Mo Farah admits he will face a baptism of fire when he makes his marathon debut on the streets of London against a field which includes the world record holder, the Olympic and world champion, the defending champion and the course record holder.
The 30-year-old has been given anything but an easy ride by the organisers of the Virgin Money London Marathon for his first outing over 26.2 miles.
World-record holder Wilson Kipsang, Olympic and world champion Stephen Kiprotich, reigning champion Tsegaye Kebede and course record holder Emmanuel Mutai will all be in the field for the 13 April race.
The size of the task means victory, should he pull it off, would be arguably his greatest achievement yet, eclipsing his double London 2012 gold over 5,000 and 10,000 metres and his pair of long-distance world titles last summer.
Kenenisa Bekele is the only notable absentee, with the Ethiopian great, who beat Farah in a thrilling half-marathon race at the Great North Run in September, due to make his marathon debut in Paris on 6 April instead.
Farah ran half the London course during last year’s race to gain experience and claiming at the time he had “learned the biggest lesson of my life”, saying he had no problem with the pace but getting the drink stops right had been a challenge.
“I gained a lot of valuable experience running part of the course alongside the top guys last year and can’t wait to race over the full distance this April,” he said. “The London Marathon always attracts the world’s best runners to its elite fields and this year will be no different. I am expecting it to be one of my toughest races and a real learning experience.
“I had another great year on the track in 2013, but the marathon is my main focus for this year. As a young boy growing up in London, it has always been my ambition to run the London Marathon and to be able to make my marathon debut in my home town is very special.”
Despite being pipped in a sprint finish, Farah ran his fastest half marathon at the 2013 Great North Run, recording 60 minutes 10 seconds. He has been training hard over the winter under the guidance of coach Alberto Salazar as he prepares to step up in distance and will be hoping the hard work pays off in April.
Kipsang broke the world record by running 2hrs 3mins 23secs to win September’s Berlin marathon, but he is one of six in the field who have broke 2:05. Fellow Kenyans Emmanuel and Geoffrey Mutai and Ethiopian trio Ayele Abshero, Feyisa Lilesa and Kebede have also dipped under the mark.
Emmanuel Mutai is the second quickest man in the field with a best of 2:03.52, while Geoffrey Mutai clocked 2:03.02 at the 2011 Boston Marathon, but the time did not qualify as an official record as the race is run on a point-to-point downhill course.
Another intriguing opponent for Farah will be Ethiopia’s Ibrahim Jeilan, a fellow debutant. Jeilan pipped Farah to 10,000m gold at the 2011 World Championships before the Briton gained revenge in Moscow last year, edging his rival into silver.
Farah, who will look to threaten Steve Jones’ 29-year-old British record 2:07.13, will be aiming to become the first British man to win the London Marathon since Eamonn Martin 21 years ago.
London Marathon race director Hugh Brasher said: “We are delighted to announce another superb elite men’s field for the 2014 Virgin Money London Marathon, a line-up containing the usual array of record breakers, global champions and worldwide marathon winners.
“Of course, much attention in Britain will focus on the performance of Mo Farah and we are very pleased that he has chosen London to make his marathon debut. But it will be an extremely tough challenge for Mo with the quality of the elite field as high as ever.”