London selection adds extra spice to British men's race
Selection for this summer’s London World Championships is the name of the game for the British men at the Virgin Money London Marathon on Sunday. For Tsegai Tewelde, that means smashing the personal best of 2:12:13 he set at last year’s race, when he provided the shock of the day on his marathon debut to finish second Briton behind Callum Hawkins.
The former Eritrean’s stunning performance was enough to secure a place on the Great Britain team for the Rio Olympics and propel him out of obscurity and into the marathon running spotlight.
This year Tewelde will be looking to go one better and be the first Briton to cross the world-famous Finish Line on The Mall as he goes up against 10 of his countrymen in a race to secure World Championship selection.
With Hawkins already assured of his place in the team, the goal for Britain’s elite marathon runners on Sunday is to run the British Athletics’ qualifying time of 2:16:00 and finish in the top two to guarantee a place at the Worlds.
Former European 10,000m silver medallist Chris Thompson and London 2012 Olympian Scott Overall are most likely to challenge Tewelde for the honour of being first Briton home.
The trio revealed their very different approaches to training today as they talked about their preparation for the 37th edition of the race.
Overall has adopted a different strategy this year after dropping out of last year’s London Marathon at 25km, already trailing four other Britons.
“I flew in from Flagstaff in the USA earlier today,” he said. “It’s the first time that I’ve come straight back down from training at altitude to sea level to race so it’s a bit of an experiment.”
The Londoner will be looking to put a string of disappointing performances behind him since he became the first British man to qualify for the London 2012 Olympic athletics team when he ran 2:10:55 to finish fifth on his marathon debut in Berlin in 2011.
“A solid performance for me would be to finish in the top two Brits,” said Overall.
“When I ran 2:10 in Berlin it was on the back of a track season so I had great leg speed, but I switched coaches [to Alan Storey] in 2012 so there was a bit of a learning curve after that, but I’m feeling good; the training has gone well.
“Qualifying for the World Championships in London in August is a great motivation,” he continued.
“I remember the fantastic support of the crowds during the London Olympics and feel that if I ran well here this summer it would be a chance for me to redeem myself at a championship race.”
Chris Thompson will also be looking to improve on his recent results, but the injury-prone runner may be hampered by the foot problem he developed in early March.
“This year started really well but then I picked up a niggle and that made training difficult,” said Thompson.
“I suffered in the Reading Half in March because I thought my Achilles was about to go but I’ve since found out that the problem is my plantar not my Achilles.”
The 36-year-old conceded that he’ll go into Sunday’s race unsure of his fitness.
“I wasn’t able to do any of my longer runs during the last five weeks, so I’ve been running about 80 miles a week, but I’m not too worried as I’ve done relatively low mileages throughout my career. For me, it’s always been about hitting times on the track rather than running a certain distance.
“The last five weeks have been about holding onto fitness rather than making any progress. My goal is to get selected for the World Championships but I honestly don’t know how the last five weeks have affected me.
“I feel that there’s a big performance in me, I just need to find a way to bring it out; hopefully my big engine will get me through.”
Tewelde was far more coy when asked about his ambitions for Sunday’s race.
“I would like to get a personal best on Sunday,” he said. “I’ll work hard and see what’s possible.”
The 27-year-old trains with Shettleston Harriers in Glasgow, where he has lived since requesting asylum after competing in the 2008 World Cross Country Championships in Edinburgh, but he returned to Eritrea at the start of the year to train at altitude.
“I was there for eight weeks, training with a group of about 25 runners, including Zersenay Tadese [the current world half marathon record holder],” he said.
“I train with Tadese every day when I am in Eritrea. He’s a friend and has given me lots of great advice.”
The other Britons will be hoping that his mentor’s advice doesn’t give Tewelde the edge on Sunday.