Fans of distance running, rejoice. Okay, the cross country season may be over, and yes, we're still five long weeks away from the start of the IAAF Diamond League, but that doesn't mean you'll be left idle. Spring has sprung, and with it the world's best marathoners are ready to strut their stuff on the streets of Paris, Rotterdam, Boston, London and elsewhere.
Next week we'll look forward to the best of the action, but to get you in the mood it's first time to look back. So here, in the opinion of SPIKES, are the five greatest spring marathon races of all time.
5) London 1985: Ingrid the invincible
There are people who break world records, who take little tiny chips off them over time, and then there are people like Ingrid Kristiansen, the trailblazer who utterly destroyed them.
At the age of 29, the Norwegian great toed the line in the 1985 London Marathon fuelled by the fire of a fourth-place finish in the first ever women's Olympic marathon in Los Angeles the previous year. Kristiansen was already a legend in the sport, having set world records at 5000m, 10,000m and taken the 1984 title in London in 2:24:26.
However, on a sunny spring day in the English capital, she took women's running into new territory, reeling off a series of 5:20 miles that left the thousands lining the streets and the millions watching on TV in awe.
"This is the best marathon ever run by a woman," the BBC commentators declared as she powered through the final mile, already aware that Joan Benoit's world best of 2:22:43 was living on borrowed time. Despite fading over the latter half, Kristiansen reached the finish in 2:21:06, hacking 1:37 off the previous record and winning by seven – SEVEN – minutes.
Kristiansen would go on to win London twice more, and her world best mark stood for 13 years. Here she is on the final run to the line, warmly received by race director Chris Brasher, who would later hand over a $50,000 bonus for her world record run:
4) Boston 2014: Meb lives the American dream
"Are they going to get him?"
For the majority of the 2014 Marathon, that was the question on everyone's lips as Meb Keflezighi, bidding to give his nation a rare and emotional triumph one year after the Boston bombings, tried to upset the odds and hold off some of the world's best marathoners.
It was also the question Tony Reavis asked on commentary as Keflezighi turned into the home straight on Boylston Street with Kenya's Wilson Chebet and Franklin Chepkwony charging relentlessly into the American's slipstream.
Keflezighi had escaped early in the race, race favourites Dennis Kimetto and Lelisa Desisa allowing the American build a lead that grew to 1:20 by the 30K mark. "Come and catch us," Keflezighi later recalled of his thinking midway through the race.
In the end, no one could and the Eritrean-born American gave his nation the sweetest gift of all, reminding everyone of the magic of the marathon. If the edition 12 months before was memorable for all the wrong reasons, then this was unforgettable for all the right ones.
"Who cares what time it is?" said Reavis in the commentary booth, right as Keflezighi burst into tears after the finish. "The whole damn town is in tears, such an historic moment."
3) London 2003: Radcliffe shakes up the world
There are moments in sport which carry such impact, such earth-shaking power, that you can't help but remember where you were when they happened.
You might not have been on the streets of London in 2003, or perhaps not even watching from afar, but if you're an aficionado of distance running, we bet you can remember how it felt when you heard a woman had run 2:15:25 for the marathon.
Radcliffe already held the world record going into the race, the 2:17:18 she ran in Chicago six months before, and when she blasted through halfway in London in 68:02, many predicted that it was a suicidal pace. The only victims, however, were Radcliffe's rivals, world class elites like Catherine Ndereba who were left trailing minutes behind.
She was only getting started. Coming along the Embankment with a little over a mile to run, former elite Peter Elliott pulled alongside Radcliffe on the BBC motorbike, and relayed a message from her husband, Gary Lough: "Gary says if you hurry up you can get under 2:16!'," recalled Radcliffe years later. "In my head I answered: 'Screw Gary, I'm going as fast as I can.'"
When she turned into the home straight on the Mall, the world began to realise just how fast that was.
"They came to see something special from the girl from Bedford and she’s produced it once more," said Steve Cram on the BBC. "Never mind that there's nobody as quick as her in female athletics, there aren’t many men who can run as fast as this...Paula Radcliffe storming home, watch the time, watch the clock, she’s going to SMASH the world record."
She did, her time of 2:15:25 taking almost two minutes off the previous mark, a time that now remains blissfully untouched, 14 years on.
When Radcliffe crossed the line, race director David Bedford told her the record would stand for many, many years, but she thought otherwise. “I was like ‘no, next year I’ll run faster,’” she says. “I think I did get myself into a little bit better shape, but then I got injured and ill before Athens , so it didn’t pan out. In that respect I was really happy I pushed as hard as I did when it was really hurting. On that day, I can say that I couldn’t have given any more.”
Relive the last 600m here:
2) Boston 1982: the duel in the sun
In 1982, Alberto Salazar was in the middle of one of the most dominant streaks the world of distance running had seen. The 24-year-old American had made his marathon debut two years earlier in New York, predicting beforehand that he would win in 2:10. While many found that to be disarmingly confident, as the old saying goes: it ain't bragging if you can do it. Salazar won in 2:09:40.
A week before Boston in 1982, Salazar ran 27:30 on the track for 10,000m, but picked up a hamstring strain in the process. Though Boston was his home marathon, he spent the final week living in doubt. "I was unsure of whether I was going to run until a few days before," he said. "I had a slight hamstring tear, but I felt I had a shot at the world record based on my [second-place] finish in the world cross country and the 10K time."
In many ways, Dick Beardsley was the opposite to Salazar, a modest midwesterner who had gradually risen up the ranks in his 12 marathons before Boston in 1982, his best time standing at 2:09:36. Beardsley recruited coach Bill Squires to help him challenge the best in Boston, setting the stall for what would be remembered as the duel in the sun.
Temperatures were already excessively warm long before the race started at midday, and one by one the rivals imploded like sun-dried tomatoes as Beardsley turned the screw at the front over the latter half. Four-time champion Bill Rodgers dropped at 16 miles, and soon after it was a two-man race.
Beardsley threw a series of attacks at Salazar, but the race favourite absorbed every blow, as much as each one compounded his agony. The crowd, sensing a race for the ages, thronged the streets of Boston, screaming their support at their personal favourite. In the final mile, Salazar surged to the lead shortly before turning onto Hereford street, but Beardsley wasn't done fighting.
“Watch Beardsley, he’s making a move!" roared the commentator. "It has come down to this. Here comes Beardlsey, he’s going to make a move on Salazar, but Salazar is kicking, can he have enough?"
In the end, he did, and Salazar took victory in 2:08:51, two seconds ahead of Beardsley. Both men had to be assisted off the course by medical personnel, with Salazar requiring several litres of IV fluids to stabilise his condition.
Neither athlete, unfortunately, would reach such a lofty peak again in their careers, with both believing they had gone to their absolute limit on that day. Relive the final miles here:
1) London 2002: Khannouchi takes down the greats
If ever a race exemplified the gaping chasm between 10,000m and the marathon, then it was London, 2002, where three distance greats served up a 26.2-mile spectacular that may well be considered the greatest marathon of all time.
All the talk beforehand, understandably, was about Haile Gebrselassie, who had been peerless on the track and held the world records over 5000m and 10,000m. Tergat had finished second in his debut a year earlier, and was steadily adjusting to the event at which he would eventually set the world record in 2003.
Gebrselassie was the undisputed emperor of distance running, but how would he cope when forced into battle in such unfamiliar territory?
The silent assassin was Khalid Khannouchi, the Moroccan-born American who had set the world record of 2:05:42 in Chicago three years earlier, but had not come close to that in the ensuing years.
The magic of the race was its tension, the waiting – and waiting – for someone to make the decisive move. When Gebrselassie reached the Embankment along with Tergat and Khannouchi, many believed the game was up for his two rivals, such was the Ethiopian's superlative finishing speed, but Khannouchi was about to deal out a timely lesson that it's not the fastest, but the strongest athlete who usually prevails at the ultimate distance.
"The whole world of distance running has been waiting for this moment," said Brendan Foster, commentating for the BBC. "They’re going to find out in a moment if [Gebrselassie] is as good at the marathon as he is at every other distance."
And then we had our answer: with a little over a mile to run, Gebrselassie was dropped, and then there were two.
Inside the final mile, Khannouchi stole a glance over his shoulder, then surged once more, a move Tergat couldn't answer. The American sped through the final mile, opening up 10 seconds on Tergat and almost a minute on a tiring Gebrselassie, to cross the line in 2:05:38. He had carved four seconds off his own world record and defeated two heavyweights of the sport – both of whom would go on to lower the marathon world record – in the process.
It was the ultimate race at the ultimate distance – a classic which rewrote the record books and threw up a three-way clash for the ages. Relive the final two miles here: