Each year, some of the greatest female distance athletes assemble on the streets of the capital for the London Marathon. With six women who have run inside 2:18, alongside a couple of intriguing debuts, this year’s edition is no different. As part of Fast Running’s coverage of this weekend’s racing, James Rhodes runs through the 19-strong elite women’s field.

At 09:30 on Sunday morning, previous winners Ingrid Kristiansen Catherina McKiernan will start the elite women’s race of the London Marathon. Amongst the 19 women due to start will be five current World Record holders, including for 26.2 miles. It is a race not to be missed.

Whilst remaining of supreme quality, there have unfortunately been several withdrawals in recent weeks. They include the fifth fastest in history Tigist Assefa, debutant Girmawit Gebrzihair, American duo Emily Sisson and Keira D’Amato, and Australian Record holder Sinead Diver. A quartet of Brits – Charlotte Purdue, Jess Piasecki, Steph Davis and Rosie Edwards – have also withdrawn.

There remains plenty to look forward to, however, with some of world’s greatest female distance runners due to race. It is not every day five current World Record holders face each other.

The Fastest

There is nowhere else to start except for Brigid Kosgei. Her blistering 2:14:04 at the 2019 Chicago Marathon rewrote the history books, taking over 80 seconds off Paula Radcliffe’s longstanding World Record. World Athletics ranked her as the world’s number one marathoner for a consecutive 95 week period.

A two-time London Marathon winner, Kosgei is no stranger to the streets of London. Those victories came in 2019 and 2020, with the Kenyan clocking 2:18:20 and 2:18:58 respectively. Sunday will be her fifth appearance, having also finished second in 2018 and fourth in 2021.

Her last marathon was Tokyo in March 2022, where she ran 2:16:02 to win and set the sixth fastest time in history. Her sole race this year is a fourth-place finish at the RAK Half Marathon in February, with 66:34.

The Champions

Given her CV, Kosgei was the favourite for the Tokyo Olympics, but ended with silver behind Peres Jepchirchir. This will be the first time the pair have raced since that occasion in Sapporo.

The reigning Olympic Champion is the tenth fastest marathoner in history thanks to her 2:17:16 PB set in Valencia in 2020. Except for the Kisumu Safaricom Marathon in 2013, Jepchirchir is undefeated over the distance in marathons she has completed. Victories in New York (2021), Boston (2022), Valencia (2020) and Saitama (2019) sit alongside her Olympic triumph.

The reigning women-only half marathon World Record holder (65:16) will be looking to make amends on her one and only London Marathon appearance, having DNF’ed in 2015.

Reigning London Marathon champion Yalemzerf Yehualaw returns to the capital in defence of her title. The twelfth fastest woman of all-time made her debut in Hamburg last year, clocking 2:17:23. That was fastest marathon debut in history at the time. She maintained a 100%-win rate in London, finishing in 2:17:26 despite falling at the 20-mile point. That time is the third fastest time in London Marathon history.

Her performances at shorter distances are equally impressive. Yehualaw is the 10km road World Record holder, with 29:14 set in February last year in Spain. She also holds the second fastest performance of all-time, clocking 29:19 at the Valencia 10k in January. That is her only race of 2023.

She is the world’s second fastest half marathoner, with 63:51. At one stage she thought she was the World Record holder, having run 63:43 at the Antrim Coast Half Marathon in 2021. However, the course was 54 metres short. She returned a year later to run 64:22, the fastest time on UK soil. It is fair to say she performs well in the UK.

The Track Specialists

Recently many athletes have begun their careers on the road; little surprise given the financial rewards on offer. However, the traditional transition of track-to-road still exists, personified by three athletes racing on Sunday.

After stellar track careers, Almaz Ayana and Genzebe Dibaba made their marathon debuts in Amsterdam last year. The pair finished one-two, with Ayana’s 2:17:20 the fastest debut in history at the time.

Ayana’s best performance was breaking the 10000m World Record at the Rio Olympics, just two months after her debut over 25 laps. She improved Wang Junxia’s 23-year-old mark by 14 seconds; her mark stood until bettered by Sifan Hassan in 2021. More on her shortly. This will be the Ethiopian’s first race in London since the 2017 World Championships, where she took 10000m gold and 5000m bronze.

Almaz Ayana’s last race in London. Photo: James Rhodes

Perhaps it is fate that Genzebe Dibaba is running the London Marathon. Her older sister Tirunesh did so three times, becoming the third woman to break 2:18 in 2017. In addition, the aunt is Derartu Tulu, the 2000 London champion.

Dibaba holds the outdoor 1500m and indoor mile, 3000m and 5000m World Records. She has ten track / cross-country World Championship titles, plus an Olympic silver medal. London will be her second marathon, after 2:18:05 at Amsterdam last year.

Sifan Hassan needs little introduction, partly through her unprecedented three medals at the Tokyo Olympics (5000m / 10000m gold, 1500m bronze). The Dutchwoman holds the mile and one hour World Records, alongside eight European Records at distances from 1500m to the half marathon. She previously held the road 5km and track 10000m WRs, the latter for just two days.

The 2019 1500m and 10000m World Champion had a disappointing 2022, finishing fourth and sixth over 10000m and 5000m respectively at the World Championships. This will be her marathon debut.

2022 Returnees

Alongside Yalemzerf Yehualaw are three returnees from last year’s race. Alemu Megertu finished third in 2022, setting her PB (2:18:32) in the process. This is her third visit to London, having finished fifth in 2020. The Ethiopian has run fourteen marathons since her 2017 debut and has raced exclusively over the marathon and half marathon. Her biggest win came in Seville last year, her second time inside 2:19.

Photo: James Rhodes

Since her marathon debut in 2019, Judith Korir has recorded five marathon victories, including at Paris last year. That was the first of three marathons in 2022; she took silver at the World Championships (2:18:20) and finished fourth in London (2:18:43). Interestingly, Korir has never raced on the track.

Eighth place finisher Sutume Kebede returns for a second London appearance. Another sub-2:19 runner (2:18:12 PB), Kebede is predominantly a road athlete throughout her career, having only raced twice on the track. She has made the podium in Rotterdam (2016), Toronto (2017), Beijing (2019), Tokyo (2020) and Seoul (2022). This will be her twelfth marathon.

Judith Korir at the 2022 World Championships. Photo: James Rhodes

The Debutants

Two others join Sifan Hassan in making their marathon debuts; Eilish McColgan and Dominique Scott. The former needs no introduction, after an amazing couple of years. She has broken Paula Radcliffe’s British Records over 10km and half marathon on the roads, and 5000m and 10000m on the track. Last year included Commonwealth Games gold and two medals at the European Championships.

Having started the year with 30:00.86 for 10000m in California last month, her first half marathon of 2023 was delayed due to bursitis in her knee. It was worth the wait, however, clocking 65:43 in Berlin to go third on European all-time list for the distance. That came with hamstring trouble in the closing miles.

Eilish has stated her time-based goal is three-fold as running inside 2:26. It would break Steph Twell’s Scottish Record, better her mum’s PB and be an Olympic Games qualifying time. Is that conservative? Only time will tell. One thing is for sure; it is one of the most anticipated race debuts in British athletics for quite some time.

Photo: James Rhodes

Also debuting is USA-based South African Dominque Scott. She is transitioning to the marathon after a successful track career. Accolades include NCAA Champion over 5000m and 10000m in 2016, fifth at Commonwealth Games 5000m last summer, and three Olympic appearances. The 30-year-old holds South African records indoors for every distance from 800m to 5000m, and ran a 67:32 half marathon PB in Houston last year.

The Brits

Her performances are often overlooked behind those of Eilish McColgan, but Samantha Harrison has had a standout 18 months. Since her racing debut in September 2018, the Vince Wilson-coached athlete has improved to sit fourth on the UK all-time list for 10k and half marathon. Last summer brought major championship debuts, finishing sixth over 10000m at the Commonwealth Games and European Championships.

She has improved her 10k to 30:51 and her half marathon to 67:17 in Berlin last month, behind Eilish. Her marathon PB of 2:32:22, set in London in 2021, may well be significantly rewritten.

Making a long-awaited London debut is Alice Wright; you can read more about her here.

Photo: James Rhodes

The Rest

Such is the depth of the field, there is still a sub-2:18 runner to mention, and that is London debutant Tadu Teshome. At just 21 years old, the Ethiopian ran 2:17:36 in Valencia last December in just her second marathon. That time makes her the fourteenth fastest woman of all-time. She is the fastest athlete to be born after 2000, and the only to run under 2:18.

The field is completed by Australian Ellie Pashley and American Susanna Sullivan. Pashley holds a lifetime best of 2:26:21, set at Nagoya in 2019. This will be her second visit to London, having finished twelfth in 2020. Her last marathon was of striking similarity to that London visit. She finished again twelfth in Valencia in December, and just three seconds separate the two times (2:31:31 to 2:31:34).

Susanna Sullivan holds a PB of 2:25:14, set when finishing sixth in Chicago last summer. That performance provided an Olympic qualifying mark and is one of the best of performances of her career. Whilst London will be a first race of 2023 for some, impressively it will be Susanna’s eighth. She has competed on the track indoors and out, and over cross-country this year. Not many elite starters will have run an indoor mile this year!

The elite women’s race of the London Marathon starts at 09:30 on Sunday 23 April. Fast Running will provide on the ground coverage throughout the day.