The mystique of the marathon is alive and well judging by a gripping 44th BMW Berlin Marathon on Sunday (24 September). The much vaunted world record attempt failed to emerge through the mist and rain that shrouded this once divided city but we were treated instead to a thrilling duel between a marathon legend and an impetuous rookie.
Meticulous preparations for a tilt at the men's world record were effectively dampened by halfway, reached by a pack of five in 61:30, as the rain fell and deep puddles formed. The contenders at this stage were Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge, Wilson Kipsang and Vincent Kipruto plus Ethiopians Kenenisa Bekele and marathon debutant Guye Adola. The split that had been requested was an unprecedented 60:50!
Shortly afterwards, defending champion Bekele was first to fade and he was later to withdraw from the contest. So too did Kipsang, as 30k flashed by in 1:27:24, although his withdrawal did look more like plan B for Berlin. Finally there were three left with no more pacemakers. With 99% humidity reported at the Tiergarten start, conditions were hardly conducive to fast times, yet there was still a glimmer of hope of a world record through the gloom.
The final kilometres were pure endurance running theatre as Kipchoge seemed to show the 26-year-old pretender Adola the correct route. Adola displayed his inexperience by missing a drink and swerving away from his opponent, most notably as he surged in the closing stages. Adola soon gained a few seconds and the unthinkable seemed on the cards – the world's best marathon runner was going to succumb to a novice!
The smiling Kipchoge finally showed his mettle and the Olympic champion powered past at the final drink station at 40k, only to miss the world record by 35 seconds in 2:03:32, still remarkable in the conditions. Adola (2:03:46) set a world best marathon debut time and Mosinet Geremew (Ethiopia, 2:06:12) sprinted hard for third.
The women's race was a close contest won by pre-race favourite and 2015 Berlin champion, Gladys Cherono (Kenya, 2:20:23), with big PBs for runners-up Ruti Aga (Ethiopia, 2:20:41) and Valary Aiyabei (Kenya, 2:20:53).
Leading GB athletes among the record field of 43,852 from 137 nations were 10th placed Jonathan Mellor (Liverpool, 2:12:57) and the consistent Sonia Samuels (Sale Harriers, 2:29:34), who was seventh woman improving from two previous ninth place results.
Image courtesy BMW Berlin Marathon