"Football is not a matter of life and death, it is more important than that."
London Marathon 2009I went to the London Marathon on Sunday for the first time. I was working for the Oxford Mail and so got a journalist's view of the race. That means that I was in the Media Centre from 8.45am to 4.00pm. The Media Centre was in the Tower Hotel overlooking Tower Bridge. I went outside twice for 10 minutes each t watch runners as they passed over Tower Bridge.
Because the Marathon is 26 miles on roads it is impossible to watch much live. There were big screens in the Media Centre with continuous coverage of the three separate races - men, women and wheelchair - with different screens for each. I was only interested in the women's race and in Mara Yamauchi from Oxford (her husband is Japanese).
She came second and that made for a good story for the Oxford Mail. Mara remembered me as the first journalist who had spoken to her in Beijing when she finished sixth.
The race was won by the 2008 champion, Irina Mikitenko of Germany in a time of 2:22:11, becoming the first woman since Paula Radcliffe (2002 and 2003) to win successive marathons. Mara was just over a minute behind in 2:23:12 which was 1 minute 51 seconds faster that her previous better ever marathon time - set in November 2008 for third place in the Tokyo marathon.
In the early part of the race Mara, Irina Mikitenko and 2007 winner Zhou Chunxiu went with the pacemaker and quickly opened up a gap on the rest of the field. Zhou was dropped after about 16 miles and then there were two.
Mara and Irina ran together to the 20 mile mark when the German started to inject more pace into the race and opened a gap on Mara which grew for the remainder of the race. Mara was never threatened for second lace finishing over a minute ahead of third placed Lilya Shobukova of Russia.
Mara said "I felt easy during the first half of the race but Irina kept putting in surges. My tactic was just to hold on to her as long as possible. Even when she went ahead for a while the gap wasn’t really opening and I tried to stop myself thinking it was over. I hoped Irina might slow down but ultimately I did not have the speed to catch her. I just tried to stay strong and finish as quickly as I could. I had no idea what was happening behind me.
"I have improved a lot in the last year. Today I came second in the London Marathon and knocked nearly 2 minutes off my best time so I have to be satisfied with that. Missing a medal in Beijing by only 20 seconds, convinced me that I should be looking for a win in every race but when I saw the London field I wasn't so sure. My husband said, 'They are all old ladies. You will be fine'. OK, I am also an old lady! But women marathon runners seem to peak in the late 30s. If I can keep improving a medal in London 2012 is a realistic goal".
Of the other leading contenders, 2008 Olympic Champion, Constantina Dita dropped out with a severe stitch about half-way. Double world champion Catherine Ndereba was 7th and 2007 London champion Zhou Chunxiu was 12th.