1) The greatest marathoner versus the greatest distance runner?
Eliud Kipchoge has a stronger claim than most to be the greatest marathon runner in history. The 33-year-old Kenyan has won nine of his 10 races over the distance, breezed to the Olympic title in 2016, and last year ran 2hr 0min 25sec, the fastest time over 26.2 miles. True, it didn’t count as an official world record as Kipchoge was helped by a phalanx of pacemakers, who subbed in and out of the race (which is against the rules) but it was still an astonishing performance.
Yet he may not get things all his own way on Sunday. Kenenisa Bekele, who is widely regarded as the best distance runner in history, given he holds the 5,000m and 10,000m world records as well as the second-fastest marathon, says he is injury-free after an uninterrupted preparation – something that has rarely been the case over the past few years.
Kipchoge’s coach, Patrick Sang, told the Observer that if the weather forecast wasn’t so hot, his man would have a big chance of breaking the world record. Privately, Bekele has similar thoughts. But while the 22C temperatures will likely scupper their ambitions, it should still be one hell of a race.
2) How will Mo Farah do this time round?
Make no bones about it: Mo Farah’s first attempt at the full marathon distance was a disaster. Beforehand, he had talked up his plans of mixing it with the world’s best but he got a cold slap of reality as he struggled home eighth in 2:08:21, outside Steve Jones’s British record of 2:07:13.
This time there can be no excuses. Having given up running on the track, his sole focus for eight months has been on this race. That means beating Jones’s record is the bare minimum. And if Farah is serious about being a top contender, he surely has to make a decent stab at the European record of 2:05:48, too.
Depending on who you listen to, Farah is either in shape to break these records or will disappoint again because he is physiologically unsuited to running 26.2 miles. Either way it will be fascinating to see how he fares against a stacked field that includes not only Kipchoge and Bekele but last year’s winner, Daniel Wanjiru, and the Ethiopian Guye Adola, who ran the fastest marathon debut in history (2:03:46) in Berlin last September.
With the 2009 and 2011 world champion, Abel Kirui, and Bedan Karoki, third last year, also in the mix, Farah faces a fight even to make the podium – something you could not say when he was winning medal after medal on the track between 2010 and 2017.
3) An epic battle in the women’s race
Shortly after Paula Radcliffe broke the women’s world marathon record in 2003, the chief executive of the London Marathon, Nick Bitel, promised her it would not be beaten for a while; 15 years on, we are still waiting. However, there is a small chance that the Kenyan Mary Keitany or the Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba could finally lower that astonishing record.
Keitany showed her class last year, breaking from the field in the first mile and running solo most of the way to run a time of 2:17:01 – the second-fastest ever.
This time Keitany’s male training partners will be allowed to pace her, which might just make the difference. “But it’s not easy,” she says. “2:15 is something else. We are asked to try to follow the footsteps of a legend.”
Dibaba, who a ran personal-best of 2:17:48 in finishing second last year, agrees. “When you talk about the world record, it’s not an easy thing,” she says.
Yet she has not entirely ruled out going for it. “There are many factors in breaking it,” she says. “The weather has to be good, pacemakers and the condition of the race and everything. But hopefully if all things are met, I’ll go for it.”
4) Will the Weirwolf be shot down by the Silver Bullet?
Last year David Weir secured a record seventh win at the London marathon, beating the Paralympic champion, Marcel Hug, in a thrilling finish. It was, Weir said, perhaps the best race of his career. However, the man known as the Weirwolf barely felt a thing because he had depression.
Having taken a break from the sport – he raced his first marathon in a year last week in Paris – Weir is back and ready to take on Hug, the Swiss rider known as the Silver Bullet. “Marcel’s a nice guy and he works so hard to be the best at his game,” says Weir. “On the road he’s an animal. It’s hard to break him, but you can. Anyone can be broken.”
5) More women than ever are running the marathon
London is not only about the elite racers. It is about the huge crowds lining the streets. The 40,000 club and fun runners raising millions for charity. And – more than ever – women.
The London Marathon race organiser, Hugh Brasher, said: “In 1981, less than 300 of the 6,300 finishers were women. This year more than 149,000 women from the UK applied to run and, in another first, there were more female than male first-time marathon runners from the UK who applied this year (51.7% v 48.3%).
“We can’t be sure yet but anecdotally we think that more women will be running than men on Sunday.”