Olympic 5000m and 10,000m champion in relaxed mood ahead of 26.2-mile debut in London as part of a women’s elite field which is set to produce fireworks

As she prepares to make her marathon debut, Sifan Hassan articulated a thought which must have entered the heads of the tens of thousands of people who are about to run 26.2 miles around the streets of London on Sunday (April 23).

“Sometimes I wake up and think: ‘Why the hell am I running a marathon?’” laughed the reigning 5000m and 10,000m Olympic champion. It was a moment of light relief in a low-key London Marathon press conference which perhaps didn’t quite reflect the potential fireworks which could lie in store in the elite women’s race.

It was a fearsome foursome packed with extraordinary distance running power which took to the stage, with Hassan joined by the reigning London champion and 10km world record-holder Yalemzerf Yehualaw, marathon world record-holder Brigid Kosgei and Olympic champion Peres Jepchirchir.

The potential for a race to remember is enormous and three of this quartet certainly weren’t ruling out a tilt at the women’s only world record of 2:17:01, set on this course by Mary Keitany in 2017, though the cold and damp conditions which are forecast for race day may have something to say about that.

For Hassan, however, there are “no times in mind”. The fastest women’s marathon debut is the 2:16:49 run by Letesenbet Gidey in December but the Dutchwoman quipped: “If I ran 2:16 in the marathon I don’t think I would have any legs at the end of the race! I’m curious and I just want to run the marathon now. I haven’t got times in mind.”

With a summer track season in the offing, Hassan insists she has not changed her usual 5000m and 10,000m training to accommodate this new challenge, while the fact she also observed Ramadan may prove to be a factor. Hers is a marathon build-up which falls into the category of unconventional.

“I haven’t really done that much marathon training as, when I started out, Ramadan started,” she said. “Going fast and doing a lot of mileage is very hard. My training hasn’t been that great and I can’t say I’m just doing marathon training as I’m also focusing on training on the track.

“When I did the long runs, the lack of drink was the biggest challenge [during Ramadan]. Fasting for the whole month [March 22 – April 21], I don’t know what that’s going to do to my own body. When I put so much drink in my body during the marathon, I don’t know what that’s also going to do to my stomach. I’m really nervous about that.”

Yalemzerf Yehualaw and Brigid Kosgei (London Marathon Events)

But this is still an athlete who has broken European records at 1500m, 3000m, 5000m, 10,000m and the half marathon. Although there might be nerves, no-one will be underestimating Hassan’s potential.

“Whether I run a good or bad time, the most important thing is to learn,” she said. “As a human being, I’m always curious.

“London always has the greatest and fastest athletes and you’re always curious about who’s going to win. I want to challenge myself against the fastest and strongest women and see how much I can keep up with them.”

Doing so will be no simple task. Though the spring chill meant the athletes arrived huddled in plenty of layers and big coats, the pace is likely to be hot when the starting gun is fired.

There was an assured confidence about Yehualaw who is clearly intent on another victory and, though she admitted to a recent hamstring issue, 2020 winner Kosgei insists she is also good to go. Jephchirchir remains unbeaten over the marathon distance, too, winning all five of her races to date in Saitama, Valencia, New York, Boston and that Olympic contest.

That is just a sample of the talent assembled for the 2023 edition so, returning to Hassan’s question, why run a marathon?

Kosgei perhaps provided the most appropriate answer as far these women are concerned.

“The fields are very strong as everyone wants to be a winner here.”

It’s time to find out just who that will be.

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