London Marathon 2021 – Elite Men’s Preview

The 2021 London Marathon takes place on Sunday 3rd October with a typical stacked field for the elite men. We run our eye over just how fast London is, how you can use statistics to whittle down the potential men’s winners and some hunches for the 2021 edition.

Our preview of the women’s race will be released tomorrow.

How fast is the London Marathon?

Of the marathon majors London boasts the second quickest average winning time across the elite men and the quickest amongst the women. Only Berlin, where the men’s world record has been set on six different occassions in this period, can boast a faster average winning time and only in the men’s field. In short London is fast and we can expect the same again this year. Our study begins in 2007, encompassing the last 12, 13 or 14 editions of each event (depending on cancellations).

Men BerlinBostonChicagoLondonNew York Tokyo
Average Winning Time Since 200702:03:4102:09:4502:06:5002:04:5902:07:5702:07:09
WomenBerlinBostonChicagoLondonNew York Tokyo
Average Winning Time Since 200702:20:5602:27:1202:22:5202:20:3202:23:0002:25:08

What is the elite field for the 2021 London Marathon?

The London Marathon field for the elite men is as follows:

AthleteCountryPersonal Best (and where they set it)
Birhanu LegeseEthiopia02:02:48 (Berlin 2019)
Mosinet GeremewEthiopia02:02:55 (London 2019)
Titus EkiruKenya02:02:57 (Milan 2021)
Evans ChebetKenya02:03:00 (Valencia 2020)
Mule WasihunEthiopia02:03:16 (April 2019)
Sisay LemmaEthiopia02:03:36 (Berlin 2019)
Kinde AtanawEthiopia02:03:51 (Valencia 2019)
Shura Kitata TolaEthiopia02:04:49 (London 2018)
Vincent KipchumbaKenya02:05:09 (Amsterdam 2019)
Tristan WoodfineCanada02:10:51 (London 2020)

Is it possible to predict the London Marathon men’s winner?

It isn’t an exact science but based on the last fourteen editions there is a set of criteria that each winner has fulfilled. We first used this method in 2017 and it has proved a successful formula in the three editions since. We will start with the men.

All winning times have been below 2.08

Since 2007 no winner of the London Marathon has won the event with a time outside 2.08. The slowest time in that period was Martin Lel in 2007 with a time of 2.07.41. Anyone hoping to win the race will have to run under 2.08 to stand a chance of victory.

All previous winners have had personal bests below 2.07 coming into the race.

These stats will likely need to be revisited in the supershoe generation with the mark only going lower. But for now all previous winners have come into the race with a personal best below 2.07. Out of this year’s men’s crop that rules out only Tristan Woodfine of Canada.

All previous winners have run times approaching their personal best in the 18 months prior to the race.

With the Coronavirus pandemic there is a possibility that less frequent races could put paid to this criteria (at least in the short term). Nevertheless in the fourteen previous editions the winner has ran either a personal best or very close to a personal best (within 30 secs) in the eighteen months up to the race. London seems to be a race where form matters.

Of the men’s elite field for those who ran their personal best prior to 2020 here is their best performance since 2020.

  • Birhanu Legese – 2.03.16 – Valencia, Dec 2020
  • Mosinet Geremew – 2.06.05 – London, October 2020
  • Mule Wasihun – 2.06.08 – London, October 2020
  • Sissay Lemma – 2.04.51 – Tokyo, March 2020
  • Kinde Atanaw – 2.11.00 – Prague, May 2021
  • Shura Kitata Tola – 2.05.41 – London, October 2020
  • Vincent Kipchumba – 2.05.42 – London, October 2020

That said, to eliminate last year’s winner and second place simply by virtue that they haven’t ran within thirty seconds of their personal best seems arbitrary when it was for both their only race since 2020 (bar Shura Kitata Tola‘s recent DNF at the Olympics). Therefore it seems reasonable to extend this to within one minute of their personal best, given both Kipchumba and Kitata Tola were racing to win in London 2020 on a different course to usual. Their times can’t be seen as anything but an indicator of recent (last 18 months) form.

Who are the men’s favourites for the 2021 London Marathon?

This formula which may seem somewhat arbitrary but it is one in which I have a decent degree of faith. This would leave the following in with a chance of being first down the Mall.

Birhanu Legese‘s most recent outing was third place in the Valencia Marathon (2.03.16) in late 2020. Prior to that the Ethiopian won the Tokyo marathon in March 2020 (2.04.15) a race he also won in 2019. In the absence of Bekele and Kipchoge, Legese is for my money the favourite for the title. He was second behind Kenenisa Bekele in his 2019 personal best in Berlin and sits third on the all time list. His consistency is what stands him out and he has run five times below 2.05.

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The rest of the elite men’s favourites

Kenyan Titus Ekiru had an earth-shattering breakthrough in Milan to move sixth on the all-time list. His only previous major marathon performances are DNFs in Tokyo in 2020 and Chicago in 2018. Ekiru will be hoping for third time lucky at London but boasts victories in Mexico City, Honolulu (twice), Milan (twice) and Seville. Titus is 30 in January.

Evans Chebet had a highly successful 2020 winning in Lake Biwa (2.07.29) and Valencia (2.03.00). In 2019 he also ran 2.05.00 in Buenos Aires to set the South American all-comers record. In most other races the Kenyan would be a clear favourite but such is the quality of the field assembled that Chebet will start as one of many with the ability to take home the title.

Last year’s winner Shura Kitata Tola had been knocking on the door of a London victory for a number of years. Second in 2018, fourth in 2019 the Ethiopian also finished second in New York in 2018. His most recent race was the Olympic marathon where he pulled up after five miles holding his right hamstring. It will be interesting to see how he has recovered just eight weeks after that race.

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Vincent Kipchumba lost in the eventual sprint for the London title last year and is yet to race in 2021. He won in Vienna and Amsterdam in 2019 and may well be in contention once more if the early pace is measured.

The eliminated favourites

It is a bold move to ignore Mosinet Geremew. The London second placer from 2019 does not fulfil the criteria but ran an electric 2.02.55 in finishing second to Eliud Kipchoge here in 2019. Geremew also finished second in the Doha World Champs in 2019. Mosinet was fourth in London in 2020 in awful conditions, only fading late on and will be the biggest threat to this criteria.

Similar can be said for Mule Wasihun who has finished third and fifth in the most recent editions of London. The Ethiopian’s 2.03.16 was in finishing behind Geremew in London in 2019.

What we know for sure is the London 2021 men’s marathon race should be a classic. Catch all the action on Sunday 3rd October on the BBC.

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Featured image “Elite runner Tola Shura KITATA – London Marathon 2018” by marcoverch is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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