WRITTEN FOR ATHLETIS WEEKLY MAGAZINE
Shelly Woods added title number three to her 2005 and 2007 victories here with a dominating 52.59 winning display.
The 24-year-old Blackpool athlete, who competed amongst a classy men’s field, started strongly and held her form all the way through the 13.1-miler to the finish.
Coached by Pete Wyman and competing in the T54 category, Woods finished over four minutes ahead of Italy’s four-time London marathon winner and world marathon record-holder, Francesca Porcellato, just two days after taking the Tyne Tunnel 2km dash.
Woods, the British half-marathon record-holder and 2007 London marathon winner, now plans to contest the Berlin marathon this Sunday, followed by an appearance over 26.2-miles in New York in November.
Woods explained: “I felt really good. It’s not easy on your own, but I was chasing the lads and got close to some of the up-hills so it was different.
Winning in 2005 was my breakthrough with the course record, which I’m trying to get back. It’s such a great course and event and atmosphere, we were lucky the rain slowed down. My main focus is training for the World championships in New Zealand in January, I really want to get the gold so I’ll be training away a lot but I like keeping busy.”
Portcellato, still going strong at 40 and nicknamed the ‘Red Wheel’ was recently made the Italian equivalent of becoming a Dame and her 57:09 time was well clear of third-placed Nikki Emerson, the 22-year-old Brit who continued her fine form from fourth in London last spring.
Experience prevailed over youth in the women’s event, as 37-year-old Ethiopian Berhane Adere gave Ana Dulce-Felix of Portugal a lesson in – albeit dubious – winning tactics.
Evidently lacking confidence and curiously, despite a long illustrious career, the ability to keep her eyes ahead to focus, the 2009 runner-up clocked a victorious 68:49 to 27-year-old Dulce-Felix’s 69:01, which is a lifetime best for the third-place-finisher from last years’ event.
Adere, the former World 10,000m champion and Dulce-Felix, 15th in the 2009 World cross-country and winner of the Bupa Great Ireland Run last year, forced the pace from the outset with Britain’s Olympic marathon sixth-placer Mara Yamauchi and Portuguese duo Sara Moreira and Marissa Barros in the leading group.
Passing the one and two-marks at a blistering pace in 5:10 and 5:07 respectively, the pack of five was highlighted by the eventual winner’s multi-coloured headband which sported the Ethiopian colours as Adere’s return to form since finishing only 14th in the London marathon back in April, was quite unexpected.
The veteran’s win was, however, aided by the last-minute withdrawals of defending champion Jessica Augusto from Portugal and Germany's Irina Mikitenko, the former two-time London Marathon champion, but nevertheless, recorded an eye-catching victory.
Miles three to seven were registered at 5:14, 5:29, 5:33 (26:33 for five miles) 5:10 and 5:10, respectively and, locked tightly together until the eighth mile, (at 42:01) where Yamauchi was dropped with ease, the pack dwindled to three with Moreira, the European 5000m bronze-medallist, relinquishing in fourth comfortably ahead of the Tokyo-based 37-year-old Brit.
The following miles were passed in 5:08, 5:24 and 5:15 (52:40 at ten miles) and at 49-minutes in, Adere and Dulce-Felix pulled away from Barrios, eighth in the European marathon this summer, who became five-metres adrift for a short while before the leading duo decisively pushed further ahead.
Dulce-Felix continued to press on relentlessly but Adere stubbornly hung on just behind, with the gaps further back becoming more significant. With Moreira, Barrros and Yamauchi running solo, victory was at this stage, ascertained as a two-athlete race.
At the 57-minute mark just before eleven miles, Adere opened a yard gap after constantly glancing over her shoulder to estimate her advantage in the closing stages and both notably dug deep to snap the other.
In a real cat and mouse display, the European was eventually dropped at the 58-minute mark only to claw her way back into contention again in a gutsy demonstration of determination, before losing 10m on Adere at the hour mark.
Amazingly, Dulce-Felix, who was only sixth in the Adidas Women’s 5km challenge in London recently, came back again to draw level and even poke Adere’s back in a frustrated gesture against the African’s crafty tactics on the road.
Evidently unimpressed, Adere responded by flying off to stride out comfortably with a mile to go and, safe from any danger, sprinted from 500m out, still looking behind in the final metres despite ultimately finishing twelve seconds clear.
The winner explained afterwards: “It was a nice race which I’ve run many times and I’m happy with my time. She (Dulce-Felix) really pushed me and I used my tactic after 15km so I pushed on until the finish. I’ve not decided what race to do next.”
With the final three miles passed in 5:22, 5:12 and 5:00, the two Portuguese runners-up finished strongly to improve on their 2009 placings. Barros, ninth in the World marathon championship last summer, clocked 6:09 to finish a minute ahead of their third runner Moreira in 70:08.
Sidelined during the summer with a foot injury, Yamauchi hoped for better after returning from a spell of high-altitude training in St Moritz but the Harrow AC athlete was using the race as preparation for the ING New York marathon in November and now heads to Albuquerque to hone her race fitness.
Over two minutes shy of her best, the Bob Parker-coached athlete replicated her 2005 performance but was disappointed with her 70:38 time:
“I’ve still got some sharpening up to do and I guess it’s what I expected considering the training I’ve been doing. I expected to run quicker but it was really slow compared to what I hoped for. I’ve got to go away and do a bit of work but it wasn’t a disaster,” Yamauchi divulged.
“Shige (my husband) often trains with me on the bike so I don’t normally train alone. It’s hard with the Africans but it’s not impossible. I wasn’t well with a cold ten days ago so I think I’m possibly not quite over that yet but I hate making excuses.
Sometimes you feel fantastic but today I didn’t feel I had enough in the tank, hopefully come New York, I’ll be feeling better. I still believe that I can prepare to do well (for 2012). I might do a low-key fun-run for training over in Albuquerque but continue to train really hard for New York, my last race this year.”
Winchester’s 27-year-old Louise Damen made a startling return to racing after an 18-month absence to finish second British woman in 73:24. The 2008 European cross-country ninth-placer caused a pleasant surprise and will be hoping to get back to the shape which saw her register 70:47.07 for the distance in the past.
Damen, who is self-coached revealed: “I was pleased because it was tough as I ran the whole race on my own until the last 200m. It was a real mental battle with myself but I’m chuffed to do well in a strong elite field.
I would have liked to have run quicker but I can’t moan too much. I came in today fairly relaxed, not knowing what shape I’m in so I had nothing to lose. It’s good to know where I’m at and what I need to work on and I’m going to do the Great South (in October).”
Alyson Dixon of Chester-le-Street claimed the third British spot, one place behind in eighth overall to clock 74:15 after a recent fourth place in the Bupa Great Yorkshire 10km. Behind the 31-year-old Dixon, European marathon representative Rebecca Robinson put in admirable performance to clock 75:02 despite the 27-year-old’s tired legs and the recent death of her coach Norman Matthews. Fifth Brit went to Emily Pidgeon, who had a strong debut with 75:26 which took the 21-year-old Stroud runner to eleventh place overall.
2004 Olympic marathon champion Constantina Dita of Romania, meanwhile, was below-par, as the 38-year-old had to settle for 77:07 just ahead of European cross-country champion Hayley Yelling (77:40). The 36-year-old Windsor, Slough, Eton and Hounslow runner was ill in the lead-up to the race and although disappointed, remained positive ahead of her third Commonwealth Games – over 10,000m - next month.
• Quite a while back down the field in the mass race was former two-time winner Sonia O’Sullivan.
The Irishwoman accepted a challenge from the organisers to start the race dead-last and to then see how many people she could pass.
With a 67:17 best here from 2002, O’Sullivan gained £1 for Leukemia research for every runner she caught and managed to pass half the field to clock 2:15 and raise around £20,000 for the charity before heading off to her Australian home the following day.