Thank God it’s Friday. And what better way to kick-off your weekend then watching some Olympic hopefuls on the other side of the planet pound pavement at the British Marathon Trials.
Not your cup of tea? That’s fair. There are probably several dozen better options on a Friday night. However, if you do end up tuning in to the British Marathon Trials (live or after the fact), we’ve got you covered.
WATCH: You can stream the British marathon trials here or watch in the viewer below. The race begins at 7 pm Friday 26 March (Australian Eastern Daylight Time).
What are the British marathon trials?
It’s pretty simple: some of the best British distance runners duelling it out over 42.2 km for the chance to earn coveted spots on their national Olympic team.
There are 15 men and 14 women on the official start list.
The top two male and female runners in the race — provided they run faster than the Olympic standard, or have previously achieved that mark in the qualification window — will earn automatic selections for Tokyo.
The Olympic standard for men is 2:11.30, which is roughly equivalent to running an average pace of 3:07/km (or 15:35 for each 5km split).
To hit the women’s standard of 2:29:30, athletes will need to maintain an average pace of about 3:32/km (or 17:40 for each 5km split)
Why are there only two automatic selections?
On the men’s side, the answer is simple: Scottish runner Callum Hawkins has already been named to the team.
Hawkins ran a 2:08.14 at the 2019 London Marathon, making him the third-fastest British marathoner of all time. He’ll be on pacing duties at the British Marathon Trials.
On the women’s side, the decision is (presumably) to provide British Athletics with some discretion over whom they ultimately select. (I explained some of the different trials formats, and the pros and cons of each, here).
A few women not in the race (more on that below) have the standard, so could fill-out the roster.
Runners you should watch
Dewi Griffiths (and Joshua Griffiths)
This story would be so much more intriguing if these two Welshmen and Swansea Harriers were brothers.
Alas, while they share a surname, I’ve been unable to prove any kinship. Nevertheless, both Griffiths are worth keeping an eye on in the British Marathon Trials.
Dewi has the fastest marathon time of all the male competitors (he ran 2:09.49 at Frankfurt in 2017 on debut!).
But he’s battled some pretty serious injuries since then, including a hamstring tear and a stress fracture in his hip.
In 2020, he raced a pair of half marathons, finishing in 65 and 66 minutes respectively. Those times were well off his personal best time of 1:01.33.
But he looks to be back in great shape. Earlier this month (on March 6th) he clocked a near personal best of 28:45 in a 10km road race. If he shows up with that form, expect him to contend.
Joshua isn’t quite on the same level, but he’s certainly no slouch. The self-coached 2:13.12 marathoner will be looking to shave two minutes off his personal best to be in contention.
If you tuned into the 2020 London Marathon, you would have seen frequent shots of Ben Connor, who finished 15th in a time of 2:11.20 on debut. He’s the only athlete in the field who has run the Olympic standard in the qualification window.
This could give him a leg-up. If the pace is off, and no one runs standard in the British marathon trials, he’ll be a likely candidate for selection alongside Hawkins and Jonny Mellor (another qualified athlete who was forced to withdraw from the trials due to injury).
Connor also boasts some impressive range: he’s a 13:19 5000-metre guy, and has clocked a sub-61 minute half marathon. Coming off an impressive debut, he could be poised to run something truly special in his second attempt at the distance.
Stephanie Davis and Sarah Inglis
On the women’s side, Stephanie Davis has the same advantage as Connor: she’s the only competitor coming into the race to have achieved the Olympic standard.
Davis ran a personal best of 2:27.42 in Valencia, Spain in 2019. With a few notable absences, she’s the fastest marathoner in the women’s field and will certainly be looking to earn the automatic qualifier.
Sarah Inglis, meanwhile, is another athlete to watch. She made her debut over 42.2km at the Marathon Project in Arizona in December 2020. She only missed the Olympic standard by 11 seconds.
In this — her second marathon — she’ll be looking to race with the lead pack. If she runs a personal best, she’s almost guaranteed to run the qualifier. But can she crack the top 2?
Natasha Cockram and Naomi Mitchell
At the 2020 London Marathon, in wet and windy conditions, Natasha Cockram and Naomi Mitchell ran virtually the entire race side by side, and finished 12th and 13th respectively.
Here are their respective splits from that race:
An interesting question arises from their rivalry: Who has improved more in the intervening five months?
Both runners will need to turn-in stellar performances to make the Olympic standard and compete, but it could be fun to watch the ‘race within a race’ if they once again match each other stride for stride.
Stories to watch at the British marathon trials
Who is not racing?
Unfortunately, the biggest storyline for the British marathon trials are the notable absences.
On the men’s side, Mo Farah (the fastest British marathoner of all time) is out, opting to focus his Olympic ambitions on the track. The already-selected Hawkins is pacing.
Another notable absence is Jonny Mellor, who withdrew last week due to a somewhat freak injury to his calf, apparently caused by a compression garment.
Mellor is an interesting case because he’s the proud owner of an Olympic standard. He ran 2:10.38 at the 2020 London Marathon and was the top British finisher.
With no chance at an automatic spot on the national team, he’ll surely be watching the race closely (and, presumably, crossing his fingers the top finishers don’t run faster than 2:11.30).
Top women out
On the women’s side, the field is particularly diluted, with the country’s fastest marathoners sidelined.
Jess Piasecki debuted and won the Florence Marathon in 2019 in a time of 2:25.29. She is the 3rd fastest British marathoner of all-time.
But Piasecki has long struggled with relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S), and resulting injuries, and is not lining up in the trials race.
The 4th fastest British marathoner of all-time, Charlotte Purdue (2:25.38), is also out of the race. As is the 6th fastest British runner, Steph Twell (2:26.40).
These three women, who have all achieved the Tokyo standard in the qualification period, would have been the most likely candidates to represent Great Britain.
Now, they’ll be forced to await the outcome to see if they’re still in contention to become 2021 Olympians.
Debut marathoners could turn heads
One parting storyline to watch, before we sign off, is the potential of those runners stepping-up in distance.
It’s always a difficult thing to look at an athlete’s personal best in other distances, and then try to project or predict what they’ll do over the marathon, because it’s such a different beast. And even the very best runners can have the wheels come off in the final few kilometres.
That said, it’s always a nice surprise to see someone make the leap. On the women’s side, keep an eye on Charlotte Arter, who has a zippy half marathon personal best of 1:09.40.
In the men’s race, pay attention to Mohamud Aadan, who ran 62:30 in 2018, and more recently clocked 62:41 at the World Half Marathon Championships in Poland in October 2020.