Head to head

Who is the greatest marathon runner in the world? London will decide as Kipsang and Kimetto go head to head in this month’s London Marathon

• Aged 32, he has won eight marathons in his career.
• If he wins in London it will mark a hat-trick of triumphs in the English capital.
• He was crowned 2013-14 World Marathon Majors champion after winning in New York in November 2014.

• Aged 30, he came to marathon running late but has won three Marathon Majors.
• Recorded the fastest-ever debut marathon time when finishing second in Berlin in 2012.
• His record time in Berlin in 2014 saw him average 4.41.5 minutes per mile.

Kenyan superstars Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto are set to go head to head in the London Marathon – a race that could decide once and for all who is the greatest marathon runner in the world.

The legendary pair have known each other for many years, are training partners in the Kenyan town of Iten and have pushed each other to numerous victories and records in recent seasons. Kimetto, for instance, made history in 2014 when he broke Kipsang’s mark to set a new world marathon record of 2.02.57 in Berlin – becoming the first man ever to run the 26.2 miles in under two hours and three minutes..

Meanwhile, Kipsang kept up the pressure on his rival by triumphing in London and vowing to defend his title in 2015 – a promise he is set to stick by. Since then one of the biggest questions in athletics has become: Who is the king of the marathon? Kimetto? Or Kipsang?

You would have thought it would be possible to answer that question by looking at the pair’s head-to-head record. But remarkably, in all the time the dynamic duo have known each other, they have NEVER raced against each other in a major marathon. Until now. No wonder the 2015 Virgin Money London Marathon on Sunday 26 April – always one of the highlights of the marathon season – is one of the most eagerly awaited of all time.

A friendly rivalry
“I would love to join the London Marathon legends by winning a third title,” said Kipsang, who took the bronze medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

“London always has the best fields, but with Dennis in the line-up this year it promises to be a bruising battle. I certainly won’t give up my title without a fight, but let’s see who has the knock-out blow.”

They are fighting words from Kipsang, and although the pair enjoy a friendly rivalry there is absolutely no doubt that both are determined to go all out for victory.

“I broke Wilson’s world record in Berlin last year and now I want his London Marathon crown,” said Kimetto, who has never run the London Marathon before. “I am relishing the chance to face my friend over the famous course. I know it won’t be easy but I am confident I can go the distance whatever he throws at me.”

Winning in London is certainly a landmark in any athlete’s career. It was first run in 1981 and the race draws global attention as the route weaves its way past some of the most famous and iconic sites in the world, including the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace and the London Eye.

But having Kimetto and Kipsang going head to head makes this year’s event arguably the biggest of all time.

Virgin Money London Marathon race director Hugh Brasher said: “Having the current and former world-record holders in the same race, going stride for stride for the first time, is a real coup for us on our 35th anniversary, and a thrilling prospect for marathon fans.

“Wilson is familiar with our course and showed last year why he is already regarded as one of the greatest marathon runners of all time. But Dennis arrives as a history-maker after making headlines around the world a few months ago. It would take a brave man to predict which one will be left standing on 26 April.”

Other contenders in London include another Kenyan superstar, Emmanuel Mutai (runner-up to Kimetto in Berlin with the second fastest time in the world ever), Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele (a triple Olympic track gold medallist, and multiple world-record breaker), plus Kenyan challengers Eliud Kipchoge and Sammy Kitawara. In fact the field includes eight men in all who have run sub-2:05.

New world record?
So, with such a strong field, what chance of a world record in London as Kipsang and Kimetto go flat out?

“I could try to go for it in London,” admitted Kipsang. “It is a very nice course. Looking at the athletes who have been invited this time, if the weather is OK and if the guys are really ready to go for a fast time it’s possible to set a new world record on the London course.

“When strong athletes are put together and they have the desire and the passion to really push for a fast time, there is a great chance. So I think there is a good possibility I can win and maybe run faster than my previous time.”

Record or no record, some big issues will be decided on the famous streets of London, however. By the time the athletes reach The Mall under the watchful eye of Queen Elizabeth II in nearby Buckingham Palace, we may well know the answer to a vital question: Who really is the king of marathons in 2015?

The five fastest men entered in the 2015 London Marathon:
1     Dennis Kimetto     Kenya    2:02:57
2     Emmanuel Mutai     Kenya     2:03:13
3     Wilson Kipsang     Kenya defending champion    2:03:23
4     Eliud Kipchoge     Kenya    2:04:05
5     Ayele Abshero     Ethiopia     2:04:23

The womens’ race
A big battle ahead for the women too… It’s not only Kenya’s male athletes who have high hopes at the London Marathon – defending champion Edna Kiplagat heads a team of women going for glory too.

The 35-year-old, a two-time World Championship marathon star, will battle compatriots Mary Keitany, Florence Kiplagat and Priscah Jeptoo on London’s famous streets and is in no mood to give up her title.

“Winning last year was special,” she said. “It was a long while coming, as I finished in third place in 2011 and second in 2012 and 2013, so to claim victory in 2014 was important to me.

“Now I want to win again. But it won’t be easy. The line-up is made up of the cream of the world’s top women’s marathon runners. I know they will be fully prepared so I have to improve on my winning strategy of last year.”

It’s a big year for Kiplagat; she also plans to take part in the World Championships in China aiming to become the first athlete ever to win marathon gold three times.

The five fastest women entered in the 2015 London Marathon:
1     Mary Keitany     Kenya    2:18:37
2     Florence Kiplagat     Kenya     2:19:44
3     Edna Kiplagat    Kenya defending champion    2:19:50
4     Priscah Jeptoo     Kenya     2:20:14
5     Feysa Tadesse     Ethiopia     2:20:27

Double honours
Gold medals up for grab in wheelchair race
This year’s wheelchair race at the London Marathon will be even more keenly contested than usual – because it doubles as the IPC World Championships.

Organisers of the championships, which take place in Doha in October, opted to bring the marathon forward to London because the course is more suitable. It means that star athletes such as Great Britain’s six-time Paralympic gold medallist David Weir truly are going for medals and glory.

“Just a second separated the top three last year and I’m sure it’s going to go down to the wire again in 2015. It would mean a lot to get the record-breaking seventh win in London and win gold for the team,” said Weir.

London Marathon Facts
First-ever race – 1981
Race Founders – Chris Brasher/John Disley
Race Director – Hugh Brasher
Chief Executive – Nick Bitel
Start point – Blackheath
End point – The Mall
Official Charity – Cancer Research UK
Course Record:
Men: Wilson Kipsang – 2:04:29 (2014)
Women: Paula Radcliffe – 2:15:25 (2003)

Tips for spectators
Planning on watching the race live in London rather than on television? Read our FAQ’s:
What times does it start?
The wheelchair racers start at 9am and the marathon runners at 10.10am.
Where’s the best place to watch the race?
There are loads of vantage points all around the course, including some iconic sites. You can download an official spectator guide and find advice on the official website: http://www.virginmoneylondonmarathon.com/en-gb/event-info/spectator-info/
Where are the best places for someone in a wheelchair to watch the race?
Disabled spectators can watch the race on The Highway. The race passes along this road twice – firstly between mile 13 and mile 14 and then between miles 21 and 22.
Can I track runners during the race?
Yes, keep a note of their running number and log in to the official website on race day. It’s also possible to search for them by surname.
Will there be entertainment along the route?
There are bands, musicians and visual performers all along the route. It’s a party atmosphere in London!
How do I enter in 2016?
Online at www.virginmoneylondonmarathon.com from 4 May 2015.

Paula Radcliffe
It will be an emotional London Marathon for Great Britain’s Paula Radcliffe, 41, who has chosen the race as her very last before retirement. Paula has won the race three times and set the current world record there in 2003. Now she will be saying goodbye on the streets that made her famous.

Q Are you hoping to go out on a high, Paula?
“Obviously I won’t be able to run it in 2:15 again but I want to try to be competitive in it and run well.”
Q Was it always the plan to end your career with another London run?
”I just want to finish my career on my own terms. It would be nice to complete that full circle back to where I enjoyed my first-ever competitive run and to finish on a high.”
Q Will it be emotional?
“I guess it will. I grew up watching the London Marathon every year – it’s something that’s really, really important – and then I got the opportunity to take part in it. I have so many happy memories there, so it will be very emotional and a chance just to take it all in again.”
Q So why retire? Is this the end of Paula Radcliffe the runner?
As things evolve you can’t keep running at a competitive high level forever, and after my foot injury I didn’t think I would ever get this opportunity to be able to go back and train for and take part in the London Marathon. But by no means is it going to be the end of me running. Hopefully I’ll be running for a long time, but in terms of me preparing to give it my best shot on the day this may well be the last time I can do that.”

How to keep going in a marathon…
Our experts give some good advice for coping with the tough times during a race

“If you’re running a marathon for the first time, you should get some advice from someone with plenty of marathon experience. While it’s important to have a training programme, you must also listen to your body and make adjustments if you are very tired or worried you are about to become injured.”
Edna Kiplagat, Kenyan running star and London champion

“Everybody, whatever level you’re running at, will go through at least one difficult period in the race. It can come out of the blue, but it’s rarely in the first half of the race. Even when I’ve run a personal best I’ve still gone through rough spots. It’s important not to panic and to keep focused. Use little techniques to make yourself think about the moment, whether it’s singing to yourself, counting landmarks or counting in your head – anything. I used to count to 100 three times in my head and I knew that was roughly a mile. I found that helped.”
Paula Radcliffe British runner and world record holder

“I used to sing Eurythmics’s ‘Sweet Dreams Are Made of This’ because the beat of that is really good for maintaining a good average speed. Wheelchair racing is a bit more like cycling. It’s more like a stage race in the Tour de France, completely different to running the London Marathon. In wheelchair races you’re more likely to have a pack race and I would always try to stay in the pack, mainly because I was a stronger sprinter and I used to find racing on my own really hard. If I was on my own that’s when the Eurythmics song would come in.”
Tani Grey-Thompson, wheelchair racing legend who won London Marathon six times