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Flora London Marathon report

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As the temperature climbed towards 25° Celsius, David Weir and Shelly Woods completed a home country winning double in the wheelchair races while Mara Yamauchi and Liz Yelling set the hottest pace of the GB ‘foot soldiers’ in the Flora London Marathon on Sunday 22 April.

 

The thermometer climbed from 14.1° (with 55% humidity) at the start of the women’s race to 16.3° (49% humidity) after an hour, 18.6° (43%) after two hours … and 20.5° after three hours. But the hotter it got, the harder the foremost GB duo ran – with Yelling one of the few elite athletes in the race to register a personal best.

 

And both Weir and Woods counted these successes among their best-yet performances as they prepare for the ultimate aim, the Paralympics at London 2012.

 

Women’s race

 

On the day London’s spectators got another awesome foretaste of how successfully China is preparing its athletes for the Beijing Olympics, the home cheer was provided by Mara Yamauchi (Harrow AC) and Liz Yelling (Bedford and County AC) defying the heat to beat the elite qualifying standard of 2 hours 31 minutes for this summer’s IAAF World Championships in Osaka, Japan.

 

Despite not finding the fast group in which she hoped to run, Yamauchi transformed the loneliness of the long-distance runner into a lovely enough experience to finish sixth in 2:25:41 while Yelling lowered her PB to 2:30:44 for a great eighth place.

 

They both ran disciplined races, steadfastly ignoring the temptations to set off too quickly as the packed crowd generated the kind of frenzied atmosphere for which the world’s biggest foot race is renowned.

 

At the head of affairs, demonstrating this is the best as well as the biggest, Asian champion Chunxiu Zhou broke away in the 23rd mile and finished so powerfully to become China’s first winner in London that she built an advantage of 1 minute 7 seconds over the runner-up, the renowned Gete Wame (Ethiopia). Zhou’s winning time of 2:20:38 was just 43 seconds shy of her best yet. The consistent Constantina Tomescu-Dita (Romania) was third in 2:23:55 and Salina Kosgei (Kenya) fourth in 2:24:13 as the World Cross Country Champion Lornah Kiplagat (Netherlands) faded in the closing stages to fifth in 2:24:46.

 

And then came Britain’s second-fastest ever female – Yamauchi, who clocked 2:25:13 on this course 12 months ago. Today she went through 5km in 16:34, 10km in 33:43, 15km in 50:48, 20km in 1:08:01, halfway in 1:11:44 in eighth place, 25km in 1:25:06, past Adere and Benita Johnson (who was to finish seventh in 2:29:47) into sixth place through 30km in 1:42:23, 35km in 1:59:56, 40km in 2:17:45.

 

Yelling was through 5km in 16:50, 10km in 34:07, 15km in 51:39, 20km in 1:09:45, halfway in 1:13:34 in ninth place, 25km in 1:27:29, 30km in 1:45:31, 35km in 2:04:04 in eighth place having overtaken the fading Adere, 40km in 2:22:47.

 

Butler, who ran 2:28:39 in Chicago last year to register a World Championships qualifying time, went through 5km in 16:51, 10km in 34:25, 15km in 52:02, 20km in 1:09:48, halfway in 1:13:38 in 10th place, 25 km in 1:27:42, 30km in 1:47:10 in 11th place (she was overtaken by European 10,000m champion Inga Abitova) but then joined the growing number of athletes to step off the course.

 

Men’s race

 

With Jon Brown a non-starter because of illness, Dan Robinson led the valiant battle of Brits to beat the World Championships elite qualifying time of 2:12:00.

 

He progressed through 5km in 15:25, 10km in 31:12, 15km in 47:12, 20km in 1:03:12, halfway in 1:06:37, 25km in 1:18:59, 30km in 1:35:01, 40km 1:51:11 and 40km in 2:07:11 before finishing ninth in 2:14:14.

 

The Commonwealth Games bronze medallist, who has a best of 2:13:53, found himself running most of the last 20 miles on his own as huge gaps opened quicker than the temperature climbed.

 

He said: “I probably lost a couple of minutes or so but I am reasonably satisfied. The gaps were quite big and for long periods I couldn’t see anybody up the road in front of me. When you can see people and try to pick them off, it’s not too bad. But when you can’t see anybody and you get tired, it’s easy to slip a couple of seconds here and there.”

 

Not that he had any intention of blaming the heat. He scoffed at the suggestion: “It wasn’t that hot!”

 

To emphasise the huge gaps, Robinson was followed home by mountain running international Andi Jones (Salford Harriers), who was 10th in 2:17:49, a PB by 3 seconds. He went through 5km in 15:47, 10km in 32:14, 20km in 1:04:36, halfway in 1:07:57, 25km in 1:20:18, 30km in 1:36:31, 35km in 1:53:10 and 40km in 2:10:13.

 

It was one of those rare days when both beat legends such as Haile Gebrselassie (Ethiopia), one of many to suffer to such an extent that they did not finish.

 

Even so, the roll of honour in front of the British duo was as awesome as the sprint finish that settled the race: Martin Lel (Kenya), first and second in 2005 and 2006, won again in 2:07:41; Abderrahim Goumri (Morocco) was second on his debut at the distance in 2:07:44; last year’s winner Felix Limo (Kenya) had to settle for third in 2:07:47; double World Champion Jaouad Gharib (Morocco) was fourth in 2:07:54; consistently successful Hendrick Ramaala (South Africa) was fifth in 2:07:56. Then came world marathon record holder Paul Tergat (Kenya), sixth in 2:08:06, newcomer to the distance Ryan Hall (USA) in 2:08:24, and New York Marathon winner Marilson Gomes dos Santos (Brazil) in 2:08:37.

 

Wheelchair race

 

David Weir sprinted to a thrilling victory in 1:30:49, a single second ahead of Australia’s Kurt Fearnley – and rated it: “Probably my best win ever.”

 

The 27-year-old from South London cited “personal reasons” and problems in training for this third London win being his best.

 

He explained: “I was so disappointed to be beaten by three minutes in Los Angeles. Then I got ill three weeks ago. So this is definitely my best win for a long time.”

 

The multi-talented Weir – whose scope for success covers almost as many distances as the legendary Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson – added:

 

Looking to the near future – with major competitions coming up in Manchester, Switzerland, USA and Canada on the way to Osaka – he said: “This is an important year. I have to sit down with my coach and make a decision about what gold medal(s) I’m going to aim for in Beijing next year.”

 

And London 2012? “I will be there! It’s the goal of my career.”

 

The same goes for 20-year-old Shelly Woods, who scored an emphatic victory over world champion and record holder Francesca Porcellato (Italy) in a women’s wheelchair race that lack quantity but not quality.

 

Woods, who won in 1:50:40, said: “I’ve dreamt of winning this race. It’s brilliant! I didn’t want it to come down to a sprint finish so I went out hard and pushed the pace on. I knew Francesca would be stalking me. It’s fantastic to beat her.”

 

Mini Marathons

 

European Junior Cross Country Champion Steph Twell (Aldershot Farnham and District AC) was thrilled to be among the winners of the age-group races for the second time in her burgeoning career.

 

The 17-year-old – who was set off on the race by Norwich Union Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s senior men’s European Cross Country Champion Mo Farah, explained: “It’s extra special because it’s my last chance to run in this event. The atmosphere is fantastic. It’s given me the incentive to come back and run the marathon as a senior.”

 

Even though she broke the UK Junior Women’s half marathon record earlier this month, there’ll be plenty of races before Twell tackles 26.2 miles. She’s currently still peaking at 1500m, 3000m and 5000m.

 

For more details of the great London occasion, please go to http://live.london-marathon.co.uk/2007