ITEN, Kenya Kenya's Edna Kiplagat said successfully defending her marathon title at next month's world championships in Moscow will be more difficult than her maiden win because as the holder she is the woman to beat.
"Defending is hard," Kiplagat told Reuters in an interview at Iten, a small village in Kenya's Rift Valley, where most of the country's champion runners train.
"If you're running for the first time, no one knows who you are but going to defend, everybody is going to look at you."
Kiplagat, who was 20th in last year's Olympic marathon, said victory in Moscow would help put the disappointment of London behind her, especially as the only woman to win two marathon world titles was compatriot Catherine Ndereba in 2003 and 2007.
"It would be a great achievement," she said.
Kiplagat spearheaded a Kenyan medal sweep at the 2011 Daegu world championships but the marathon team for Russia has been weakened by the absence of several top runners, including Olympic and world silver medallist Priscah Jeptoo.
Instead of seasoned campaigners like Jeptoo and Mary Keitany, twice London Marathon winner, a host of little-known athletes will line up with Kiplagat.
However, she believes the youngsters can replicate the success of Daegu, although the Kenyan public is largely sceptical.
"They are still young but they are strong so they are able to do their best for a one, two, three finish," she said. "We don't want to put pressure on ourselves over what happens if we don't win."
Kenya's marathon coach Abraham Kiplimo has described Kiplagat as the "leader" of the five-women marathon team, a role the 34-year-old has embraced.
"When we meet together I remind them that the goal for a championship is like any other big marathon," said Kiplagat.
"Though I also tell them that at city marathons there are only a few of the world's best athletes but at Moscow they are going to compete with the whole world so they need to be very focused and careful about how they think about the race."
Looking ahead, Kiplagat said she had not decided which marathon to run after the worlds and is only focused on Moscow.
But the 2010 New York Marathon winner is looking forward to again racing with Keitany, who is her rival on the road but a close personal friend outside athletics.
Keitany has taken a break from athletics after giving birth recently, interrupting a rivalry that saw the two Kenyans fight for London Marathon honours in 2011 and 2012. Keitany won both races with Kiplagat finishing third and second respectively.
"Most of the time when we are at home, we visit each other or talk by phone, she encourages me," said Kiplagat. "But it's a little bit hard when I'm racing because I'm used to racing next to her."
Kiplagat finished second again in this year's London Marathon behind compatriot Jeptoo Priscah but said the race felt a little strange without Keitany.
"I missed racing with her. It's like I was missing something in the race," she said.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)