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Desisa takes RAK Half title

RAK half marathon

Astonishing strength in depth of results but only after painfully slow starts, were the underlining features of the 8th RAK Half Marathon, with the victories of Ethiopia’s 2013 Boston Champion Lelisa Desisa in 59:36 and last year’s London Champion Priscah Jeptoo in 67:02, inevitably topping the early world rankings for the year.

RAK Half Marathon Quality

Both received just the boost they need as the defence of their respective titles approaches, but a blend of admiration and frustration was the toxic mix left for observers who realised not far in to the race, that an opportunity was being missed on this clear, still, Friday morning in the UAE.

The distinct feeling of “What if…?” was the result of the men covering their first 5k in a pedestrian 14:31, while the women relatively speaking, were even slower, reaching that mark in 17:14 – virtually training pace for many of them. Well before half way, both races livened up, but despite the front-running efforts of Bernard Koech (4th in 56:43) and eventual winner Jeptoo, in the men’s and women’s races respectively, the chance for super-fast times had already been lost.

After that initial reluctance to attack the distance, things livened up markedly in the men’s race, with Koech, Desisa and eventual third placer Wilson Kiprop pushing the tempo, resulting in a 10k split of 28:30 after a 14:01 segment for the pack of ten. This was more like it and when the leaders reached 15k in 42:38 (14:08), with only Jacob Kendagor and Ibrahim Jeilan tailing off, a sub-60 minute clocking looked on the cards yet again.

That middle 10k had taken a meagre 28:09, but there was no let-up as Koech, under the hour in his last four half marathons, continued to be the aggressor. Sadly for him, he did little to dent the form of several rivals however, the main beneficiaries being eventual winner Desisa and Eritrea’s late developer Nguse Amlosom. This pair cut loose with 3km to go, with initially the unheralded Amlosom, despite a modest best of 60:46, looking the better of the two. A kilometre later though, the marathon strength of Desisa enabled him to dig deeper and he won the critical gap of a few metres that he would eventually hold to the line.

The pace from 15km to 20km (14:02) meant the 15k after the slow start, was covered in a vicious 42:11 (28:10 second 10k) with the final 1.1km taking Desisa just 2:56 – or about 2:40 for the final kilometre. But while the pair drew clear, there was little room for error; behind them the next six athletes battled on gamely and it was here that the results were special. Wilson Kiprop’s 59:45 garnered third but behind him, Koech was 4th just one second down, Bernard Kipyego was another second back, Micah Kogo set a PB of 59:49 in 6th, Feyisa Lilesa was 7th in 59:51 and Paul Lonyangata set a fastest-ever 8th place time of 59:54. Never before have eight men broken the hour in the same half marathon.

By contrast, despite their similarly slow opening 5km, the women’s race was blown apart by Priscah Jeptoo, who on this winning form looks to have picked up in 2014 where she left off in New York last November. Her acceleration over the 5km to 10k (32:41) meant a 15:27 split, with only Flomena Cheyech, Guteni Shone and Helah Kiprop able to stay within a few seconds of her notoriously flailing gait. What came next was mighty impressive: she covered the 5km segment between 10k and 15k in another 15:27, so 30:54 for that middle 10k and after that there was still little let-up. She hit 20km in 63:45 (15:37) and it was that split that really did the damage. Her lead as she headed in to the final 1.1km and the long home straight had reached a yawning 62 seconds and the race was all but over. Even then this quietly spoken 29 year old mother and businesswoman pushed hard, covering the final 1.1km in 3:17 to win by a massive 71 seconds.

Without doubt she could have gone a minute or more faster, and while we’ll never know exactly what she could have run, to suggest that Mary Keitany’s three year old world record of 65:50 would have been under serious threat, is likely no exaggeration. Behind her, the next eight athletes broke 70:00, with Guteni Shone in third broaching new ground (68:31) while Mare Dibaba, who tops the world marathon rankings after her win in Xiamen on Jan 2nd (2:21:36), looked less than fully recovered from her Chinese exertions with a 68:56 clocking for sixth.

Ultimately only Jeptoo came out of the women’s race with added credit, her main rivals well beaten with namesake Rita a subdued 5th in 68:49. For the men’s part, while any sub-60 performance has to be respected, bearing in mind the glorious conditions that prevailed, their slow start was disappointing. What if both races had gone out a little quicker – say 14:10 for the men and 16:00 for the women? What if there had been pacemakers instead of just a hope that the athletes would lay down their own good tempo, as last year? And what if the main protagonists were less focused upon their spring marathon effort and actually targeted this Half as an end in itself. There is undoubtedly a lot more to come from the RAK Half in years to come.

Top 10 results with 5km splits:

MEN 5km 10km 15km 20km Time
1 Lelisa Desisa ETH 14:32 28:31:00 42:39:00 56:40:00 59:36
2 Nguse Amlosom ERI 14:32 28:30:00 42:39:00 56:40:00 59:39
3 Wilson Kiprop KEN 14:31 28:30:00 42:39:00 56:45:00 59:45
4 Bernard Koech KEN 14:31 28:30:00 42:38:00 56:43:00 59:46
5 Bernard Kipyego KEN 14:32 28:31:00 42:39:00 56:45:00 59:47
6 Micah Kogo KEN 14:31 28:30:00 42:39:00 56:45:00 59:49
7 Feyisa Lilesa ETH 14:32 28:31:00 42:39:00 56:45:00 59:51
8 Paul Lonyangata KEN 14:32 28:31:00 42:39:00 56:44:00 59:54
9 Jacob Kendagor KEN 14:31 28:30:00 43:16:00 58:11:00 1:01:27
10 Ibrahim Jeilan ETH 14:31 28:31:00 43:19:00 58:23:00 1:01:47

WOMEN 5km 10km 15km 20km Time
1 Priscah Jeptoo KEN 17:14 32:41:00 48:08:00 01:03:43 01:07:02
2 Flomena Cheyech KEN 17:14 32:45:00 48:41:00 01:04:45 1:08:13
3 Guteni Shone ETH 17:14 32:46:00 48:48:00 01:05:03 01:08:31
4 Helah Kiprop KEN 17:14 32:45:00 48:46:00 01:05:07 1:08:36
5 Rita Jeptoo KEN 17:14 32:52:00 48:59:00 01:05:10 1:08:49
6 Mare Dibaba ETH 17:14 32:59:00 49:06:00 01:05:20 01:08:56
7 Feyse Tadese ETH 17:14 32:59:00 49:24:00 01:05:53 1:09:19
8 Aberu Kebede ETH 17:14 32:52:00 49:08:00 01:05:53 01:09:22
9 Worknesh Degefa ETH 17:15 32:59:00 49:07:00 01:05:54 01:09:43
10 Caroline Kilel KEN 17:14 33:13:00 49:58:00 01:06:53 01:10:33

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