London Marathon 2015 entry ballot: closed in a flash!

Does the London Marathon entry ballot toll for thee? (Photo: Adrian Pingstone / Wikimedia Commons)

Does the London Marathon entry ballot toll for thee? (Photo: Adrian Pingstone / Wikimedia Commons)

Are you in or out? The entry ballot for the 2015 London Marathon opened at midnight and was full at 9:50 this morning – a new record, say the organisers.

I’m in. Rather than try at the stroke of midnight when the marathon website was turning into a pumpkin, I waited until this morning and entered at my leisure, remembering that last year’s ballot was still open at lunchtime.

I was a bit surprised, then, to notice that the ballot closed only a few minutes afterwards. Phew!

According to free newspaper Metro, last year over 130,000 people entered the ballot for 35,000 places, so presumably a similar number tried their luck this morning. The results of the ballot will be released in October.

If I’m successful in this year’s ballot, then 2015 will be my first time running the London Marathon. But I won’t be heartbroken or anything if I don’t get a ballot place. For one thing, there are tour operators and charities offering places, so if I want it badly enough I can get it. (Others who have run a speedy spring marathon this year may yet qualify as being Good For Age.)

Also, I enjoy watching the London Marathon on television so much that I might actually miss that if I’m running in it. A marathon abroad means I miss out on my home comforts and trusted preparation routines. And in October when the ballot results come out I’ll be so focused on the Dublin Marathon that month that I won’t have space in my head to think or care about any other race.

One person who’s already focused on next year’s London Marathon, reports the Guardian, is none other than Paula Radcliffe. The women’s world record holder and three-time London winner is apparently targeting the 2015 race as the swansong of her stellar career – and a comeback from her injury-plagued recent years.

At 41 and out of competition for years, the doyenne of British long-distance running would hardly be a serious challenger to win. That said, if it comes to pass then Radcliffe’s reappearance in 2015 would rank with Mo Farah’s two participations (or one-and-a-half, strictly speaking) as another media coup and crowd-puller for the London Marathon.

So, if you make it through the ballot that’s one rival you could be up against. And perhaps I’ll be another. Bring it on, baby!

Posted in London, Marathon | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Boston Marathon 2014 – New England patriotism for Meb and Shalane

Men's results from the 2014 Boston Marathon (Image: Screen shot / Universal Sports)

Men’s results from the 2014 Boston Marathon (Image: Screen shot / Universal Sports)

The 2014 Boston Marathon was always going to have an all-American flavour, given the defiant local and national response to last year’s bombing.

And that’s how both elite races panned out, with the leading U.S. competitor running hard from the start in each – the emotion of the occasion setting the tactics as much as the traditional American love of Pre-style ‘pure guts’ front running over the calculation of ‘drafting’.

(The Boston Marathon is different from most major city marathons in not having designated pacers, so the main contenders will always be to the fore. However, there’s still a difference between a group taking turns at the front and a lone runner doing all the heavy lifting without ever dropping back to take a quick breather.)

But while local girl Shalane Flanagan fell short in her gutsy effort at winning the women’s laurels, Californian Meb Keflezighi held off the looming Wilson Chebet in a thrilling climax to become the first American winner of the men’s race in 30 years.

And perhaps Flanagan, 7th in her race, can draw some consolation from her finishing time of 2:22:02, over 3 minutes inside her old personal best and the fastest ever Boston Marathon run by an American woman.

...and the women's results from the 2014 Boston Marathon, with an honourable mention for Shalane Flanagan (Image: Screen shot / Universal Sports)

…and the women’s results from the 2014 Boston Marathon, with an honourable mention for Shalane Flanagan (Image: Screen shot / Universal Sports)

Also, let’s be frank – Flanagan faced a tougher challenge than Keflezighi. She was up against defending champion and Chicago Marathon winner Rita Jeptoo (no relation to the equally-fearsome Priscah) and the impressive Buzunesh Deba, second in her adopted-home New York Marathon last year.

Keflezighi, by contrast, had neither of the Mutais nor Wilson Kipsang to contend with, nor even a star debutant like Mo Farah or Kenenisa Bekele. The most fancied competitor in the men’s field was Dennis Kimetto, a 2:03 runner who won Chicago and Tokyo in 2013.

Flanagan took the women’s field through halfway in a tasty 1:09:27, just inside a 2:19 pace that would have cleared a jaw-dropping 6 minutes off her personal best. And the American did all this from the front, while Jeptoo and Deba were happy to sit on the bus and bide their time.

At 20 miles the inevitable happened. Flanagan couldn’t cover a surge by a group of five runners including Jeptoo and Deba, and fell like a stone back down the field.

Jeptoo kicked on again, this time decisively, around three miles from home to retain her Boston title in a new course record of 2:18:57 – the fifth-fastest women’s marathon of all time, notwithstanding Boston’s status as unratifiable for world record purposes. A minute later came Deba, just one second under 2:20 and also inside the old course record.

In the men’s race, Kimetto was never a contender – Keflezighi led the field through halfway in a steady but conservative 64:21, and then broke first with Josphat Boit and then by himself to build up a lead of almost a minute by the 21-mile mark.

But while the American churned out consistent sub-15-minute 5K splits, Wilson Chebet of Kenya was also working hard to close on him. Sensing danger from behind, Keflezighi almost turned a full 180 degrees at mile 24 to see that Chebet was now only around 15 seconds behind.

The tension in the last mile was almost unbearable. Keflezighi was still turning the legs smoothly but was clearly feeling the pain, and Chebet closed to within 8 seconds.

But then came the realisation that Chebet was more tired than Keflezighi. One more glance behind him confirmed to the American that he could enjoy the run-in on Boylston Street, as he clenched his fists and gestured to the crowd to claim a famous victory in 2:08:37.

Keflezighi’s front-running, gun-to-tape victory was enthralling and brave, and you can only beat what’s in front of you. But to put today’s race in perspective, Mo Farah’s much-criticised 2:08:20 for 9th in this year’s London Marathon would have won today’s men’s Boston Marathon by almost 20 seconds.

Still, it would be churlish to begrudge Keflezighi his win. Both he and Flanagan put in admirable performances today. After the tragedy of last year’s race, today’s Boston Marathon will electrify U.S. athletics and has enthralled a nation.

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Dublin Marathon 2014 – I’m in!

Dublin Marathon 2014

Click to visit the Dublin Marathon website

Sensational and surprising news – I’ve entered the 2014 Dublin Marathon!

This astounding development has been greeted with a wave of boredom among my people, who assumed I had already signed up long ago and simply took my participation for granted.

I see their point. This year’s Dublin Marathon, on the holiday Monday of 27 October, will be my 4th successive time running in this event, and my 5th time in all.

I love this race. Convenience is one reason, as it’s almost literally on my doorstep – mile 15 passes by the end of our road.

As well as providing the comfort of familiarity, the Dublin Marathon has always been well-organised, great value and runner-friendly. (The logistical and financial challenges of staging a marathon in the centre of a capital city are immense.)

The weather on Dublin Marathon day is usually ideal for running – every time I’ve competed, the day has been sunny and mild, with only a slight breeze. (In 2011 I finished before a freak heavy shower that soaked the 4-hour runners.)

Also, the support along the Dublin course is always fantastic. One of the most thrilling experiences in my running life was passing through a veritable street carnival at Chapelizod in the 2013 race – I swear I was a gear faster after it. And there are large and enthusiastic crowds too at Phibsborough, Dolphin’s Barn, the KCR in Kimmage, Terenure, Milltown and Ballsbridge. Leave your earphones at home and soak up the cacophony of cheering.

Speaking of the course, the laying of new LUAS tram lines in the city centre will result in changes to the early and late miles of the race, as Nassau Street and College Green will not be available. The marathon organisers will confirm the changes to the route in due course.

If you’re planning to run the Dublin Marathon for the first time, or if it will even be your very first marathon, you can check out my previous Dublin Marathon experiences.

As for me, I’ll continue with short races for the rest of spring – next up for me is the Terenure 5 Mile on 18 May, and I’ll probably throw in another parkrun or two as well.

Then, as soon as we hit the summer, I’ll start preparing for the Dublin Marathon – serious training combined with the traditional Race Series build-up of the Irish Runner 5 Mile, Frank Duffy 10 Mile and the Dublin Half Marathon, all in the Phoenix Park.

See you all in Dublin on 27 October!

Posted in Dublin, Marathon | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Rock stars running marathons: Bernard Butler, 2014 London Marathon

Bernard Butler London Marathon 2014

The Butler did it! Bernard (orange vest) in the 2014 London Marathon (photo:

We recently featured the running exploits of ’80s indie guitar hero Johnny Marr – and his ’90s counterpart ran in the 2014 London Marathon yesterday.

Well done to Bernard Butler, formerly of Suede (one of my favourite bands back in the day) and lately a successful producer, who ran London in a respectable 4 hours, 30 minutes and 12 seconds.

Butler was running to raise money for a children’s cerebral palsy treatment fund.

Looking at his 5K splits, Butler seemed to have slowed considerably in the second half of the race, be it from injury or the trusty old walk-run method. Still, four and a half hours is a good time for a first marathon, and he and his charity should be proud.

With yesterday’s race, Butler joins Marr, Joe Strummer and Bjorn from Abba in the pantheon of rock and pop stars who have run marathons.

If I remember correctly, Butler’s former co-writer in Suede, singer Brett Anderson, was a schools cross-country runner. Perhaps a future marathon will see a Suede smackdown between Anderson and Butler that could be as acrimonious as their 1994 band split. (The two subsequently re-united as The Tears.)

Let’s hope that today, after his London Marathon efforts, Butler can proudly belt out the chorus of this stupendous single he made with singer David McAlmont, “Yes”:

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London Marathon 2014 – Mo problems, but Mo marathons!

Results of the 2014 London Marathon men's race...

Results of the 2014 London Marathon men’s race… (Image: Screen shot / BBC)

It could never live up to the pre-race hype, and in the end it didn’t. But the 2014 London Marathon was still fascinating to watch, producing worthy winners and generating plenty of talking points.

Both the men’s and women’s events had the same pre-race narrative: a track superstar making a marathon debut against the best in the world at that distance. Neither Mo Farah nor Tirunesh Dibaba, for all their class, were seriously expected to win, though ultimately Dibaba went closer.

The women’s race provided some early drama, as once again Tiki Gelana had a bad London Marathon. Last year the Olympic champion’s race was scuppered by a collision with a wheelchair athlete at 15 kilometres; this year she simply faded at 10 kilometres and never got back into contention.

Even more dramatic was the fate of race favourite Priscah Jeptoo, who stepped off the course somewhere around 18 miles. This left Dibaba alone against the more experienced Kenyan namesakes Florence and Enda Kiplagat at the business end of the race.

2014 London Marathon women's race results

…and the 2014 London Marathon women’s race results (Image: Screen shot / BBC)

And experience, or lack thereof, made the difference. At several water stations Dibaba had to slow down and grab her bottle with both hands – and at a table around the 30-kilometre point she even dropped her bottle on the ground. Stopping to pick it up rather than go without on a warm day, Dibaba showed commendable common sense but lost ground to the Kiplagats that she never regained.

The women’s race went right down to a sprint on the Mall, as Edna came out from Florence’s slipstream to take the honours in 2:20:21. Dibaba came in third just 14 seconds behind – an impressive performance in her marathon debut.

The build-up to the men’s race was dominated by attention on Mo Farah – and in the days before the race, by his decision to run with the second group of pacers a few seconds behind the lead group under the command of Haile Gebrselassie.

While this was a sensible decision for a debut marathoner, in racing terms it proved to be a tactical error on Farah’s part. He may have banked on the leaders going out too fast and blowing up in the second half of the race, but in truth he lost sight of them and never looked like reeling them in, especially as the Great One took his group out at a blistering 2:02 pace.

By halfway, just after Tower Bridge, sense had been restored and the leaders went through at 62:30 for 2:05 pace, with Farah half a minute behind at 2:06 pace and still on course to break Steve Jones’ UK record of 2:07:13.

But the hometown hero had a torrid second half. In a similar incident to Dibaba’s turning point, Farah missed a water station just after halfway and seemed rattled by it – he looked and gestured with an air of panic and even seemed to be asking the motorbike cameraman to fetch a bottle for him. Meanwhile, his two pacers were 50 metres up the road and not much use to him up there. Farah was visibly hurting as he came to the last few miles, but on the Embankment caught up to a fading Emmanuel Mutai.

By this stage the decisive move had been made – Wilson Kipsang and Stanley Biwott had left the other leaders behind. Turning at Big Ben, Kipsang had pulled away from Biwott to give himself a comfortable cushion of time for the Mall run-in.

Kipsang took the win in a new course record of 2:04:29, with Biwott 26 seconds behind him and defending champion Tsegaye Kebede holding off his compatriot Ayele Abshero to claim third place.

As for Farah, he ran in for 8th place in 2:08:20, just two seconds behind the more experienced Geoffrey and Emmanuel Mutai.

While not achieving his stated goal of a new UK record, Farah certainly had a decent first marathon – after all, he finished with the two Mutais and well ahead of Olympic and World champion Stephen Kiprotich. And yet, the BBC commentary team of Steve Cram and Brendan Foster were quite blunt in saying that Farah should, in Foster’s words, “stick to the track”.

But, speaking to the BBC’s Jonathan Edwards immediately after the race, Farah seemed determined that he would run another marathon, with greater success. As for Dibaba, she was more circumspect about her future plans, noting that the marathon was different to the track as it had “more kilometres’.

So, Farah didn’t emulate last week’s fantastic 2:05:04 Paris Marathon victory by Kenenisa Bekele. But the much-anticipated Bekele-Farah duel for the 2016 Olympic Marathon might still happen.

Of course, before then a lot of water will pass under the bridge – though hopefully not from another mid-race water bottle dropped by Farah.

Posted in London, Marathon | Tagged | 2 Comments

The 5K sub-20 club

Plenty for some, but not for me! (Photo: Auntie P via photopin cc)

Plenty for some, but too much for me! (Photo: Auntie P via photopin cc)

This has been a momentous day; I achieved one of my running goals for 2014.

I went under 20 minutes for 5K for the first time ever, by clocking 19:43 at the Marlay parkrun in Dublin this morning.

To be honest, I surprised myself with that sub-20 time. My previous personal best was the 20:55 I set back in January, also at the Marlay parkrun, although I ran an unofficial 20:50 for the first half of the Great Ireland Run last Sunday.

That said, I knew I was in good shape. I’ve been training well and complementing my running with swimming, and I took over a minute off my 10K P.B. at the Great Ireland Run.

Also, I ran that 20:55 under the post-Christmas effects of overtraining and overeating, so having shed three kilos since then I was always likely to improve on it.

The funny thing is that I wasn’t aiming to run sub-20 today. My intention was to use the parkrun as a speed session to run three miles at a target race pace, and that would have got me around in 20:45 – still a new 5K personal best. Perhaps by not thinking of sub-20 I relaxed enough to perform better. (Former cricketer Ed Smith has an interesting article on this very subject in this week’s New Statesman issue of 11-17 April 2014.)

Anyway, how did this parkrun unfold?

The weather wasn’t as blissful as for my sun-kissed 6-miler yesterday morning. Today was overcast in Dublin, with a cold, swirling wind. And we were showered upon during the second kilometre of the run.

I went out a little too fast in the first kilometre – 3:54 instead of my intended 4:09, perhaps due to a rush of adrenaline in the cavalry charge of the race start. And this with an uphill section in kilometre 3 to come.

Fortunately I soon recovered. I got my breath back by focusing on breathing out hard so that my lungs would then fill naturally to their full capacity. (This is the basis of my cure for stitches while running.) A second kilometre at 4:05 meant that I could recover while still running strongly.

I continued my strong pace up the hill to the back of the park, and passed the 3-kilometre marker at almost 12 minutes exactly. Kilometre 4 of the Marlay parkrun is mostly downhill, and because I was already running hard on the uphill I gained momentum and time on the descent.

At the 4KM marker I was just inside 16 minutes – and the thought of a sub-20 finish flashed across my mind. But I shut that out. I didn’t even look across to the finish line at far side of the Marlay Park concert field. I fixed my eyes on the ground up ahead of me.

Around the concert field on that last lap, I maintained what felt like a steady, hard pace. Turning the corner at the top of the field, I glanced at my watch and saw 18 minutes and something seconds, but I wasn’t sure how far I had left to go. Without any kick or surge, I ran in for the finish.

Imagine my surprise to find, on looking at my stopped watch, that I had gone well under 20 minutes! Not only that, but I had run the last of my three miles in 6:09, a lot faster than the target race pace I had intended for my speed workout.

So, my parkrun today exceeded my expectations and saw me nail one of my targets for this year. Now I have to maintain this form, improve on it, and bring it onto the roads for my summer races.

I’m in the sub-20 club, baby!

Posted in 5 mile, 5k and parkrun | Tagged | 11 Comments

London Marathon 2014 women’s race preview

The wheelchair and elite women's groups collide in the 2013 London Marathon (Image: Screen shot)

The wheelchair and elite women’s groups collide in the 2013 London Marathon (Image: Screen shot)

The build-up to the 2014 London Marathon has focused on the men’s race, where Mo Farah makes his debut against the best in the world.

The women’s race is an equally-thrilling prospect, though.

Just as the men’s event sees track star Farah try his first marathon, so the women’s features the marathon debut of Tirunesh Dibaba, also laden with World and Olympic gold medals at 5,000 and 10,000 metres.

And like Farah again, Dibaba faces the world’s best marathon runners in her first go at the event. Last year’s winner, Priscah Jeptoo of the strange running gait, returns to defend her title, having also picked up the New York Marathon title since then, and must be the slight favourite to win again. Double World marathon champion Edna Kiplagat will also toe the start line in London.

Perhaps the stiffest competition to Dibaba apart from Jeptoo will come from Tiki Gelana. Olympic champion on the streets of London in 2012, Gelana returned to London for last year’s marathon as the favourite.

But Gelana had a disastrous race. In their finite wisdom, the organisers had the women’s elite field start before the wheelchair field, which meant that the wheelchairs would have to overtake the women at some point on the course. This came to pass at the 15km water station – just as the elite women pulled in to grab their bottles, the wheelchair athletes came flying up behind them at top speed.

All the runners in the group got a start, but Gelana was unlucky enough to collide heavily with wheelchair athlete Josh Cassidy. The collision scuppered Gelana’s chances of victory – she continued running but faded badly and eventually finished 16 minutes behind the winner.

To avoid a similar incident this year, the wheelchair competitors will start before the elite women.

Oddly enough, Gelana also fell at a water station while winning her Olympic gold in London, after slipping on the wet road during a rain-soaked race. Let’s hope Gelana doesn’t continue her streak of London water station accidents this year.

So, barring falls, who will win?

Well, just as in the men’s race, the debutant track star may have a higher profile but will surely have to settle for a minor place behind the marathon specialists. Hopefully Dibaba will run well and stay in contention until the business end of the race. Gelana and Edna Kiplagat have championship-winning credentials – but the recent form of Stephen Kiprotich in the men’s race shows that World and Olympic champions don’t necessarily dominate the different challenge of a major city marathon.

Still, Priscah Jeptoo is the in-form runner of the women’s field, and she has already emulated Paula Radcliffe in demonstrating that an awkward running style is no bar to winning the London Marathon. Plus, she won silver in that 2012 Olympic Marathon behind Gelana, so London has been kind to her.

Jeptoo for the win, then – and it should be a fascinating race.

Posted in London, Marathon | Tagged , | 4 Comments