Hallissey finishes top Brit in the Virgin London Marathon

Claire HallisseySelection for the Olympic Games marathon was the name of the game at Sunday's Virgin London Marathon with a host of British athletes vying for the remaining Team GB places; the athletes in the mix are hoping to join compatriots Paula Radcliffe (coach: Gary Lough), Mara Yamauchi (Shige Yamauchi) and Scott Overall (Robert Chapman), when the British Olympic Association announce the second and final marathon selection on Monday.

British Women

Claire Hallissey (self-coached) has done as much as possible to earn Team GB selection for this summer’s London Olympics with an outstanding lifetime best of 2:27:44 to finish 11th in today’s Virgin London Marathon and put herself in a strong position to take the one remaining Games-place available.

With Paula Radcliffe and Mara Yamauchi already selected and Jo Pavey (Gavin Pavey) – who clocked ‘A’ qualification standards in both London and New York in 2011 - opting out of today’s race, the US-based 29-year-old had the company of fellow Brits Freya Murray (Steve Jones) and Louise Damen (self-coached) for the first 17 miles today as the trio locked together in their shared sub-2:28 mission.

With just under 15km remaining however, she took her chance to break, convinced that if the opportunity arose, she should take it.

“I was trying to build a little bit of a gap, not because I was feeling amazing but because when I was feeling good I felt I should try to push it on,” she admitted.

“I was just aware that Freya and Louise had a bit more natural speed than me and I wanted a bit of a gap going into the finish. I had more faith in breaking them at that point than over a speedy final few miles and after I got away I didn’t look back; I didn’t want to look behind and see them close to me or I thought I might crumble.”

Hallissey has shown great promise over the longer distances in recent years and today’s performance was not entirely unexpected.

She was top Brit in the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Birmingham in 2009 and a year later lowered her personal best over the distance to a credible 72:02 in Bristol, just prior to her 2:36:13 debut over the full 26.2 miles in New York City.

In October 2011 she recorded 2:29:27 in Chicago which was good enough to rank her fourth in the UK for the year, but crucially at that point, almost a full minute slower than Pavey.

“I took the same approach for this as I did before Chicago Marathon,” said Hallissey. “I went to Boulder to train at altitude and I didn’t do a lot of really speedy stuff, but I did replicate a lot of my pre-Chicago sessions and I was running quicker so I took confidence from that.

“New York half was slower than I wanted (72:58), but I took confidence from my ten miler in Washington (the Cherry Blossom Ten where she clocked 54:37) because it was exactly the time I wanted to run.

“I’m not trying to think too much about the Olympics now as I don’t think I could cope with the disappointment if I didn’t get picked, but I know I’ve done everything I can do.”

Arguably, Freya Murray also did everything that was asked of her as she clocked 2:28:10 on her debut to finish inside Pavey’s benchmark time and in 13th place. It was a brilliant performance, but just not quite as brilliant has Hallissey on an otherwise successful day for the British duo.

“The first couple of miles just flew in,” said Murray, who is coached by British marathon record holder Steve Jones. “We were more or less together right through to 17 miles, but even at that point she (Hallissey) wasn’t that far ahead, there was just a small gap we didn’t close, it had just gradually opened up.”

Murray herself was determined to push on and with 10k to go admitted that something just clicked: “Something just went off in my head...maybe it’s because it’s a distance I’m familiar with, but it didn’t seem too bad,” she said.

“I just picked it up and I really thought I could catch Claire. I could see her just ahead and it didn’t seem that far, I even thought I was closing. Also over the last few miles there was just so much noise it was unbelievable; in fact the whole way the number of people supporting me and shouting my name was amazing.

“I do feel a little disappointed now though. I’m pleased but frustrated, I mean I’m really pleased for Claire but we were all going for one Olympic spot and there was always going to be someone disappointed.

“I learned a lot today.”

Louise Damen was third Brit home in 16th (2:31:37).

British Men

The British men were understandably despondent, although the top two - Lee Merrien (John Nuttall) and John Beattie (John Nuttall) - both recorded personal best times.

Merrien finished 17th in 2:13:41, an improvement on his Virgin London Marathon performance 12 months ago but outside the UKA Olympic Games ‘A’ qualification standard of 2:12:00, while Beattie was just happy to do himself justice with a 2:16:38 performance after a disaster, by his own admission, on his New York debut.

“The guys at the front went off a fraction too quick but it was still ok,” said Merrien. “At five or six miles we slowed a bit and I was sharing the lead with Ben (Whitby) but from seven or eight miles I was more or less running on my own.”

“I knew I wasn’t too far out on time (the qualifying time) on the Embankment, but I was slightly out, I was maybe still on for 2:12 flat until around 25km but then I started to fall off it.

“I did so much on my own...I’m not saying it would have made a difference, but the wind was a factor and so was the isolation. I did pick people off but I couldn’t do enough to make up the time.

“If it has been a non-Olympic year I’d have been happy with a PB but it is and a PB wasn’t my only target.”

Beattie, the second Brit home in 19th, ran a sensible race and is reassured there’s now more to come: “It’s a step in the right direction and I’m looking forward to progressing in the marathon now, but I’m also looking forward to doing some damage over 5000m and 10,000m on the track this summer,” he said.

Phil Anthony was the third Brit to finish in 20th (2:16:40).

The final Olympic marathon selection places will be announced on Monday 23 April. Go to www.uka.org.uk