The 12th Xiamen International Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race and the first IAAF Label Road race of any hue in 2014, saw a course record from Ethiopia’s Mare Dibaba on Thursday (2).
Under a cloudy sky and with temperatures just under 20 degrees Celsius, the weather was very suitable for fast times and Dibaba made her intentions clear from the gun, by running away from the other women very early in the race.
The 24-year-old, who can boast of a personal best of 2:19:52 from the 2012 Dubai marathon but who was racing in her first marathon in 17 months, had already dropped the others well before the 10km mark.
She passed 10km in 33:33, 15km in 50:03 and 20km in 1:06:10 and was on course to go under 2:20 and get a personal best, despite her later admission that she didn't know how fast she was running.
Running completely alone but cheered on by the spectators thronging the route through the coastal city in Fuijan province, she tied up slightly during the second half of her race and produced splits of 1:22:41 for 25km, 1:39:19 for 30km, 1:56:24 for 35km and 2:13:59 for 40km.
Dibaba crossed the line in 2:21:36 and comfortably broke the course record 2:22:38 set by 18-year-old China's Zhang Yingying, which is still a world junior best.
It was Dibaba’s first marathon win in the seven she has finished during her career, and was a stirring comeback after almost 12 months of worry over recurring stomach problems.
She had intended to run a marathon in early 2013 after her near-personal best of 1:07:44 at the Philadelphia Half Marathon in September 2012 but illness problems limited her training for much of the following year.
"I was very surprised at my time as I was running very easily and I was running alone. I didn't really pay much attention to the pace during the race. At times it felt like I was almost jogging, at 2:24-2:25 pace, and when I saw a clock at 39km I was surprised I was running so fast. If I had some other women in the race, who knows what may have happened," said a nonchalant and slightly nonplussed Dibaba.
Behind Dibaba, her 26-year-old countrywoman Meseret Legese also made a breakthrough.
She had run two good marathons in 2012: 2:28:01 in San Diego and 2:28:18 in Paris, but had been unable to dip under 2:30 during the 2013 season.
In this race, Legese was running alone in second place for much of the race and clocked a big personal best of 2:26:36. Emebet Etea completed an all-Ethiopian women’s podium when finishing in third in 2:33.51.
Men's record streak come to an end
The men's race started a bit too slowly for the athletes to improve their course record, which had been broken for the last five consecutive years and stood to Ethiopia’s Negari Terfa at 2:07:32 from 2013.
A big leading pack was together for the first 20km of the men's race with the pacemakers, Kenya’s Gilbert Kirwa and Ethiopia’s Desta Alemu, leading the runners to 10km in 30:34 and 15km in 45:41 before passing the 20km mark in 60:52.
The top 10 at this stage included Ethiopians Endeshaw Negesse, Dereje Debele, Aredo Tadesse and Demise Tsega along with Kenyans Peter Kamais, the 2012 winner, and Mariko Kiplagat, accompanied by Morocco’s Rachid Kisri and South Africa’s Benedict Moeng.
The group stayed together until just before 30km mark and, with the pacemakers having done their job, Kiplagat went to the front and quickly opened up a gap.
The 38 year-old Kenyan was only seventh in Xiamen 12 months ago but his move this year was decisive and the others were more than 50 metres behind him at the 31km checkpoint.
Second behind Kiplagat at this stage was Debele, followed by a handful of the others trying to cope with the increased pace.
However, Kiplagat extended his lead to more than a minute in the stretch between 30km and 40km for an easy win in 2:08:06, the second fastest time of his career behind a 2:06:05 personal best in Reims 2012.
Kiplagat takes his tally to having won six of his 11 completed, having started running over the sclassic distance in 2006.
The race for the second was a fierce one in the latter stages of the race.
Debele was initially able to get away the rest of the field, but Kenya’s Julius Muriuki recovered after initially being dropped when Kiplagat made his move at 30km and came through strongly in the final 10km, overtaking close to home and getting second place in 2:09:28, with Debele in third in 2:09:35.
Mirko Jalava for the IAAF