Greatest Ever RAK Half Threatens Records
The intense spotlight of the global road running community, falls on the 11th edition of the RAK Half Marathon on Friday 10th February, where perhaps the greatest combined day of men's and women's half marathon racing in history beckons. Arguably the strongest ever women's half marathon field has been gathered and the Men's field too just oozes class, with twelve men able to boast best marks below the hour.
However, it might well be the women's line-up that raises eyebrows - and race standards - the highest, at this notoriously fast race in the UAE's northernmost emirate, just one hour's drive from Dubai, which increasingly, punches above its weight in every sector. Rio Olympic Marathon Champion Jemima Sumgong, a mere sixth here a year ago, prior to her London & Olympic victories, will find it no easier this time round. She'll be severely tested by three-time Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba, like Sumgong London Marathon bound, and considered by many as the greatest female distance runner in history. Relatively inexperienced at this distance, Dibaba will be making her half marathon debut on a record-eligible course, but the chances are she'll find it equally hard to notch up another win, such is the calibre of the assembled field.
Although not yet an Olympic Champion, reigning IAAF World Half Marathon Champion Peres Jepchirchir returns too, looking to pick up in 2017 where she left off, after her astonishing streak from last year, but even she was only fourth at RAK 2016, six weeks before storming to the world title in Cardiff. Casting a shadow over them all, but another athlete without any Olympic hardware, is the returning course record holder and three-time New York Marathon champion Mary Keitany, who set a world record here in 2011 of 65:50. She is also intensely keen to prove in 2017 that her being left off the Kenyan Olympic marathon squad for Rio was an error and uses this race yet again as preparation for her London Marathon challenge.
Eight women in the line-up have run under 68 minutes, four of them under 67 minutes and for the first time this year, the women will be highlighted by having their own start, prior to the elite men and masses. Last year Sumgong's 66:58 was a personal best, but she was nowhere near the rostrum. Indeed, the first 11 home were a long way under 70 minutes, with Cynthia Limo leading them home in 66:04, the second fastest time of 2016.
When one considers that 19 of the fastest 50 women's times in history have been run on this route, the chances of another super-fast in-depth finish, are very high.
For the men, Patrick Makau's 58:52 race record of 2009 could be under serious threat, with two of the pacemakers being sub-60 minute performers themselves and so well capable of assisting with a fast pace through to the latter stages. Past winners such as Sammy Wanjiru and Geoffrey Kaworor have enhanced the event's reputation as one of the toughest wins to chalk up and this year will be no different.
Stanley Biwott returns after his second last year, itself ten weeks before his runner-up finish at the London Marathon. Having placed 2nd in 2013 here as well, he'll be doubly keen to ensure a third time lucky performance and he may well choose to avoid the tactical men's affair of twelve months ago, when just six seconds covered the first six home. While this is always a possibility, Race Director Nathan Clayton's prerogative, has always been to promote great racing as well as fast times and strong fields ensure the best chance of each unfolding.
Challenging Biwott is a powerful array of the established and the ambitious; a year ago, Eritrea's Nguse Amlosom took 3rd, and Bahrain's Abraham Cheroben 4th, each just a stride behind Biwott, before they placed 9th and 10th respectively in the Rio Olympic 10,000m final. One of the form men at both half and full marathon of 2016, and another with London ambitions ten weeks after RAK, is Daniel Wanjiru, Amsterdam Marathon winner last October and RAK runner-up in 2015. However, perhaps the most fascinating addition to the field, is Kenya's Augustine Choge, who in only his second ever half marathon last November, placed 3rd in New Delhi, in a tantalising 60:01 and who feels that he's only scratched the surface of his potential at this new event.
It could be argued therefore, that RAK has built a reputation for being a pre-cursor to greater things for the spring marathon hopefuls or others intent on a strong road-racing season, but that would make light of the hard-won, almost legendary status of the event for enabling top athletes to race hard for around an hour in unbridled early-season abandon and in near-perfect conditions.
The Elite Women start at 6.45am UAE time (2:45 GMT, 21:45 EST*), the men 15 minutes later and all is being covered on live local TV.
For the Organisers
|Elite Men||PB||Elite Women||PB|
|1||Solomon Yego (KEN)||58:44||1||Mary Keitany (KEN)||65:50 CR|
|2||Abraham Cheroben (BRN)||58:48||2||Peres Jepchirchir (KEN)||66:39|
|3||Stephen Kibet (KEN)||58:54||3||Jemima Sumgong||66:58|
|4||Stanley Biwott (KEN)||59:36||4||Tirunesh Dibaba (ETH)||66:56|
|5||Bedan Karoki (KEN)||59:14||5||Belaynesh Oljira (ETH)||67:27|
|6||Daniel Wanjiru (KEN)||59:20||6||Netsanet Gudeta (ETH)||67:31|
|7||Edwin Kipyego (KEN)||59:30||7||Helah Kiprop (KEN)||67:39|
|8||Nguse Amlosom (ERI)||59:39||8||Veronicah Niyaruai (KEN)||67:58|
|9||Adugna Tekele (ETH)||59:40||9||Rose Chelimo (BRN)||68:08|
|10||Yigrem Demelash (ETH)||59:48||10||Joyciline Jepkosgei (KEN)||69:07|
|11||Augustine Choge (KEN)||60:01||11||Gesa-Felicitas Krause (GER)||Debut|
|12||Shadrack Korir (KEN)||60:53||12||Etagegn Woldu (ETH)||Debut|
|13||Sondre Moen (NOR)||62:19||Pace||Timothy Kimeli|
|14||Gabriel Geay (TAN)||62:25||Pace||Geoffrey Kipyego|
|Pace||Kenneth Keter (KEN)||59:48|
|Pace||Geoffrey Yegon (KEN)||59:44|
|Pace||John Maina Ndirangu (KEN)|
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