Mary Keitany, winner of the London Marathon, including setting a world record for a women only in 2017, has announced her retirement ©London Marathon

Kenya’s marathon world record holder Mary Keitany has announced her retirement from athletics at the age of 39 after failing to recover from a back treatment which she has partly blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic stopping her from receiving the correct treatment.

During her career, she won the London Marathon three times and the New York City Marathon four times, as well as claiming the gold medal at the 2009 World Half Marathon Championships.

Keitany also still holds the marathon world record for a women-only race, having clocked a stunning 2 hours 17min 01sec when winning the third of her London Marathon titles in 2017.

"After my successful 2019, when I had some good results including second place in New York, I was hopeful that I could still be very competitive internationally for several more years even though I am in my late 30s," Keitany said.

"However, I’m sad to say, a back injury that I suffered in late 2019 made a decision about my retirement for me. I couldn’t get the treatment I wanted in Europe because of the pandemic-related travel restrictions last year and every time I thought I had got over the injury and started training hard, it became a problem again. 

"So now is the time to say goodbye - if only as an elite runner - to the sport I love so much."

Keitany first came to global attention in 2007, after local success in Kenya the previous year, with a series of good performances in European half marathons which then earned her a place in the Kenyan team at that year’s World Half Marathon Championships in Udine in Italy.

A silver medal at the 2007 edition of that event, and team gold, was followed by more than a decade among the very best of the world’s female road runners, even with breaks in 2008 and 2013 to give birth to her children Jared and Samantha.

Kenya's Mary Keitany won the New York City Marathon three times ©Getty Images
Kenya's Mary Keitany won the New York City Marathon three times ©Getty Images

Keitany won the 2009 World Half Marathon Championships title in Birmingham in the United Kingdom by over a minute in 1:06:36, at the time the second fastest mark ever on a record-legal course and an African record.

She also led Kenya to the team gold medal.

After finishing third in New York City on her marathon debut in 2010, Keitany’s first major marathon win came in her next race over the classic distance when she triumphed in the London Marathon - further victories in the British capital came in 2012 and 2017.

Keitany will also be remembered fondly for her three impressive consecutive wins in the New York City Marathon between 2014 and 2016 before winning in the Big Apple again in 2018.

Other accolades include setting a world half marathon record of 1:05:50 at the 2011 RAK Half Marathon, fourth place in the London 2012 Olympic Games marathon, and she continues to hold the women-only 25 kilometres world best of 1:19:43, set during her triumphant 2017 London Marathon run.

"As for the future, I haven’t fully decided on my plans but I’m looking forward to spending more time with my family," Keitany said.

"My children are currently 13 and eight.

"In addition, I am involved with some local charitable enterprises."