Liam Morgan: First for me, last for Paula at spectacular London Marathon

Liam Morgan: First for me, last for Paula at spectacular London Marathon

As I made my way to today’s eagerly-anticipated London Marathon, a rather odd thought popped into my head.

It suddenly hit me that I had something in common with both men’s world record holder Dennis Kimetto and eventual men’s winner Eliud Kipchoge - they were making their debut at one of the most prestigious races on the distance running calendar and so was I.

Of course, my athletic involvement stretched no further than plonking myself in the media centre, taking in all the constant goings on, while the two marathon powerhouses were out there competing for one of the top prizes in the sport.

Some may say that my association with Kipchoge and Kimetto is hugely vague and largely irrelevant - I would hasten to agree - but it nevertheless provided me with my own connection to the world’s greatest distance race.

And I don’t think I could have picked a better race for my first taste of the London Marathon.

The men’s field was widely regarded as the most stellar in the event’s illustrious 35-year history, with five of the all-time top 10 quickest runners on the start line to the delight of fans and media alike.

Billed as a straight shootout between last year’s winner Wilson Kipsang and Kimetto, who broke the world record at the Berlin Marathon in 2014, it was Kipchoge who broke away in the final few miles, taking the title by crossing the line in 2 hours, 4 minutes and 42 seconds. 

The race itself was gripping, breathtaking and dramatic in equal measure.

Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge won a fascinating men's London Marathon ahead of compatriot Wilson Kipsang
Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge won a fascinating men's London Marathon ahead of compatriot Wilson Kipsang ©Getty Images

It seemed the field, which also included the likes of Emmanuel Mutai and last year’s runner-up Stanley Biwott, could run whatever pace they saw fit as they upped the gears with consummate ease in the early stages, racking up the miles in rapid style. That speed had eventually slowed but by that point, sole attention had turned to who would break the red tape by crossing the line first.

It seemed discussions of this contest being more a time trial were premature.

Talk in the lead-up to the race had centred on whether Kimetto’s blistering world record of 2:02:57 was in jeopardy but difficult conditions put paid to those who harboured hopes of another historic finish.

Kipchoge in fairness came into the event slightly under the radar, with Kipsang and Kimetto taking the majority of the spotlight in the build-up to the contest, and even he admitted that he was perhaps “underrated”.

Few can argue with that after he kicked towards the end of the 26.2 miles and left Kipsang in his wake, while Kimetto was further back in third.

The fascinating men’s race followed a tantalising women’s affair which saw Tigist Tufa of Ethiopia spoil the supposed Kenyan party by taking victory in a relatively steady 2:23:22.

But it wasn't just the actual races themselves which caught the eye.

Image title
Ethiopia's Tigist Tufa (centre) claimed a surprise win in the women's event as she spoiled what many thought would be a Kenyan party in London ©Getty Images

There can be no doubt that the event as a whole is an inspiration, encapsulating the key mantras of sport itself.

Participation, perseverance and in the case of some of the runners, sheer bloody lunacy.

The marathon sees the elite athletes in particular test the limits of their bodies over the gruelling distance, yet it is the mass participation that truly makes this race special.

Where else do you see people dressed as water bottles or running while bouncing basketballs run the same course as the likes of Kipsang and Edna Kiplagat?

Yes, there are of course other marathons in the world, but it’s difficult to match the spirit that emanates from London, both from the competitors as well as the thousands who braved the elements by lining the streets of the capital.

From a personal point of view, covering my first marathon was as exciting for me as running the 26.2 miles themselves.

Journeying in early on a Sunday morning, the train was packed full of runners of all shapes and sizes, ages and abilities, all desperate for their own taste of the London Marathon experience.

They were not alone.

Targets and times were discussed, laced with an undercurrent of optimism mixed with a growing sense of nerves as the train neared its final destination.

Some were looking forward to the end and the taste of a cold pint in their local pub and spending a hefty proportion of their wages at their chosen fast-food establishment, while others insisted they would revel in every mile.

They would savour every moment thudding the tarmac of the nation’s capital.

Paula Radcliffe bid an emotional farewell in what is expected to be her last ever London Marathon
Paula Radcliffe bid an emotional farewell in what is expected to be her last ever London Marathon ©Getty Images

For most of the 37,000-odd runners had trained for months on end for this moment, sacrificing several of life’s luxuries all to complete a truly arduous task.

“I said to myself I would never run this again and here I am,” one passenger, running the race for the second time, said to one of his fellow runners.

“I haven’t had a drink in three months so I hope it was all worth it!”

Attention where I was housed was focused largely on the elite races - that is of course not a revelation - but this year there was a certain name who the British press were particularly interested in who wasn't in among the top racers.

World record holder Paula Radcliffe was competing in her last London Marathon, and she attracted a great deal of the spotlight before, during and after the race.

Regular updates on Radcliffe's progress filtered through to those of us lucky enough to be sat in the media centre and the emotional Briton crossed the line in tears to mark the end of an era for the 41-year-old.

She found herself in among the mass participation runners, all of whom would have had a target time of around two-and-a-half hours, and crossed the line hand in hand with a runner she had met on the course in a fitting tribute to the sentiments provided by American Dick Beardsley and Norwegian Inge Simonsen in the first-ever London Marathon back in 1981.

“I didn't have any times in my head and I just had so much fun out there,” Radcliffe, who finished in a time of 2:36:55, said afterwards.

“It was so hard to reign the emotion in.

“There’s a magic about this race that helps you get even more out of it. There was so many people out supporting me on the route and to pick out one special moment is very difficult.

“The reception from the start was really moving and I thought it was louder than the times where I have been racing before.

“I felt a lot more relaxed coming in to it and I didn't want to embarrass myself and I wanted to give it a good go.”

While Radcliffe's marathon career appears to have come to a permanent halt, here’s hoping my appearance was the first of many.