The sixth RAK Half Marathon on 17 February 2012, now a well-established IAAF Gold Label Road Race, promises even more than the usual fare in this tiny corner of the United Arab Emirates, which is saying a great deal for a race that can boast a number of World records and dozens of personal bests from the elite in the previous five editions, including Mary Keitany’s astonishing World records of 1:02:36 for 20km and 1:05:50 for Half Marathon just twelve months ago.
In both men’s and women’s line-ups, the names confirmed make clear that the RAK event is now widely identified as a perfect form-indicator and preparatory race for those elite men and women planning an April marathon which, this coming spring marathon season, might secure them an Olympic team berth.
The tiny but lion-hearted Keitany returns to the scene of this clockwise loop race that last year projected her towards a 2:19:19 victory in London eight weeks later and her inevitable status as one of the favourites for Olympic Marathon gold later this year. In spite of her ill-judged pacing and subsequent third place in New York last November - she reached half way at close to World record tempo, only to slow dramatically to a 2:23:38 clocking - it is hard to imagine a Kenyan Olympic squad without the 30-year-old, but she will know that many more eyes watch her every result now than prior to record-shattering run at RAK 2011.
In addition, Keitany has returned gently to training after her wedding last December (31) and admits to not being in World record shape, but in “only” around 67 minute form. She will need to be, because lined up against her is a high calibre field with no less than seven other athletes who have broken 70:00 for the half marathon, the fastest being Caroline Cheptanui Kilel (68:16), significantly the Boston Marathon champion last year in 2:22:36.
For their part, with nine boasting sub 60 minute bests, the men can justifiably claim a harder victory will be fought out after the early morning starter’s gun, particularly when one remembers that every one of the five editions so far has been won in well under the hour. Last year’s champion Deriba Merga does not run but in his place are several marathon running luminaries of 2011 from Kenya, such as Geoffrey Mutai, the fastest marathon runner ever after his wins last year in Boston (2:03:02) and New York (2:05:06), Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich who won in Otsu (2:06:13) and then Frankfurt (2:03:42), and Wilson Chebet, the Rotterdam (2:05:27) and Amsterdam (2:05:53) champion.
To underline the strength of the men’s line-up, other runners that just miss top billing such as Ethiopia’s Tsegay Kebede, the 2008 Olympic bronze medallist and one of the most consistent marathon runners of the last four years, and Lelisa Desisa who won the Delhi Half Marathon in 59:30 in late November, would top the start list at most races. Likewise, after placing second here last year (59:44), Bernard Kipyego now knows the RAK course and with five sub 60 minute clockings in the last three years as well as the strength of a 2:06:29 third place in Chicago last October, will be a strong contender for a podium spot.
With pacemakers lined up for both men and women, two lightning quick races are in prospect once again in RAK. General entries have risen to almost 3000 – a not insignificant number in the Emirates - and if conditions are good, who knows where this year’s times might get down to.
Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich KEN 58:59
Bernard Kipyego KEN 59:10
Wilson Chebet KEN 59:15
Lelisa Desisa ETH 59:30
Geoffrey Mutai KEN 59:30
Tsegay Kebede ETH 59:35
Azmeraw Bekele ETH 59:39
Kiplimo Kimutai KEN 59:44
Fabiano Joseph TAN 59:56
Levy Matebo Omari KEN 60:06
Joseph Nganga Maregu KEN 60:24
Feyisa Lelisa ETH 60:33
Dennis Kipruto Koech KEN 61:30A
Mary Keitany KEN 65:50
Caroline Cheptanui Kilel KEN 68:16
Hilda Kibet KEN 68:39
Feysa Tadesse ETH 68:44
Aniko Kalovics HUN 68:58
Georgina Rono KEN 69:08
Gladys Cherono KEN 69:26
Rose Chelimo KEN 69:45
Serena Burla USA 70:08
Organisers for the IAAF