How to sum up Mo’s debut? A successful maiden voyage into the unknown or a step too far? I had mixed feelings watching the London Marathon on Sunday, but I can’t profess to being surprised. As I wrote in the preview, Mo was running against arguably the strongest field the organiser’s had ever put together. But the real challenge was always going to be the run itself, concentrating on his own performance and comfortably nailing a debut at this distance.
I think it’s hard to criticize Mo’s decision to run the marathon. I got a bit annoyed at Brendon Foster’s dressing down when calling the race. Mo has world and olympic golds on the track and holds British records from 1,500m up to half marathon, why wouldn’t he want a new challenge testing himself at marathon distance? It doesn’t mean that he can’t run track in Rio in 2016 or indeed that he won’t win again at middle distance. Several commentators speculated that it was too early for him to make the transition, I disagree. He’s several years older than Haile when he made his debut (28) and the same age (31) as Bekele (more on that in a second). He’s won everything on the track so why not up the distance?
I think what we can say is that his debut in this race came too early. I think he was right to test himself against the distance. But maybe he’d have been better advised doing what Bekele did in Paris; choosing a race where he could concentrate on his performance, get a feel for the distance and achieve a time, not a win. And maybe that’s where the added pressure effected his race. I don’t think he did that much wrong physically, but rather the pressure got to him and one could observe that he made a couple of rookie (obvs he’s not a rookie I mean debutant) mistakes. Like missing a water station. Letting the media attention disturb his race plan; see frantic gesturing at TV bike in plea to call back his pace makers. His admittance was that he nearly dropped out at mile 17 if it weren’t for London’s support.
But did he do that badly? I don’t think so. Look at the company he finished alongside, only a few seconds behind Mutai G and Mutai E. Beating reigning olympic and world marathon champ Kiprotich… Contrary to general consensus conditions weren’t ‘perfect’. It was quite warm, several club runner’s I know complained of having to stop because of side stitches. Scott Overall commented that actually it was quite blustery, probably why Mo was asking his two pacers to come and run in front of him rather than 50 yards up the road! And let’s be honest he did a bit better than his track rival Ibrahim Jeilan who is still to complete his first marathon, according to the results ‘last seen’ at the 35km marker. I am going to say that so far as debuts go he did… ok.
How did Mo’s debut compare to the fastest marathon debuts in history? Erm well he doesn’t feature. But now neither does Haile who ran 2:06 in 2002. Here’s a top 10 for you:
1 2:03:06 Moses Mosop (KEN) Boston 2011
2 2:04:16 Dennis Kimetto (KEN) Berlin 2012
3 2:04:23 Ayele Abshero (ETH) Dubai 2012
4 2:04:32 Tsegaye Mekonnen (ETH) Dubai 2014
5 2:04:45 Lelisa Desisa (ETH) Dubai 2013
6 2:04:53 Bernard Koech (KEN) Dubai 2013
7 2:05:04 Kenenisa Bekele (ETH) Paris 2014
8 2:05:27 Tilahun Regassa (ETH) Chicago 2012
9 2:05:30 Eliud Kipchoge (KEN) Hamburg 2013
10 2:05:50 Evans Rutto (KEN) Chicago 2003
Couple of comments / observations here. Firstly Mosop’s isn’t officially recognized because it was run at Boston which is a point-to-point course. No horses involved, simply that the course has more downhills than uphills and hence more tailwind. Second observation is that bar Evans Rutto, all of the fastest marathon debut’s have been recent. Which means these guys are only going to get faster as they become more experienced. So add them to the list of world class marathoners – Mutai, Mutai, Biwott, Kebede and of course Kipsang. Lastly several of these runners have trained for the marathon distance and have focussed on the distance rather than gunning for faster track times before upgrading. An exception to the last point?
Quelle difference Monsieur Bekele. Oui Oui! Vainquer! Nouveau record! Yep that’s right. We may have a new force in marathon running. He did it on the track (still holds world records at 5k and 10k) and now he’s gone under the radar on his debut (as Mo maybe should have done) and won his debut marathon. In the 7th fastest debut of all time. In a course record. On a not so fast course. On a warm day, with hamstring cramps and stomach issues. Scary. Great call by Bekele to run Paris though with no spotlight, quiet focussed training, his own team of pacers. Chapeau. See you in Berlin.
To conclude. I’d like to see Mo run more marathons. Why not? He’s still got a British record to beat and he wasn’t that far off first time round, Steve Jones’s time of 2:07:13 only 1 minute and 8 seconds away. Let’s be honest it’s hard running a marathon. It must be even harder under the watchful eye of the British public and the 750,000 lining London’s streets. I think Mo could crack 2:04 at marathon distance. Give him a couple more attempts and some time to turn those fast twitch muscle fibres into slow twitchers. He’s not going to fear the distance now. So Mo, lace up your racing flats again please, we’d like to see another head to head with Kenenisa. And Kipsang. And the Mutai’s. And the rest of the Ethiopians…