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Could we see a new women’s-only world record at the 2024 London Marathon?



The London Marathon will play host to one of the strongest elite women’s fields in the event’s history this Sunday [21 April 2024] – and a new women’s-only world record could well be on the cards.

But first thing’s first – in the sphere of marathon running, how does a women’s-only world record differ from a ‘regular’ world record for women? A women’s-only world record can only be achieved in a race where just women take part, while women can run ‘regular’ world records in mixed-sex events. Since the elite women run a separate race to the elite men and masses at the London Marathon, it is possible for women to achieve a women’s-only world record there, using the help of female pacemakers to keep them on track.

Big record-breaking prospects at London this year include Tgist Assafa, a former track runner and 800m specialist who is now a verified long-distance legend thanks to her blistering victories at the 2022 and 2023 editions of the Berlin Marathon. While she broke the course record in 2022, in 2023 the 27-year-old Ethiopian set an outstanding new world record (note: in a mix-sex race) of 2:11:53, crushing Brigid Kosgei’s previous best of 2:14:04 by over two minutes and becoming the first ever woman to run a marathon in under 2:14 minutes – by quite some margin.

With that in mind, a new women’s-only world record is not looking impossible this Sunday. The current women’s-only mark was set by Mary Keitany at the 2017 London Marathon and sits at 2:17:01, which is over five minutes slower than Assefa’s world record time of 2:11:53. So, in theory, Assefa could be the one to make new women’s-only marathon running history in London this year – even though this will be only her third marathon and London debut.

‘I am very happy to be in London,’ says Assefa, unphased by the newness of running 26.2 miles in a city other than Berlin. ‘I’ve prepared very well for this race, and I’m sure that I can beat the record here – and I’m sure all my competitors will [believe they can beat the record] here as well.’

As Assefa herself acknowledges, she isn’t the only runner looking to put their name to a new women’s-only world record at the London Marathon this weekend. For starters, fellow Ethiopian Yalemzerf Yehualaw will be back to bid for another win, having scooped first place at the 2022 London Marathon at the age of 23 – making her the youngest ever female winner of the race. What’s more, she scored her PB of 2:17:23 on her first attempt just a few months earlier at the 2022 Hamburg Marathon, which, at the time, was the fastest marathon debut by a woman.

Some strong Kenyans will also accompany Assefa and Yehualaw on the start line. Top names include Brigid Kosgei (2:14:04), the former world record holder and a five-time victor at Abbott World Marathon Majors events; Ruth Chepngetich (2:14:18), the fourth-fastest woman over the marathon distance; and Peres Jepchirchir (2:17:16), the reigning Olympic marathon champion who placed third at London last year.

‘Most races I’ve run have had no pacemakers – just London,’ says Jepchirchir, reflecting on the conditions required to run a women’s-only world record. ‘I know it’s not easy, but because the team is strong when we work together as ladies, I know it is possible to run.

‘I’ve prepared myself well, and I’m praying God for that Sunday … I’ll try my best [to win].’

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