After Gill Bland walked us through the women’s field yesterday, today James Rhodes talks us through the men’s field at the Olympic Marathon Trial tomorrow morning in Kew Gardens
In the run up to a race, there’s a few things I like to read about. Who is running, what they’ve done before and their thoughts are on the race ahead. So, I hope you enjoy this run through of the 15 men who, COVID test results permitting, will be spending their Friday morning running 26.2 miles around Kew Gardens at the British Athletics Olympics Marathon Trials.
For some, it is a chance to book a spot at the Olympic Games. For others, there’s Commonwealth Games qualifying marks in sight. For all, it’s simply a chance to race in a time where opportunities are sparse. It promises to be an excellent race, with many races within that race.
What’s at Stake?
Let’s go straight to the Olympics first. With Callum Hawkins (who is on pacing duty on Friday) pre-selected, there are two spots for Tokyo up for grabs. If an athlete finishes first or second and has the qualifying time (2:11:30), they’ll automatically be selected and on the plane to Japan.
Ben Connor is the sole entrance to currently have a qualifier. He needs to finish in the top two, regardless of time. For the remaining 14, to become an Olympian they need a top-two finish and a time under 2:11:30.
If the top two don’t have or get the QT, it opens a chance for those not running who have the time to be selected. These notably include the injured Johnny Mellor.
Beyond that, there are the Commonwealth Games to consider, with the English qualifying standard 2:14:00. That is well within the ability of much of the field and is a well-known target for many.
So, Who’s Racing?
Ready, here we go!
Marathon PB: 2:11:20 (2020)
Most Recent: 2:11:20, London Marathon, October 2020
For me, Ben Connor is the most exciting prospect for Friday’s race, but also the one with the most at stake as the only in the field to have the Olympic qualifying time. His job is simple, on paper at least – finish in the top two and, regardless of time, a ticket for the plane to Japan will be his.
Not only that, he ran the qualifier in his debut over 26.2 miles, at last year’s London Marathon in what was a mighty performance in mightily unpleasant conditions. In the absence of the injured Johnny Mellor, Ben goes in as the fastest athlete over the past three years. One could even argue the similarities between the London and Kew courses – flat and lapped – may work in Ben’s favour.
Ben’s speed on the road was no fluke, with his 60:55 for third in last year’s Antrim Coast Half Marathon (behind Mo Farah and Marc Scott) putting him fifth on the British all-time list. These were backed up with 61:34 at the Barcelona Half Marathon and 28:10 at the 10K Valencia Ibercaja earlier in 2020.
If he makes it, this would be Ben’s first Olympics, but not his first appearance at a major championships, having run in a British vest on the track (2019 Worlds, 2018 Europeans), road (2018 World Half Marathon Champs) and cross country (2010, 2016 & 2017 Europeans, 2011 Worlds). If he can replicate his performance around St James’ Park five months ago, you’d have to say Ben is a favourite.
Marathon PB: 2:11:19 (2014)
Most Recent: 2:13:32, London Marathon, October 2020
It is fair to say Chris Thompson is no stranger to the international stage. He first donned a British vest at the World Junior Championships 23 years ago. By comparison, Josh Griffiths, the youngest man in the field, was only five years old. Becky Briggs, also racing on Friday, wasn’t born.
Since then, Chris has represented GB (or England) on the track at the 2012 Olympics, three European Championships, a Commonwealth Games with a 5000m and 10,000m double, European XC Championships and a host of junior-level competitions.
His marathon debut, at London in 2014, remains his PB, and is the only time he has run under the Olympic QT. Since then, he’s had five goes at 26.2 miles – three in London (2016, 2:15:05; 2017, 2:24:11 and 2020, 2:13:32), one in New York (2018, 2:28:54) and a win at the Richmond RUNFEST Marathon in 2019 (2:30:09).
Whilst he only raced twice, last year showed Chris is close to his best. His 61:07 at the Vitality Big Half last March was his fastest half since the 2012 Great North Run, whilst his 2:13:32 at last year’s elite-only London Marathon was the second best of his career.
Plus, as anyone who has met him I am sure will attest, Chris is a downright nice guy. Ever since we first met (me being a much younger athletics fan at Crystal Palace many years ago), Chris has made the time to ask how my running is going, including about two minutes before the start of the Big Half last March. If I could chose a favourite based on that alone, Chris would be my pick.
Marathon PB: 2:09:49 (2017)
Most Recent: 2:11:46, London Marathon, April 2019
Based on PBs, Dewi Griffiths is the fastest man in the field, thanks to his 2:09:49 run at the 2017 Frankfurt Marathon. More impressive is the fact this was his debut over the distance.
Whilst three and a half years can be a long time in running, I feel you’d need to be a brave man to rule the Welshman out of contention. His second and most recent marathon was only 16 seconds outside the Olympic qualifier (2:11:46 at the 2019 London Marathon). Notably, also, he is the only man in the field to have raced this year, taking on 10,000m at the elite-only event held in Newport earlier this month. He also ran a 5k PB (13:57) last August.
As you’ll see at the end of this preview, he is a noted contender by my prediction provider. Dewi is also the fastest Parkrunner in the field, thanks to his 14:12 that puts him fourth on the all-time list. A nice stat to end with!
Marathon PB: 2:14:36 (2019)
Most Recent: 2:17:12, Bedford Autodrome Marathon, October 2020
I think one of my favourite things about the men’s race is the variety of age and experience. You have those making their debuts at a young age, and those who have plenty of experience, both in life and in racing. One fifth of the field is over 40. I think that is awesome.
That group is headed up by Welshman Andrew Davies. He is the marathon V40 British Record holder, thanks to his 2:14:36 in Valencia in 2019 (only 55 minutes faster than I was that day), and by my count has run 22 marathons on the road, including at the 2017 World Championships and two Commonwealth Games. Add in his mountain races and there’s certainly plenty of experience to draw on.
His most recent 26.2 was in October in Bedford, comfortably winning the race by over seven minutes. One would imagine a faster time would be easily possible in a competitive field.
Indeed, Andrew says training has been going well in the run up, fortunate to have near perfect conditions for sessions – save for the cold and some inclement weather! He’s got a strategy for racing tactics as well; “I think it’s important to take the racing line and not run abreast with other people on the corners-could be running quite a bit extra otherwise, which I don’t really want”.
Marathon PB: 2:13:11 (2020)
Most Recent: 2:13:11, London Marathon, October 2020
If 2020 is anything to go by, Swansea’s Josh Griffiths is a man in good form having set PBs at the half marathon (63:08 at Antrim) and marathon (2:13:11 at London). Given the less-than-ideal conditions in London, I’m excited to see how the race unfolds.
Indeed, those performances have given Josh confidence in the run up to Friday; “2:13 was a big step forward and that was run in less than ideal conditions, so I do feel like that I can go faster this time”. However, it would be remis to not mention the particularly stringent restrictions that have been in place in Wales in recent months, and Josh notes these have been “tough mentally”, but that he is looking forward to racing.
He may be the youngest in the field, but Josh certainly has shown his ability at major Championships, having worn the British vest at the 2017 World Championships in London – qualifying in his marathon debut – and the Welsh vest at the 2018 Commonwealths. Adding to that resume, with an eye on Tokyo and Birmingham next year, is providing “plenty of motivation to run hard”.
How will Josh relax beforehand? With a bit of Modern Family over breakfast. But once at the venue, it’ll be full race mode.
Marathon PB: 2:17:59 (2020)
Most Recent: 2:17:59, London Marathon, October 2020
Josh Lunn made his marathon debut only five months ago, running 2:17:59 in miserable weather in London. It is thanks to the allure of an opportunity to race that he will be in Kew come Friday morning, with the original plan being to focus on an autumn marathon.
That’s not at all to say the effort and ambition is missing, with a PB the objective come race day, an achievable target given the conditions in October. Josh notes that training has been “a mixed bag”, with a few niggles forcing some weeks off in the build-up. The plan however is simple, to “run my own race even if I’m on my own at the back… remember it’s a marathon and not a sprint!”
Does having marathon race experience of only a small field and laps help? Yes and no. “The small field I’m personally not looking forward to. [Adam] Hickey and I spent 26 miles [of London] about 20-40 seconds apart at London, otherwise we were completely on our own which wasn’t ideal. The laps however I really enjoyed”.
Something I like to know (maybe I am just nosey) is what music gets an athlete in the mood to race. For Josh? Expect the headphones to be playing some Dave, Eminem and Fredo.
One can’t ask for more than a PB, and I hope Josh is rewarded with one.
Marathon PB: 2:14:56 (2019)
Most Recent: 2:14:56, London Marathon, April 2019
Before speaking to Scotsman Robbie Simpson, equally known for his performances on the trails and mountains as on the road (which include his 2:14 PB set in his most recent marathon), I wondered whether the impact of COVID on racing opportunities had changed his approach to training this year given his usual range of race types. Naturally it was the first thing I asked.
“Training has been pretty different this winter although I feel it’s gone quite well. Usually I’d try to escape to warmer weather for a bit, that wasn’t possible which was fine, but we ended up with a pretty severe winter”.
Not to panic though, cross country skiing, sourcing out clear roads and plenty of treadmill running provided opportunities to train. “Thinking back to the previous year I had a really good 12 months of consistent training with few races or trips away to interrupt. I was lucky to get three hill/trail races in last summer in Scotland but still kept ticking over with the flat training to be in a good place for the build up to this race”.
What does the Commonwealth Games bronze medallist hope to get out of the race? “The main goal is just to execute a good race and run as quick as possible. I’ve no idea what sort of time I’m capable of so will just have to see how it feels at the time. The commonwealth standard is a good aim although I doubt I’ll improve on my 2018 result if I was selected!”
Marathon PB: 2:16:56 (2019)
Most Recent: 2:17:38, London Marathon, October 2020
Southend’s Adam Hickey is a relative newbie when it comes to the marathon, with two under his belt; a 2:16:56 at the 2019 Berlin Marathon (yes, the race where Kenenisa Bekele was only two seconds behind Eliud Kipchoge’s World Record) and 2:17:38 at London last October.
He has plenty of track, road and cross country experience, including a PB in Antrim last year and runs at the World and European XC Championships, including as British team captain at the European XCs in 2019.
Training has gone well in the run up, with “a few niggles along the way (but who hasn’t!)” but Adam notes all is good now, and now is the time that matters most!
It’s not all glam in the world of elite runners though; Adam’s day-before-the-race routine will include “herding my two boys out the door to school” before the final prep and heading to the meeting hotel.
Lastly, his coach – Eammon Martin – is certainly no stranger to the marathon, with wins in London (in his debut and PB of 2:10:50) and Chicago. What advice has he given for when on the line standing for the gun to go off? “Just relax and enjoy it!”.
Marathon PB: 2:26:04 (2017)
Most Recent: 2:26:04, Frankfurt Marathon, October 2017
Any distance, any terrain. That ends Tom Evans’ biography on Power of 10, and it is very accurate. Afterall, his CV includes everything from third place at the 2017 Marathon des Sables – a 251km ultramarathon touted as one of the toughest races in the world, third at the Trail Running World Championships and a 1500m on the track at the Army Individual Championships.
Despite this incredible range, Friday will only be Tom’s second road marathon, following a 2:26:04 debut in Frankfurt in 2017, and the chance to double this tally comes with a level of excitement and gratitude; “It’s been a crazy 12 months so I’m really grateful for the opportunity to race. [It’s an] amazing line up so looking forward to pushing myself”.
As for everyone, 2020 has been a different year, with no chance to take on the trails. Has this changed the approach to training? Not really. Tom’s build up has included “more marathon specific sessions but the fundamentals stay the same” when compared to a fast trail race.
As Tom notes, “it’s been great training in a small group in Loughborough under the guidance of Andy Hobdell”.
Race eve will comprise the drive from Loughborough to London, a shake out, relaxation and making sure everything is good to go; “I don’t like leaving things to chance so I will be double checking everything. I will bring a book down, listen to some music, have a coffee and just chill really”.
Music you say? As you know I like knowing this. What will be on the playlist pre-race? Fort Minor’s Remember the Name. As Tom says, “that’s going to be ideal for Friday!”.
Marathon PB: 2:13:57 (2019)
Most Recent: 2:15:43, Valencia Marathon, December 2020
On Friday, it will be 110 days since Cardiff’s Matt Clowes last ran a marathon – on the streets of Valencia last December. No one else has run a road race since this date. Is that a benefit and provide valuable lessons learnt for tomorrow? Matt certainly thinks so;
“I was fit going into it and it was basically a free ticket to see what I could do. I wanted to see how far I could go at around 2:10/2:11 pace. I’ve learnt that negative splitting the marathon plays to my strengths. Part of me was disappointed as I felt that I was in 2:12 shape but brings me confidence that with going out aggressive that I could still hold”.
His 2:15:43 in Valencia was the sixth fastest by a Brit in 2020, and less than two minutes shy of his PB in 2019’s Berlin Marathon, his second run at the distance and a 30 minute improvement on his 2018 debut in London. A jump I’m not sure anyone else running on Friday can claim!
His CV includes every distance from 400m to the marathon and covers a 15-year span. Yes, that 400m was 12 years ago, I imagine Matt is much happier to be racing a distance over 100 times longer on Friday.
His goals for the race, after a good taper this week? “To be competitive and enjoy it. There’s nothing more than that for me. If everything aligns how I want it then I’ll be very happy with the outcome”. Here’s hoping by late-morning there will be a smile on Matt’s face!
Marathon PB: 2:18:33 (2019)
Most Recent: 2:18:33, Brighton Marathon, April 2019
At 45, Ian is the oldest in the men’s field. But, as they say, age is just a number and does not dictate either performance or goals. Ian is a clear example of that, having run a superb 2:18:33 in the last edition of the Brighton Marathon, a seven-minute improvement.
Training had been going well for Ian, although cellulitis and a requirement for antibiotics has given, as he puts it, “a really bad curve ball”. He’s not letting that get in the way of racing though, and fully intends to toe the line on Friday morning and has clear goals for the race; “My intention is to be in a fight with some new faster folk – though it all very much depends on how this week and medication affect me”.
Whilst COVID has been a hindrance to many, it has provided some new opportunities thanks to a lack of commuting. “I work a busy full time job around a family so training has in some ways been easier as I can nip out over lunch … I’ve upped my mileage [compared to in the run up to Brighton] and also focused on in hard long runs and marathon tempos which I know make the difference for me”.
But as I am sure many can relate, it’s not been easy with job sharing and home schooling two young children! How about times, did his PB come as a surprise? Absolutely not. “I knew I could run 2.18 at Brighton and I did it – it was a great day”.
Indeed, Ian notes the windy conditions and hills in the early miles mean he believes a faster time is possible, especially when comparing 2019 and 2021 training sessions. I asked if sights were on the 2:19 British V45 Record – but the goal sits at sub-2:15. Whether that will happen this week, with the infection and antibiotics, is unclear. But it makes the coming months an exciting watch! Many readers will know as well as being a top runner Ian has a pedigree of a world class mountain bike racer.
Marathon PB: 2:15:04 (2013)
Most Recent: 2:16:21, London Marathon, April 2019
Rounding out the over-40 club is Serpentine’s Nic Torry, another athlete who is running close to his best times. Indeed, his most recent marathon – 2:16:21 at London two years ago – is the second fastest of the six he has run and his best since the 2013 Berlin Marathon.
Nic’s range is impressive; he sits in the top 10 on the British all-time V40 lists for the 5000m (8th), 10,000m (6th), parkrun (3rd), half marathon (5th) and marathon (5th). Quite a statistic!
He hasn’t raced during the COVID-era, his last being the Bath Half Marathon last March. It will be interesting to see how he goes here.
Marathon PB: Debut
Most Recent: Debut
One of this year’s Fast 10 club, Nigel Martin will be making his debut over the marathon. He will be a well-known face to those regular to Fast Running, including thanks to his 13:54 at the Armagh 5k in 2019.
I won’t dwell for long on Nigel; not because I don’t want to, but because you can read his own words about his run up towards and his feelings ahead of Friday, and he says them much more eloquently than I could. Have a read here.
Marathon PB: Debut
Most Recent: Debut
Frank Baddick is the second of three making their marathon debut. Much like Nigel, I am excited to see how the Newham & Essex Beagles athlete goes over 26.2 miles following his stellar 2020.
This included PBs at 3000m (8:03.94), 5k (13:56), 5 miles (24:00) and half marathon (63:54), and good outings at the British Championships over 5000m alongside a XC win. Not bad for a year with minimal racing opportunities!
With three sub-65 minute half marathons under his belt, an impressive maiden marathon could be on the cards.
Marathon PB: Debut
Most Recent: Debut
The third and final athlete making their 26.2 mile debut is Thames Valley’s Mohamud Aadan.
His road credentials are certainly noteworthy; his 62:30 half marathon PB set at the Cardiff Half Marathon was the sixth fastest by a Brit in 2018, whilst his 62:41 at last autumn’s World Half Marathon Championships was the eighth fastest of the year.
His three races in 2020, all half marathons, were progressively faster, and if that momentum has been carried through the winter then Kew could provide an excellent performance. The battle of the debutants will be fascinating!
So, Who Will Win?
I am not one for making race predictions, not publicly at least. That’s not because I am superstitious and worried about somehow jinxing the athlete I suggest to be a favourite. Not at all; it’s simply because I’m not very good at it. That’s not to say there is not a prediction for you to close out this preview.
I asked Tim Hutchings, who’ll be commentating on Friday on the BBC iPlayer, for his views as to who will take the top spots. “My heart says Chris Thompson and Dewi Griffiths, as they’ve both had so many injury problems (and I can empathise with that), but my head says Ben Connor – who has great track pedigree, strong recent (well, last Autumn) road form.”
Find out if he is right from 08:00 on Friday.