Four miles before the finish, Kebede had been fifth and almost a minute behind the leader but slowly he reeled in his opponents before overtaking Kenya’s Emmanuel Mutai with just 800 metres to go.
It was a textbook example of how to remain patient and conserve energy until the business end of a marathon – one of the key skills Farah admits he has to learn as he prepares to make his debut over the full 26.2-mile distance in London in a year’s time.
After observing 30 seconds’ silence before the start to honour the victims of the Boston Marathon attack, the men’s field raced off at a blistering speed behind the two pacemakers, with a 10km split of 28 min 56 sec that would not have disgraced a 10,000m track race.
By the halfway mark, shortly after Farah had exited stage left, the leaders were bang on world record pace and even with eight miles remaining, Patrick Makau’s world mark of 2-03-38 was still within range.
But, with temperatures rising in the London sunshine, it was a pace that proved unsustainable on the twisting course, and all thoughts of records soon evaporated as four runners opened up a gap on the rest of the field. Kebede was not one of them, preferring to run alone in fifth place and bide his time.
Kenya’s Stanley Biwott, a London debutant, was the first to attempt an attack at the 21-mile mark, though his break lasted no more than a mile and a half before he was caught by Mutai, the 2011 London champion and course record-holder.
But, in a dramatic finish, it was Mutai who was then overtaken as Kebede raced past him in the final half-mile to add another London crown to his victory in 2010. Mutai was second in 2-06-34, with Ethiopian Ayele Abshero third in 2-06-57.
For all the pre-race talk about a world or course record, Kebede’s victory actually came in the slowest winning time in London since 2007.
Farah, who was using the first half of the race as a rehearsal for next year, kept his promise not to interfere with the pacing of the race by remaining at the back of the lead group until pulling up.
Afterwards, he paid tribute to the thousands of spectators who lined the streets to catch a glimpse of him in his first run in the capital since his gold medal heroics in the Olympic Stadium.
“I felt good,” he said. “The crowd was absolutely awesome. They just want to make you go – push on, push on. I got really excited in the middle of the race but you have to let the guys do their race. It’s their race.”
Farah’s former training partner, Scott Overall, pulled out after 15 miles blaming a lack of preparation, leaving Derek Hawkins with the honour of being the first British man home in 13th place, though his time of 2-16-50 was more than a minute and a half slower than Paula Radcliffe’s world record a decade ago. Farah’s participation in the marathon proper cannot come quickly enough for the London organisers.
Kenya’s Priscah Jeptoo was the runaway winner of the women’s race but the outcome might have been different had Tiki Gelana, the Ethiopian who beat her to the Olympic gold medal last summer, not fallen heavily in an ugly incident before the 10-mile mark.
Gelana, who was the quickest woman in the field, veered inside to grab a bottle at a drink station and ran straight across the path of wheelchair athlete Josh Cassidy, the 2010 London champion.
The collision sent her crashing to the ground and although she picked herself up and fought her way back to the leading group, the accident took its toll when she dropped off the pace after 15 miles, eventually finishing 16th. Cassidy’s race was also ruined, with a 20th-place finish and a broken wheelchair.
Jeptoo, who was running on her own for the last five miles, clocked a winning time of 2-20-15 – 77 seconds ahead of world champion Edna Kiplagat, of Kenya.
Susan Partridge, the first British woman home in ninth place, had an extra reason to celebrate after recording a personal best of 2-30-46 that qualifies her for this summer’s World Championships in Moscow.