2024 London Marathon Preview: Tigist Assefa, Kenenisa Bekele And The Top Athletes, Storylines To Watch

By David Melly

April 19, 2024

The dust has barely settled on the Boston Marathon finish line, but there’s more elite marathoning coming up! The 2024 TCS London Marathon takes place this weekend, the third and final of the spring Abbott World Marathon Majors, marking the halfway point in the six-race series. If you thought Boston was a big deal, hold onto your fancy British hats – with over 50,000 participants expected, London is nearly twice the size and features a star-studded elite field full of Olympic contenders.

The race kicks off on Sunday, April 21 at 8:30 a.m. local time. That’s an early wakeup for East Coast American fans, with the race beginning at 3:30 a.m E.T., and West Coasters may be able to watch the whole thing late Saturday night, with the racing happening between midnight and 3 a.m, there. Viewers in the U.S. can stream the race on Flotrack (paid subscription required).

Or you can follow live results and tracking online or by downloading the London Marathon app. Below, we break down the course and weather, top names and storylines in the men’s and women’s races, and Americans to watch at the U.K.’s marquee running event.

The Course And The Weather

Unlike its New England counterpart, the London Marathon course in Old England is nearly pancake flat. Beginning in Greenwich Park, athletes snake back and forth across the Thames through downtown London before ending right in the Windsors’ driveway at Buckingham Palace. Four of the 20 fastest men’s marathons ever run and two of the women’s have happened on this course, most notably Paula Radcliffe’s 2003 world record of 2:15:25 that stood for 16 years.

Sunday looks to be pretty darn good marathoning weather as well in the UK, with temperatures projected to stay in the 40s (Fahrenheit) for most of the race, plus mostly cloudy skies. There is a strong northerly wind in the forecast, which may feel like a headwind on some parts of the course, but the urban setting and twisting turns of this particular race setup can dampen some of the effects of a sustained wind. There’s no real indication that fast times won’t be possible – in fact, they’re looking likely.

Men’s Preview: All Eyes On Bekele

When it comes to the marathon, you never quite know what to expect from Kenenisa Bekele.

The three-time Olympic champion and former world record holder on the track has had a roller-coaster transition to the roads. There was the promising 2:05:04 debut in Paris back in 2014 and a 2:03:03 victory at the 2016 Berlin Marathon, but there’s also been a handful of withdrawals and DNFs. Bekele is the third-fastest man of all time over 26.2, thanks to his 2:01:41 at Berlin in 2019, but he also hasn’t won a marathon since that race.

Last year alone reflected the highs and lows of the Ethiopian’s road-racing career, with a DNF at London followed up by a master’s world record of 2:04:19 in Valencia. So who knows what the 41-year-old is going to bring to London this time around – he could just as easily contend for the win as drop out in the first 10 miles.

With the devastating passing of last year’s champ Kelvin Kiptum and the recent announcement that runner-up Geoffrey Kamworor has withdrawn with an injury, the top returner from the 2023 edition of the race is Ethiopian Tamirat Tola. The 32-year-old Tola has been far more consistent than Bekele over the past few years: in his last six marathons he’s won a World Championship, set a PB of 2:03:40, and finished third at London last year. The one blemish is a DNF in the heat of Budapest at last year’s World Championships, but he bounced back from that performance to win his first World Marathon Major with a speedy 2:04:58 victory in New York City. If there’s a betting favorite in this race, Tola is probably your guy.

Tamirat Tola finishing 3rd at the 2023 London Marathon. Tamirat Tola finishing 3rd at the 2023 London Marathon.

Kevin Morris/@KevMoFoto

With a 2:02:55 PB set behind Eliud Kipchoge in London in 2019, Mosinet Geremew knows how to run fast on this course, but Geremew hasn’t raced in over a year and has likely been battling injuries since picking up a silver medal at the Eugene World Championships in 2022. If he’s healthy and fit, he’ll be a factor, but that’s a big “if.” If you’re looking for someone trending in the right direction at the right time, former 1500m specialist Dawit Wolde ran 2:03:48 for third at the 2023 Valencia Marathon after years of not quite putting the pieces together marathon-wise. And if you’re looking to bet on WMM experience, 2021 Chicago champ Seifu Tura or 2022 London runner-up Leul Gebresilase are other names to watch.

There’s also implications aplenty for the British Olympic team as British Athletics has only named one member of its Olympic marathon roster so far: two-time 2:08 man Phil Sesemann. The famously-controversial and oft-critiqued British selection policy requires those competing in spring marathons to be selected only after London, and with four sub-2:10 Brits entered, headlined by youngster Emile Cairess and two-time Olympian Callum Hawkins, there’s going to be a speedy Brit or two watching Paris from home. And we haven’t even mentioned Marc Scott (formerly of Bowerman Track Club, now training with NN Running), who’s making his long-awaited marathon debut.

Women’s Preview: An All-Star Lineup In Action

With all due respect to the men’s field, for the second year in a row the London Marathon is shaping up to be one of the all-time great head-to-head clashes in women’s marathoning. Even without last year’s champion Sifan Hassan, the field assembled is arguably one of the most stacked groups in history.

The field features the #1, 3, 4, and 9 fastest women of all time, headlined of course by Tigst Assefa, fresh off a world-record run in Berlin last fall. What’s crazy is that arguably none of these women have the best resume!

Peres Jepchirchir, the reigning Olympic Champion, celebrating a marathon victory.Peres Jepchirchir, the reigning Olympic Champion, celebrating a marathon victory.

Kevin Morris/@KevMoFoto

Peres Jepchirchir is the 7th-fastest entrant on paper but is the reigning Olympic and World Half champion, a two-time major champ at Boston ‘22 and New York ‘21, and last year’s third-placer in London. Brigid Kosgei has the most WMM titles, at five, but her last major victory came in 2022 and she’s struggled with injuries in recent years (although she did finish fourth in last year’s battle royale in NYC). Ruth Chepngetich has a World title, two wins in Chicago, and two wins at the Nagoya Women’s Marathon (most recently in 2023), so she should contend for the win here after finishing third in London her last time out, back in 2020.

It’s hard to call an Olympic champion a dark horse, but 2016 10,000m gold medalist Almaz Ayana has had a relatively quiet transition to the roads after setting the record for fastest marathon debut at Amsterdam in 2022. She is, however, coming off a personal best 2:16:22 at Valencia in December, where she finished second, but she only finished seventh at this race last year. And two other names worth mentioning are former London champs Yalemzerf Yehualaw (2022) and Joyciline Jepkosgei (2021) – a testament to how talented this field is that the former champs are practically relegated to afterthoughts.

Even with all these big names, the top returner from last year is the relatively unheralded Megertu Alemu, the Ethiopian who’s never won a major marathon but finished second here last year, third in Chicago last fall, and third in London in 2022. She’s trending in the right direction, so maybe this is her year.

Good luck making a pick in this one – there’s credible arguments for half a dozen athletes to take the win, at least. Assefa is the only runner who hasn’t lost a marathon in the last year, but that’s a slightly misleading statistic as she’s only raced once, in Berlin, in 2023. After finishing third in 2023, Jepchirchir might be a smart pick as the 30-year-old has shown she can time an Olympic cycle well and has been trending back the right way since withdrawing from the 2022 NYC Marathon with an injury. And speaking of the Olympics, there are huge implications on the line for both the Kenyan and Ethiopian squads, with Assefa probably the only athlete in the field guaranteed a spot if she wants it at this point.

The Americans: A Shot At Olympic Trials Redemption

Susanna Sullivan was last year’s top American at the London Marathon.Susanna Sullivan was last year’s top American at the London Marathon.

@Kevin Morris/@KevMoFoto

There are only two American marathoners in the elite field, with two very different storylines. Susanna Sullivan finished 10th in London in 2023, but an ill-timed case of COVID-19 knocked her out of this year’s Olympic Marathon Trials. Sullivan is a full-time teacher and shares a sponsor with the London Marathon, as Tata Consultancy Services prioritizes education as one of its philanthropic endeavors. Assuming she didn’t miss too much training due to illness, she’s probably raring to get some redemption after missing an opportunity to compete in Orlando.

Boston-based Saucony runner Brian Shrader did toe the line in Orlando but only made it 17 miles as fueling issues derailed his Olympic bid. The 32-year-old had a breakout 2:09:46 race in Chicago last fall to join the sub-2:10 club, and though it’s a long shot, there is a path for Shrader to unlock the final Olympic spot once and for all for Team USA. A top-five finish feels like an extreme long shot, but it’s likely that the aforementioned 2:08 Brits will be running together in a pack paced for something like the Olympic standard of 2:08:10. If Shrader can attach himself to that group and has an A+ day in London, he’s got a chance at hitting the time needed to guarantee Lenny Korir’s ticket to Paris.

Thanks for reading! Follow along with us for all the road running and track and field action happening this weekend on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

David Melly

David began contributing to CITIUS in 2018, and quickly cemented himself as an integral part of the team thanks to his quick wit, hot takes, undying love for the sport and willingness to get yelled at online.