The Women’s Olympic marathon, held last Sunday in London was something to behold. Always the ultimate endurance race – 26 miles 385 yards, run at a pace most of us would struggle to sprint and only introduced for women in 1984.
And what a course to run.The Mall was a beautiful place to start and finish, despite the rain, with the Buckingham Palace as a backdrop, and then meandering through all of the iconic sights the city of London has to offer: Big Ben, Westminster bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament, The Tower of London, the parks and occasional cobble-stoned (and “slippy when wet”) streets. I thought the planners may have had decided to run the original 1908 course which set the standard for all marathons that followed but organizers chose instead to make a sightseer’s route of scenic London; one 2.2 mile loop, then three of eight miles, which must have been great for the many spectators that you could see cheering from under their brollies, but with so many turns, made for a very technical race for runners.
For most of the race, Kenya’s Mary Keitany headed the pack (ultimately finishing 4th); running with elegance and power, thumbs straight up, arms pumping purposefully.
It was incredible to watch: athletes enduring through the rain, fighting the pain and at the same time, all seeming to run in perfect synchronicity – arms and legs cranking in perfect form; abs rippling below steadily breathing lung-cages. And yet the marathon always offers something more, like the lovely moment, despite the obvious competition among teammates, when Kenya’s Jeptoo picked up two drinks, bided her time, and then passed one of them on baton-like to teammate Keitany.
And then there is the fall of Gelana, around the halfway point of the race when she was accidentally knocked down by another runner as she reached for her water bottle; a hard fall that bloodied her right elbow. Apparently at that point, Gelana thought about pulling out. Instead, she found new motivation, and headed on down the road.
“When I fell, I said, ‘Oh, wow, I’m not going to finish,’ ” Gelana said through an interpreter. “But I just concentrated on running. All of a sudden, I made it.”
Gelana said she loved running in the rain. “I have been doing that since I was a small child,” she said. “I enjoyed my run.”
Even with her fall, Gelena ran the second half of the race three minutes faster than the first and then with 5km to go, she surged ahead. Near the finish, Gelana made her move, grimacing as she pulled out front. She kept glancing over her shoulder to see if Jeptoo was gaining ground. When she crossed the line at 2:23:07(Olympic Record), I thought she had again fallen, this time from obvious exhaustion but I mistook her actions as she immediately kissed the wet ground solemnly and then got up and found the Ethiopian flag and took off running and smiling with the flag draped over her shoulders as only an Olympic gold medal record holder would obviously do!
In local NL terms, if she had run the Tely at her marathon pace (3:23 mins/km), she would have been assured 54:35 finish time.
Speaking through an interpreter, the 24 year old said that she has run since childhood, inspired by her uncle Gezahegne Abera, who won the men’s marathon in Sydney 12 years ago, and her heroine Roba, who won marathon gold in Atlanta in 1996. Gelana is yet another runner from the tiny 17,000-strong town of Bekoji, which has produced six world champions and five Olympic gold medallists, all trained by the former schoolteacher Sentayehu Eshetu.
It was too bad that no Canadian women ran in London last Sunday as all failed to meet the standard time of 2:29:55 with the closest CAN competitor being Krista DuChene who ran a 2:32:06 in April 2012.