Kenya's Patrick Makau and Ethiopia's Dire Tune nearly wrote themselves into the record books with superb runs of 58:52 and 1:07:18 at the RAK Half Marathon on Friday (20).
Makau's time was the second fastest ever while only five women have ever gone faster than 2008 Boston Marathon winner Tune.
The RAK Half Marathon is an IAAF Silver Label road race.
Makau is the Half Marathon's Mr. Consistent
Pacesetter Matthew Koech quickly ensured that Sammy Wanjiru's World Record of 58:33 was a possibility from the outset by towing the leading pack of eight runners through the opening 5km in 13:40, exactly the same split time that the 2008 Olympic Marathon champion had recorded en-route to his record run in The Hague two years ago.
Despite the super-fast pace being set by Koech, who stopped the clock at 10km in 27:42 for a deficit of 15 seconds on Wanjiru's world record schedule, alongside and just behind him were still five of the main protagonists: the Kenyan quartet of Makau, Wilson Chebet, Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich, Joseph Maregu and the lone Ethiopian Deriba Merga.
Shortly afterwards, Merga decided it was time to make his move and his surge split up the leading pack with only Makau prepared to follow him. The early pace combined with the 26-year-old Ethiopian efforts to break clear lead to him passing 15km in 41:29*, which equals the World Record of Kenya's Felix Limo set in 2001.
However, Makau was only two seconds in arrears, running faster than ever before, to become the fourth fastest man of all time and Kipsang Kiprotich was only a further four seconds in arrears in third place.
Merga's 5km split of 13:47 also obviously put the World Record for the Half Marathon right back on the agenda as he was one second inside Wanjiru's intermediate time in The Hague. Unfortunately, his effort over the previous five kilometres soon started to take its toll another two kilometres down the road. Makau finally overhauled Merga in the 18th kilometre and quickly put daylight between themselves, passing 20km in 55:38* with his Ethiopian rival four seconds adrift.
Makau's 20km time was 10 seconds inside Haile Gebreselassie's official World Record of 55:48, which he set in Phoenix, Arizona, three years ago but it should be noted that Wanjiru's ran 55:31 during his Half Marathon record although the mark was never ratified, despite electronic photo-cell timing being used, owing to the lack of a manual timer being present, a requirement for full world record status.
Nevertheless, despite the incentive of a $100,000 World Record bonus and a substantial early birthday present as Makau turns 24 in two weeks time, the two-time IAAF World Half Marathon silver medallist couldn't quite raise his tempo enough over the final kilometre to put his name in the record books although he still finished in the superb time of 58:52 to take the first prize of $28,000, the second fastest Half Marathon time in history and the seventh occasion that the super-consistent Makau has gone under the world-class benchmark of one hour since he emerged as a world-class runner two years ago.
"I think the wind today cost me the World Record," Makau said. "It was quite a strong breeze and there was not much shelter. It was particularly bad when I was chasing Merga and trying to catch him between 16 and 18 kilometres. I used up a lot of my energy at that point and didn't have anything extra in the final kilometre or so, which would perhaps have made the difference."
"I was ready to run a good time and the pace we maintained throughout the race was good and it kept getting higher," Makau said. "The rest of the guys, mainly Deriba, kept pushing and challenging, but I was determined to hold them off and I'm glad with the way I defended the title."
Makau will now return to Kenya to train for the Rotterdam Marathon on 5 Apri, where he will make his debut.
"This was a tough race and I will practice in Kenya before heading to Rotterdam," Makau said.
Kipsang Kiprotich came through strongly in the final kilometre to overtake the flagging Merga and come home in a personal best 58:59 while Merga, perhaps still not quite fully recovered from his Houston Marathon win just over a month ago had to be content with third place in 59:18.
Chebet was fourth in 59:32, taking one second off his best while Koech finished fifth in 59:54, more than a minute faster than he had ever run before.
Tune hits all the right notes
Compared to the men's race, the women started more modestly with a big pack of 14 runners going through the first 5km in 16:12, compared to the 15:38 of The Netherlands' Lornah Kiplagat when she set the current World Record of 66:25 in the Italian city of Udine in October 2007. One women surprisingly struggling despite her veteran status was 1992 and 2000 Olympic 10,000m champion Derartu Tulu, who was 35 seconds in arrears of the leaders at this stage.
Ethiopia's Teyiba Erkesso and Kenya's Philes Ongari, the fastest woman in the world over this distance last year, who had been sharing the majority of the work at the front of the pack, increased the pace slightly over the next stretch of the course to pass 10km in 32:13 - more than a minute outside Kiplagat's split of 31:10 - but there were still eight other women in contention at the front.
In mirror image to the demography of the men's race, five Ethiopian women: Erkesso, Dire Tune, Aselefech Mergia, Abebu Gelan, Amane Gobena, started to work together to increase the tempo, with only the lone Kenyan Ongari representing the rest of the world.
The six women went through 15km together in 47:53 but Tune then accelerated hard and nobody else could stay with her. She had put 31 seconds between herself and second-placed Ongari by the time she reached 20km in 1:03:42 and kept the same rhythm going all the way to the line.
Tune finished in 1:07:18 to take nearly three minutes off her previous best of 1:11: 11, set when finishing fourth at the inaugural edition of the RAK Half Marathon two years ago. Her run was also a national record, eclipsing Bezunesh Bekele's 1:08:07 set in Udine in 2007. Mergia won the battle over the final kilometre for second place in a personal best of 1:07:48 with Ongari finishing two seconds behind, with the first six all coming home in under 69 minutes.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF
* pending the usual ratification procedures