remarkable history of the event. Since 2017 Valencia has been home to the women’s world record for the half marathon, both in a mixed gender race and women-only race.

Not only does Valencia name itself ‘The Running City’, hosting over fifty running events in 2018 alone, the half marathon is recognised by the IAAF as gold label. The strict conditions of this highest honour include international elite athletes, anti-doping testing and broadcasting of the event.

The lesson for all runners is to make the most of excellently organised and well supported running races, as they can empower better performances.

#2 Competitors Slowing

As runners passed 10km the lead pack suddenly lost the impetus to push on. But Kiptum knew that if he was to win this was the time to strike. His surge proved how strong the Kenyan felt, knowing instinctively that he could maintain sub fourteen minute 5km splits over the second half of the race.

Refusing to lead for the first 10km would certainly have eased him into the race, conserving slightly more energy than his rivals.

The lesson for all runners is to use the first half of a race to measure feeling. If strong, then increase the pace gradually to the end.

#3 Efficient Stride

Kiptum’s running form was particularly prominent throughout his world record performance. His bouncy, long stride and high knee lift suggested a rhythm that was efficient and relatively comfortable. His hips stayed high, which revealed his impressive core strength. His arm swings were driven and his eyes fixed on the road ahead.

Despite his serene movements, Kiptum demonstrated intense concentration and bravery to tackle the feat.

The lesson for all runners is to focus on developing and maintaining a solid foundation of core strength and stability. This will aid the body to deal with the relatively high impact of running lots of miles.

#4 Excellent Recent Performances

Kiptum’s 2018 had included a marathon win in Daegu back in April, and a second place finish in Copenhagen’s half marathon in mid September. The breakthrough year would’ve built the Kenyan’s confidence, so winning would have certainly been at the forefront of his mind. As long as he ran steadily, his training would’ve given him the knowledge that anything was possible.

With nine other Africans finishing in under an hour, if Kiptum had faltered others would’ve pounced.

The lesson for all runners is to use any positive training runs or races as inspiration whilst performing.

Waiting to Pounce at 2018 NYC Marathon

New York City held a mild, windless marathon this year.

The eventual winners employed the most effective strategies on the day, keeping their composure when competitors continued to test them, finishing strong.

Steady Start Helps those with Greater Capacity

Before the marathon I predicted that it would be extremely difficult to beat Mary Keitany. Not only had she won the event three times before but she is undoubtedly one of the greatest female marathoners ever, alongside the UK’s Paula Radcliffe.

The race began with a huge pack, and stayed that way for the first half of the race, which was completed in 1:15:50. If the pace had continued it would’ve meant a relatively slow winning time (Kenya’s Edna Kiplagat’s 2011 performance of 2:28:20 was the most recent winning time that would have been slower).

But, unsurprisingly twenty runners soon became eight as the pace steadily increased. Keitany began to lead the pack, but soon Rahma Tusa of Ethiopia and Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya surged. A 10-second gap quickly appeared. Only Keitany stayed with them.

Keitany had the impetus to keep the pace fast. Cheruiyot fell back, then Tusa had to let Keitany go. By 30km Keitany had begun her ‘victory lap’. She didn’t need to look back; the gap was growing with every stride.

She broke her competitors by running three consecutive 5km splits under 16:30. Her efficient stride, short, powerful arm swings (similar to Juliet Chekwel) helped her to win by over three minutes and record the second-fastest course time.

Know One’s Limits

It’s easy to comment that some of the athletes should have pushed the early pace to keep Keitany from running a huge negative split (she ran the second half of the race more than fifteen minutes faster than the first half). But every athlete needs to run their own race strategy. The relatively comfortable early pace meant that Americans Stephanie Bruce, Brittany Charboneau and Desiree Linden could all front run for short periods.

The danger is that by attempting to keep with a superior runner, as Tusa did, runners can compromise their race. Overstretching, especially during a marathon, can lead to a loss of a podium finish. Alone, Vivian Cheruiyot could run at the pace she needed during the last miles, finishing strong in second. The American Shalane Flanagan, last year’s champion, could also run within herself, eventually breaking away from the chase pack and completing the podium. Tusa faded, finishing in fifth position.

The experiences of Cheruiyot and Flanagan, who are both in their thirties, ensured that they kept a tight grip on the top placings.

Always Have More to Give for the End

Whilst the elite women made their move just after the halfway mark, the men’s race was decided in the final mile.

The elite field was strung out in a line by 5km, with Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa and Shura Kitata, and Kenya’s Tamirat Tola and Geoffrey Kamworor pushing the pace.

As the race progressed Kitata held the lead, but couldn’t break away. The frequent undulations kept the runners together until 35km, where Tola couldn’t respond to the surge from Kamworor.

Pre-race I believed the defending champion would be too strong for the Ethiopians, and like Keitany, was conserving energy before his fast finish. When Kitata fell back during the last mile, it seemed the Kenyan had only one competitor left. But it was Kamworor who couldn’t maintain, with Kitata fighting back and pushing his training partner and fellow countryman to the end.

Desisa had deceived everyone, quietly keeping back so that he could give his all when it was most needed. The Ethiopian, who had attempted to break the two-hour marathon last year with Eliud Kipchoge, had finished in the top three on three other occasions, and at the finish line his delight was clear to see.

Pacing, Surging and Pain at 2018 Great South Run

The 29th year of the Great South Run was billed as a battle of the Brits.

In the women’s race, Eilish McColgan, Scottish middle-distance track specialist, was running the longest distance race of her career, competing against defending champion Gemma Steel and in-form Steph Twell. 

In the men’s race, Andy Vernon was out to stop long-time rival and friend Chris Thompson from winning his third consecutive title.

Every athlete had their concerns, mostly fatigue due to recent races, but there could be no excuses. Portsmouth laid out ideal running conditions for the 10-miler with little wind and even some warmth.


Surge at the right time to test your competitors

The top women were together at 10km until Twell surged. She looked determined as she pushed the pace, quickening her leg turnover. Steel couldn’t respond, and for the next mile it looked as if McColgan was almost beat. But she hung on, and by 8 miles they were side by side again. At the start of the final mile McColgan turned the tables on Twell and made a decisive move. Her lofty, bouncy stride was majestic as she stormed to an impressive victory.

Vernon executed a similar tactic to Twell, trying to break Thompson early in the race. By 5km through to 10km Vernon was staying ahead of Thompson. But no discernible gap had formed, so when Thompson surged before 7 miles, Vernon couldn’t respond, and instead focused on maintaining second place.

Don’t show your best move too early

It’s easy to think that Twell and Vernon made a tactical error, forcing the pace early in the race. However, when you consider that McColgan had never raced beyond 10km, and Thompson felt heavy in his legs from the recent win at the Great Scottish Half Marathon in late September, Twell and Vernon were smart.

The problem was McColgan and Thompson had that slight advantage in persistence and endurance that the 10 mile distance requires.

Although it appeared to play into McColgan and Thompson’s hands, if they had any weaknesses, the strong pace early on would have given them too much to claw back. As it was, McColgan and Thompson not only dealt with the early leaders’ surges, they had the superior strength to counter-surge when Vernon and Twell were starting to fatigue from their unsuccessful breakaways.

Pain is easier to take when achieving your goals

David Moorcroft, the former 5,000m world record holder, remarked in commentary that pain is more bearable when winning. This was certainly the case for both champions; visibly fatigued but still running strong and fast during the final mile of race.

But their efforts were rewarded with new personal bests and impressive victories; Thompson gaining his third successive title and McColgan following in her mother’s two victories in the mid-1990s.


Although the 20,000+ recreational runners weren’t able to experience the highs (and lows) of running at the front, they could execute similar strategies to the elite field.

Runners should play to their strengths; if they know they can endure (and not slow in the final stages of the race), then they must be disciplined early on. If, however, they feel their speed is their best attribute, then getting through two-thirds of the race at a fast pace can allow sheer determination to kick in until the finish.

Either way, runners must embrace the pain of muscle soreness and keep believing that the end is in sight. After all, a new personal best is never that far away when the conditions are right.


4 Reasons Mo Farah Won 2018 Chicago Marathon

Mo Farah won the 41st Chicago Marathon earlier this month. The field was full of top elite athletes, but the Brit’s triumph wasn’t all that unexpected when you consider the context of his career to date.

#1 He Never Panicked

For the first half of the race, the lead pack contained no less than 13 runners. They sensibly spread out when they arrived at the water stations to avoid any drama over hydrating. But they soon rejoined, changing leaders only when necessary. However, for many of these early miles, Mo was content to stay at the back of the pack.

He appeared to take no interest in his competitors’ moves. He was instead focusing on conserving energy and sticking to his race plan.

#2 His Strong Finish

As the race developed, the lead pack dwindled to nine, six, then four, until Mo was competing against only Mosinet Geremew of Ethiopia. But unlike the rest of the field, Mo could make the very most of his track pedigree. He waited until as late as he could before leaving the young Ethiopian behind to sprint across the line.

As the commentators revealed during the race, Mo’s coach had made him focus more on his ‘long tempo runs’ near or at race pace. These strength-building workouts undoubtedly ensured that Mo could use his famous fast finish to great effect.

#3 His Hunger to Win

Mo’s desire to win is well documented. He so infrequently loses races that the marathon distance would have come to him as a relative surprise. His two other London Marathons (eighth in 2014 and third in 2018) were not acceptable to a man with the highest standards.

His wife’s delight shortly after Mo completed his 13-second victory captured the moment perfectly; for an incredible athlete, there are still more astonishing race stories to live.

#4 Winning a recent Half Marathon

A month before the Chicago Marathon, Mo won one of the largest half marathons in the world, the Great North Run, for a fifth consecutive year. In his familiar style he stayed relaxed throughout and powered his way passed any competitors brave enough to stay with him for over 90% of the race distance.

Although his victory was a likely outcome, it must have given him a lot of confidence going into the marathon. His performance was only 4 seconds off his personal best time on the course.


Mo Farah deserved to win his first marathon, and break the European marathon record, because of his extensive (and specific) training, and gutsy race strategy. The biggest surprise was that pre-race I wasn’t confident he would beat a rather fast field of athletes.

Mo demonstrated yet again why he is still the greatest British male runner, with his ability to continually reign supreme.



3 Lessons from 2018 Commonwealth Half Marathon

The 15th year of the Cardiff Half Marathon acted as the inaugural Commonwealth Half Marathon Championships. The event was packed with talent and numbers, but there were three important pieces of advice demonstrated throughout the 13.1 miles.

#1 Execute an Individual Race Plan

In the men’s race the story was dominated by five Africans competing against the Australian Jack Rayner.

However, even from the early miles the four Ugandans and Kenyan struggled to settle. They frequently exchanged positions, veered across the road, and accelerated suddenly only to soon be rejoined by the lead pack.

They could have been forgiven due to nerves, but surprisingly this erratic behaviour continued throughout the race. Despite the Africans’ impressive mile splits their surges and glances over to one another were a constant distraction. As I watched the televised coverage I imagined the coach of the Ugandan athletes confused and annoyed; they appeared to run with a lack of composure and self-assurance.

I wonder whether the team title (which they won emphatically with their four runners finishing in the top six) was their priority because they had used up all their reserves, unable to respond to Rayner’s timely surge over the final section.

Rayner’s strategy of staying at the back of lead pack, concentrating on a smooth rhythm and not getting drawn into competitors’ tactics secured him the win.

#2 Stay Focused throughout the Race

In contrast to the men’s race, Juliet Chekwel lead almost from the start line, never looking back and pacing herself consistently. After each 5km she dropped only 3-4 seconds per mile on her overall average pace. She ran alongside top male club runners for long stretches, then later by herself.

Like Rayner though, the Ugandan focused on her own race, pumping her arms across the body in a powerful lifting motion, which reminded me of a boxer practising uppercuts. Her head was still and relaxed, with her mouth slightly open, taking advantage of her lofty stride.

As Tanni Grey-Thompson, the decorated former paralympian, observed during the race Chekwel was “running on feel”. This performance was all the more astonishing because it was the longer distance race she had completed. Her running future appears bright.

#3 Running is a Demanding Sport

Sadly, soon after the event finished news broke that two runners had passed away. Two men under the age of 35 lost their lives, with cardiac arrest the causes.

Although these men had varying training histories, it remains true that regardless of athletic experience death is always a possibility during exercise.

Running is highly impactful and requires the heart to work efficiently and in synergism with every other system in the body.

This tragic news should remind us to never take the challenge of an endurance event for granted and that, if and when we feel pain in our chests during running we should seek medical assistance immediately.