RAK Half Delivers yet Again
UAE: In the preceding decade of great half marathon racing, the RAK Half Marathon, one hour north of Dubai, has built a reputation for delivering absorbing head-to-head racing and usually, lightning quick times. Today’s 11th edition was no exception, at least, not in the sense that there was any danger of it falling below standard. Because what actually happened was that both men’s and women’s contests delivered enthralling racing, with the latter culminating in the most dazzling world record of 65:06 for Kenya’s reigning IAAF World Half Marathon champion, Peres Jepchirchir. Hers was indeed, a race for the ages.
Behind Jepchirchir, an array of talent never gathered for one race before, fared with differing degrees of success, though it is not insignificant that her highest profile rivals, each of whom ran well, are all focused upon a spring marathon in coming weeks. This ability to focus fully on the 21.1km distance, enabled Jepchirchir, last year’s RAK fourth placer, to defeat London bound Mary Keitany (2nd in 65:13), Jemima Sumgong (4th in 66:43) and Tirunesh Dibaba (5th in 66:50) and perhaps explains her absolute commitment today; she collapsed as she crossed the finish line and was carried away, happily for a quick recovery.
A three-time winner at RAK, Keitany lost her event record – the 66:50 she ran for a then world record back in 2011 – but gained a new personal best, and with it, perhaps renewed confidence that she can still mix it at the full marathon with anyone currently out there. Her whispered answers at Thursday’s press conference were barely audible but there appears to be a raging voice within the 35-year-old mother of two, reminding her that her fall at the London Marathon last year (she ended up ninth) and subsequent non-selection for the Rio Games, were gross injustices that need exorcising.
One of the biggest shocks of the day, was the third place of Joyciline Jepkosgei, improving from 69:07 to 66:08. Coached by husband Nicholas, she only started training hard two years ago and was probably the least experienced of those on the start line. One clue to this run however, was her holding to near world record pace for 7km of the Prague 10k back on September 10th last year; her eventual second-place time of 31:08 didn’t tell the whole story.
Behind this trio, even bigger names had mixed fortunes, such as 2016 London and Olympic Marathon Champion Jemima Sumgong who ran a personal best but was beaten by over 90 seconds. She can console herself, like Keitany, with the knowledge that London is her main goal in ten weeks’ time, as can fifth-placed Tirunesh Dibaba, still honing her long race skills on the roads but able now to boast a legitimate best of 66:50 – her previous half marathons have been at the downhill Great North Run.
With the first eight women well under seventy minutes and the world record for now at least, “back in the hands” of the RAK Half Marathon, the reputation of Ras Al Khaimah for delivering all the critical components of staging for the performers, has been hugely enhanced today. Questions remain however: what can Jepchirchir do when fully fit – she said after the race that she’d been ill just a few days ago, after supposedly recovering from pneumonia last October and November? What will be the reaction of Florence Kiplagat, herself aiming at London, but due to start in the Barcelona Half this Sunday (February 12th)? What does this run mean for Dibaba’, when after all, two days ago, she said all that matters is the London Marathon? She does after all know how to focus. And can Jemima Sumgong maintain her winning form at the full marathon distance, remembering that she won London last year despite a heavy fall and bang to the head in the latter stages of the race?
The men’s race in RAK was inevitably shaded by Jepchirchir’s world record, but to play it down would be doing a huge injustice to the main protagonists who produced another absorbing race. Bedan Karoki, the silver medallist at last March’s IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff, stormed to a mightily impressive win and new personal best of 59:10, though he was pressurised right to the last mile by Ethiopia’s Yigrem Demelash, the Rio Games 10,000m fourth placer, himself going quicker than ever before with 59:19.
The performance of third-placed Augustine Choge in a huge personal best of 59:26, was somewhat ominous; while he trains with Eliud Kipchoge, the Rio Games Marathon Champion, he is still a novice on the roads and this was just his third ever half marathon. His combination of 1:44 800m speed and 12:53 speed-endurance at 5,000m, has now been enhanced with half marathon endurance of the very highest order and while he can clearly go faster for a half marathon, it is at the full marathon that there is undoubtedly yet more fertile ground.
Behind this trio, Solomon Yego in fourth also broke the hour (59:50), and for him, it was a first on a record-legal course. Such statistics are likely to bring yet more focus on the roads of RAK for next year when the message is clear and simple for those wanting to fulfill their potential and improve their best times: Go for it in RAK and you’ll generally find what you seek.