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07 November 2014, 9am

AIMS President joins 13,000 runners

Tips from a marathon master inspire favourite in Athens

If Joan Rotich retains her title along the historic route from the coastal town of Marathon to the Panathinaikon stadium in Athens on Sunday, advice from a man who broke a marathon barrier just over eleven years ago will have gone a long way in helping achieve that goal.

Rotich accomplishes the tough preparation process in Kenya’s Ngong Hills, where she reckons she is fitter than a year ago in time for her title defence in the Athens Marathon, dubbed “The Authentic” by the historically aware race organisers. None other than the former marathon world record holder Paul Tergat based his training in that demanding terrain and these days he stands ready each morning to set out the day’s training plan to Rotich and her running partners.

“He is there seven days a week to set the programme for the big morning session, then in the evening we do easy jogging. This year I’ve trained harder and feel fitter than ever before,” said the quietly confident Rotich.

Athens is renowned as a tough marathon course, undulating with a particularly gruelling downhill last 10 km which pummels the runners’ quads after a series of climbs and descents from the race start in Marathon. The women’s event record stands at 2:31:06 and Joan Rotich was just over ten minutes slower in crossing the line last year for victory in the stadium which was the venue for the first modern Olympics in 1896.

But the words of Paul Tergat, the first man to break 2:05 in the marathon eleven years ago in Berlin, will ring in Joan Rotich’s ears when she stands on the start line beside the Marathon Flame at 9am on Sunday. “He says he believes I can break 2:30, a lifetime best for me,” said Rotich at the press conference at the Marathon Expo in central Athens on Thursday. That would mark a solid improvement on her current best of 2:33:56, set in finishing second in the German city of Muenster in September 2103.

The event record for the men’s race is 2:11:35, set by Raymond Bett two years ago. He is due to return while already in Athens and limbering up for a title challenge is last year’s third placer, fellow Kenyan David Rutoh.

“I’ve been thinking how I can improve and go one or two places better this time. I’m in the same training group in Kericho as Bernard Kitur. He was one of the pacemakers when Dennis Kimetto broke the world record in Berlin six weeks ago and I’ve been matching him stride for stride in training,” reflected the experienced Rutoh. Kenyan talent can sometimes blaze brightly then be snuffed out almost as quickly but David Rutoh has a solid portfolio of performances. This includes a course record of 2:13:22 to win in Leiden in the Netherlands in mid-May, his most recent marathon. But reproducing a similar time on a course very different to the Dutch one will be a tough proposition in Athens.

At least one man on the start line on Sunday will savour the challenge ahead, come what may. Paco Borao is President of AIMS, the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races, so he needs no history lessons about the significance of the race venue. The Spaniard is happy to be running at all, four years into a renewed running career after being diagnosed with bowel cancer six years ago. Recovery from surgery took two years before he set out on the road to regain fitness. All that was preceded by a 22-year break from running. At the age of 68, the prospect of challenging his best of 3:15, set in Madrid in the mid-1980s, may be distant, but like 13,000 of his fellow competitors, he will relish running in the footsteps of marathon history.

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