Early morning fireworks are predicted on Friday at the 7th staging of the RAK Half Marathon as a mass of the world’s top road runners gather for the now annual burn-up around this balmy coastal city’s mangrove-clogged lagoon.
Good weather, a virtually pancake flat course, fierce competition and a large prize purse have all combined well for each of the last six editions of this early bird event – the 7am start time seems to bother no-one, least of all the elite athletes from East Africa and it has been a Rift Valley born athlete who has taken the victors’ spoils in every race, for men and women, so far.
This is unlikely to change, but again it could be the ladies who steal the limelight – or should that be the dawn chorus – as several have declared an interest in attacking existing records of genuine import. After the last two years’ exploits of world record holder Mary Keitany, absent this year and currently expecting her second child, it is up to others to wave the female banner on high, but there is no shortage of volunteers. For starters, Elvan Abeylegesse, winner in 2010 in 1:07:07 returns, fresh from almost two years away from the competitive arena and has announced her plan to attack the European record that eluded her three years ago. Now the mother of 18 month old daughter Arsema and seemingly fully recovered from Achilles injuries which blighted her Olympic year return, the wiry Turk of Ethiopian extraction is targeting firstly sub-67 minutes and secondly the 66:25 continental mark of Holland’s Lornah Kiplagat, set in Udine when winning the world title in 2007.
If Abeylegesse’s ambition is tough, then what of Kenyans Florence Kiplagat and Lucy Kabuu? The third and eighth fastest women in history over the half marathon distance, both have declared an interest in attacking Keitany’s world mark set here two years ago. To do this, former champion of the short-course World Cross Country (2009) and IAAF World Half Marathon (2010), Kiplagat would have to run a personal best by 48 seconds. She is admittedly a faster and stronger runner over the last 18 months, able to boast a best of 1:06:38 in Ostia a year ago, as well as a 2:19:44 marathon from her Berlin win in 2011. Add to this her fabulous competitive record over 21.1km – she has won five of her six outings – and one can be sure that whatever the case, this versatile performer will play a part in proceedings at the sharp end.
For her part, while displaying ample track speed (30:39 for 10,000m) and strength (2:19:34 for Marathon), Kabuu would have to lop 74 seconds from her best, set in Delhi over a year ago. But again, this is quite feasible; this 2006 Commonwealth 10,000m champion has a high quality, if somewhat brief, competitive record on the roads and crucially too, she has retained her speed while working on that marathon runner’s strength. Last year she ran a 4:08 1500m in Nairobi yet still joined the sub-2:20 club for the marathon, a unique feat in the same calendar year.
Such is the depth of the men’s field, that marathon star Geoffrey Mutai is only seventh fastest with his best of 59:30 from Valencia over three years ago; he may have his eyes on April’s London Marathon, but he will none the less likely have to run much faster if he wants to approach the British capital’s race with a RAK title to his name. A late withdrawal with a foot injury, is his Kenyan compatriot, Micah Kogo.
Top Ten Times on RAK Half Marathon Course
58:52 Patrick Makau (KEN) 2009
58:53 Sammy Wanjiru (KEN) 2007
58:59 Wilson Kipsang (KEN) 2009
59:13 Makau 2007
59:18 Deriba Merga (ETH) 2009
59:25 Merga 2011
59:32 Wilson Chebet (KEN) 2009
59:35 Makau 2008
59:35 Tsegay Kebede (ETH) 2008
59:43 Geoffrey Mutai (KEN) 2010
1:05:50 Mary Keitany (KEN) 2011
1:06:49 Keitany 2012
1:07:07 Elvan Abeylegesse (TUR) 2010
1:07:13 Mare Dibaba (ETH) 2010
1:07:18 Dire Tune (ETH) 2009
1:07:22 Aselefech Mergia (ETH) 2010
1:07:41 Teyba Erkesso (ETH) 2010
1:07:48 Mergia 2009
1:07:50 Philes Ongori (KEN) 2009
1:07:57 Abebu Gelan (ETH) 2009