Setting the Scene – Records Under Threat

On October 4 the running community will be glued to their televisions, witnessing what will hopefully be one of the best road races of the year. The 2020 London Marathon looks set to produce a platform for some outstanding performances, with the the elite men’s race – headlined by the greatest marathon runners in history, Eliud Kipchoge (KEN) and Kenenisa Bekele (ETH) – also including eight athletes who have run sub 2:05 marathons. This includes Mosinet Geremew (ETH) and Mule Wasihun (ETH), who were second and third respectively at the 2019 Virgin Money London Marathon.

Then in the women’s elite race the headline acts are led by world record holder Brigid Kosgei (KEN). There are also a further five women who have run inside 2:20, current world champion Ruth Chepngetich (KEN), 2019 Valencia Marathon champion Roza Dereje (ETH), 2018 London Marathon champion Vivian Cheruiyot (KEN), 2019 Frankfurt Marathon winner Valary Jemeli (KEN) and 2019 Amsterdam Marathon champion Degitu Azimeraw (ETH).

The Australian Elite

The excitement doesn’t end with the likes of Kipchoge, Bekele and Kosgei, with four of Australia’s best road runners also set to light up the streets of London. On the women’s side we have Sinead Diver and Ellie Pashley flying the flag for Australia, while on the men’s side we have to exciting prospects, and training partners, in Brett Robinson and Jack Rayner.

The marathon is one of the most brutal events in athletics, but if the stars align there is every chance that both the men’s and women’s Australian marathon records could come under serious threat. In the men’s race Robinson has spoken publicly about attacking the Australian record (currently held by Rob de Castella at 2:07:51*), with his intention to go out at 2:08:00 pace, while Diver’s progression over the last two years, including a PB of 2:24:11 when 7th in last years London marathon, suggests that the Australian record of 2:22:36 (Benita Willis, when 3rd at the 2006 Chicago marathon) is realistically within reach.

Note: * De Castella broke the Australian record in the Boston marathon. Boston’s course is point-to-point with a net elevation loss that exceeds the IAAF’s limits, so is not considered “legal” for record purposes. However this is only applicable from 1990, so de Castella’s record still stands as he set it back in 1986.
Benita Willis (above) ran four times under 2:30:00 in her career, including a 2:26:32 for 6th in the 2005 London marathon and a 2:29:47 for 7th in the 2007 London marathon. Her Australian record still stands at 2:22.36, when placing 3rd in the Chicago marathon in 2006.

Our Australian Stars

Sinead Diver (43 years old)
Sinead Diver (43 years old)Marathon Best: 2:24:11 (London 2019)
This will be Diver’s 10th marathon, three times running under 2:30:00. In 2019 she placed 7th at the London marathon (2:24:11), while also placing 5th in New York (2:26:53). Diver also has a 68:50 half marathon best. At the 2015 World Championships she placed 21st in the marathon, and went onto place 20th two years later at the 2017 World Championships. At the 2019 Doha World Championships Diver placed 14th in the 10000m, running a PB of 31:25.49.
Ellie Pashley (31 years old)
Ellie Pashley (31 years old)Marathon Best: 2:26:21 (Nagoya 2019)
This will be Pashley’s 6th marathon, twice running under 2:30:00. In 2019 she placed 14th at the Nagoya marathon (2:26:21), while also placing 8th in New York (2:27:07). Pashley also owns a 69:14 half marathon best. At the 2018 World Half Marathon Championships she placed 24th (71:43), and went onto place 13th in the 10000m final at the 2019 Doha World Championships, running a PB of 31:18.89 (including a final 5000m in 15:35.75).
Benita Willis (Australian Record Holder)
Benita Willis (Australian Record Holder)Marathon Best: 2:22:36 (Chicago 2006)
Willis was an exceptional track athlete, ranging from 1500m up to 10000m. She still holds the 3000m and 10000m Australian records, only recently having her 5000m record taken from her after Jessica Hull ran 14:43.80 in Monaco this year. Willis loved London, placing 6th in 2005 and 7th in 2007, but interestingly only ran four times under 2:30:00, including her 2:22:36 3rd placed effort in Chicago in 2006.
Lisa Ondieki
Lisa OndiekiMarathon Best: 2:23:51 (Osaka 1988)
Ondieki is still regarded as Australia’s best ever female marathon runner. At the time she ran an Australian record of 2:23:51 when winning in Osaka in 1988. She also won in New York (1992), Auckland Commonwealth Games (1990), Edinburgh Commonwealth Games (1986) and won a silver medal at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul. In total she broke 2:30:00 on 11 separate occasions.
Brett Robinson (29 years old)
Brett Robinson (29 years old)Marathon Best: 2:10:55 (London 2019)
Robinson has only competed in three marathons over his career, one ‘DNF’, pulling out after 30km in Fukuoka, Japan in 2018, 13th place at last years London marathon (2:10:55) and 23rd place at the 2019 New York marathon (2:17:50). His career highlight has actually come in the form of an Australian record earlier in 2020, when he was the first Australian to break 60 minutes for the half marathon (59:57 in Marugame, Japan). On the IAAF ranking tables this time converts to a 2:08:13, a time in which he will be pushing hard to beat in this years London marathon.
Jack Rayner (24 years old)
Jack Rayner (24 years old)Marathon Best: 2:11:06 (London 2019)
Rayner first showed his enormous promise when he took down some class athletes when winning the 2018 Commonwealth Half Marathon Championships. His time of 61:01 was a big improvement from previous efforts over the distance, but more was to come when he ran his debut marathon at the 2019 London marathon. He just missed out on the fastest ever Australian debut over the distance (produced by Jeff Hunt in 2010 of 2:11:00), when he ran his PB of 2:11:06. At 24, this will only be Rayner’s third marathon of his career, with most marathon runners reaching their peak well into their late 20’s and into their 30’s.
Rob de Castella (Australian Record Holder)
Rob de Castella (Australian Record Holder)Marathon Best: 2:07:51 (Boston 1986)
As with Lisa Ondieki on the women’s side, de Castella is widely regarded as Australia’s best ever male marathon runner. Over his career de Castella broke 2:10.00 on no fewer than 10 occasions, including wins in Boston, Fukuoka, Rotterdam (twice) and a famous win at the 1983 World Championships. He also ran an incredible race to win gold at the 1982 Commonwealth Games in 2:09:18. He also held the world record for the men’s marathon (2:08:18) from December 6th, 1981 through to October 21st, 1984 – when Steve Jones broke it with a 2:08:05 in Chicago.
Steve Moneghetti
Steve MoneghettiMarathon Best: 2:08:16 (Berlin 1990)
Moneghetti took the baton from de Castella in the late 80’s and produced some fantastic performances on the world stage. It all started when he placed 4th at the 1987 World Championships and was quickly followed by a 5th place effort at the 1988 Olympic Games. In the 90’s he placed 7th at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, following up with a career best performance when winning bronze at the 1997 World Championships in Seville (2:14:16). Moneghetti also took home a silver medal at the 1990 Commonwealth Games (2:10:34). Still owns the 15km world best for the men’s 55+ age group, set in 2019 of 49:27.

Race Forecast – Our Thoughts on the Men’s and Women’s Races

The magical sub 2:08:00 marathon

Robinson ran hist first 21.1km at last year’s London marathon in 63:25, finishing his final half in 67:30. This year it looks as though he will require something closer to 62:00, finishing in around 65:45. Considering that he ran 59:57 earlier this year for the half marathon, these would look to be realistic splits. There could also be the opportunity to run 63:00/64:45 with more even km splits, especially over the final half of the race.

Diver also chasing world age group records

It’s amazing to think that Sinead Diver turned 43 back in April, and is running better than ever. Looking at the fastest times ever run by female athletes aged 40+ and you can’t stop yourself from getting just that little bit excited about a possible world record attempt from Diver in London. Lydia Cheromei of Kenya ran a 2:22:11 in 2018 to place 2nd in Valencia at 41 years of age. She holds the 40+ world best, while Mariya Konovalova of Russia at the age of 40 also ran 2:22:27 when 2nd in Nagoya back in 2015. If Diver was to break the Australian Open record then she could easily also challenge for a world age best, now that would be a good day at the office!

Running a 2:22:00 women’s marathon

This will certainly be new territory for Diver, as she attempts to take close to 2 minutes off her career best time of 2:24:11. It’s interesting to note that Benita Willis went through half way in 70:15 when breaking the Australian record, coming home in 72:21. When Diver ran her marathon best last year she went through half way in 71:22 and came home in 72:49. So the challenge will be, will the pace be perfect for around a 70:30 first half, followed by a second half of 72:00? Either way Diver needs to find around a minute per 21.1km to challenge the AR of 2:22:36.

Chasing fast times

There is one thing for certain, Ellie Pashley and Jack Rayner are not travelling half way around the world (including running within the COVID-19 pandemic) to not lay everything on the line. We will most likely see both sit in separate pacing packs compared to both Diver and Robinson, although this doesn’t mean that career best performances are out of the question. Pashley has had a solid 12 week block leading into the race (after only running 65km back in June), and although not quite as confident leading into this race as her previous marathons, there is still every reason to feel that a sub 2:26:00 remains on the table. In the men’s race 24 year-old Rayner is still so young in marathon terms. This will be yet another great experience for the up and coming star of the roads, and anything around 2:10:00 – 2:12:00 would be an excellent result.

The looped course

The total distance around St James’s park is 1.7km, so the expectation that runners will be required to complete 24 loops of the course and end in the same place as previous London marathon events. The venue was initially thought to be a good venue for the first sub 2:00:00 marathon attempt, before the record attempt was moved to Austria due to volatility in weather conditions. Therefore every suggestion is that it will be a fast course, but will still be very dependant on the London weather, as they move closer to the mid point of Autumn (note: average temperatures for London in October – high of 16° / low of 10°)

London is the place to be!

Australian athletes love London when it comes to marathons. On the women’s side, Sinead Diver (2:24:11), Lisa-Jane Weightman (2:25:15), Nicole Carroll (2:25:52) and Kerryn McCann (2:25:59) have all run their career best performances in London. On the men’s side Steve Moneghetti (twice placing second in the London marathon in 1989 and 1995) and Lee Troop (2:09:58, second fastest time of his career) have both appreciated the iconic event. Surprising to note that Rob de Castella never contested the London event, with his fastest marathons being completed in the United States, Netherlands and Japan.

This could be a classic!

With the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc across the world, 2020 has had been a very tough year for so many people at so many levels. the London marathon will hopefully bring with it some magical moments, and make the year just that little bit better. There is so much anticipation for our Australian competitors, with a real chance that we could actually see an Australian record (or two) broken on the day.
At 43 Sinead Diver is at the peak of her powers and ready to shine, while Brett Robinson is fast becoming a name to watch on any marathon start list. Then you have Ellie Pashley and Jack Rayner who both have nothing to lose and much to gain out of such a high quality event.
So what would be the best outcome? It would be wonderful to see records broken but all we can ask for is that all four Australians can get to the start line healthy, both mentally and physically, and for each of them to have the race(s) that they are proud of when they look back in years to come.
Final predictions (just because we can!!) – Robinson (2:08:25), Rayner (2:09:55), Diver (2:23:00), Pashley (2:26:30), but as we know with marathon running, anything can (and will) happen! Good luck to all our Aussie stars of the road.

Steve Moneghetti (above) placed 2nd in the 1989 London marathon in 2:09:06.

Additional Marathon Rankings:
Australian All-Time Top-20 Performances

About the author : Chris Wainwright

I'm an athletics fan who loves everything statistics related. I have set up this website to add as many Australian athletics statistics as possible, including deep all-time ranking lists at Open, Junior and Youth levels.