Kenyans Lucy Kabuu and Geoffrey Kipsang turned the world Half-marathon rankings on their head at the RAK Half marathon, which produced some of the greatest races ever in terms of depth.
In ideal conditions and a 13-degree start, Ethiopian Feyisa Lelisa led the men’s field out with a 50m advantage when passing 4km in a conservative 12:25.
With the lead seven clocking 14:05 through 5km and 28:13 at 10km, fast times looked unlikely, but Geoffrey Mutai, who had been presented with the 2012 AIMS Asics Athlete of the Year the previous afternoon, pushed up the pace to head the pack past 12km, with World junior cross-country champion Kipsang, Lelisa and Stanley Biwott, the 2012 Paris Half marathon winner, on his shoulder.
Mutai remained the driver of the pack when taking them through 15km in 42:15. As the pace increased Lelisa fell back towards the second group led by Stephen Kibet just after 17km.
With the second 10km covered in 27:50, the 20km mark was reached in 56:03 and no quarter asked or given as they sprinted the long straight to the finish
Kipsang, who had won the Kenyan Police Cross Country Championships in January ahead of Mutai, edged ahead to take the tape in 58:54, with Biwott just two seconds adrift and Mutai third in 58:58. It was the first time that three runners have cracked 59 minutes in the same race and doubled the previous number of sub-59 performances over the previous six editions of the race.
The Kaptaget-based 20 year-old was only two seconds outside the course record of 58:52 set by Patrick Makau in 2009. Lelisa and Kibet recorded 59:25 and 59:59, putting the top five under the hour and setting the tone for even greater performances in the women’s race.
Unprecedented depth in women's race
With the first 3km covered in 9:19, there was little doubt that the women were set on fast times, and with eight runners with personal bests under 69 minutes there was no shortage of contenders.
Paskalia Kipkoech led over the 5km mat in 15:35 with both Rita and Priscah Jeptoo prominent amongst the tightly bunched group of ten.
Two kilometres later the pack had dropped to eight and the pace dropped two seconds outside Mary Keitany’s World record pace set on the same course in 2012.
Lucy Kabuu led at 10km, which was covered in 31:18, and by 14km they were 20 seconds adrift of the desired pace.
Kabuu was still in charge at 15km (47:14) with Rita Jeptoo, Ethiopian Meseret Hailu, Priscah Jeptoo and Florence Kiplagat 16 seconds clear of the chase led by Helah Kiprop and Meselech Melkamu.
The break came just after 17km (53:20) with Kabuu opening a small but significant gap.
“I was worried about the cold going into the race, but I was testing the body at 17km and then I knew I had a chance of winning,” said the 28-year-old Kenyan who is one of only 17 marathoners to break 2:20 when she finished second in the 2012 Dubai Marathon.
As the gap opened on Kiplagat, the quartet clawed back towards record pace as they closed on the finish. World and Olympic silver medallist Priscah Jeptoo, who had been content to sit towards the rear of the group, was unable to edge past Kabuu, the double Olympian, who burst through the line in 66:09 to become the second-fastest half marathoner on a legal course.
Jeptoo was two seconds off the pace and smashed her PB by more than four minutes, ranking her third on the world all-time list with namesake Rita completing the podium in 66:27, which puts her at fifth on the world all-time list. Hailu, the World Half-marathon champion, set an Ethiopian record of 66:56 in fourth place.
The depth in the women’s race was unprecedented. Before today, no more than two women had broken 67:00 in one race, but at Ras al-Khaimah four women dipped under that barrier. Best marks-for-place were set from second through to 11th.
Norrie Williamson for the IAAF
1 Geoffrey Kipsang (KEN) 58:54
2 Stanley Biwott (KEN) 58:56
3 Geoffrey Mutai (KEN) 58:58
4 Feyisa Lilesa (ETH) 59:25
5 Stephen Kosgei Kibet (KEN) 59:59
6 Joel Kemboi Kimurer (KEN) 60:02
7 Getu Feleke Zegeye (ETH) 60:26
8 Edwin Kipyego (KEN) 60:54
9 Daniel Wanjiru (KEN) 61:10
10 Pius Maiyo Kirop (KEN) 61:25
11 Emmanuel Mutai (KEN) 61:32
12 Ezekiel Chebii (KEN) 61:37
1 Lucy Kabuu (KEN) 66:09
2 Priscah Jeptoo (KEN) 66:11
3 Rita Jeptoo (KEN) 66:27
4 Meseret Hailu (ETH) 66:56
5 Florence Kiplagat (KEN) 67:13
6 Helah Kiprop (KEN) 67:39
7 Meselech Melkamu (ETH) 68:05
8 Paskalia Kipkoech (KEN) 68:08
9 Feyse Tadese Boru (ETH) 68:35
10 Ashu Kasim Rabo (ETH) 68:56
11 Sharon Cherop (KEN) 69:04
12 Diana Sigei (KEN) 69:18