Kenyan duo Florence Kiplagat and Emmanuel Bett made light of damp conditions and very high winds in Portsmouth to take the men’s and women’s titles at Sunday’s (27) Great South Run, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race.
Kiplagat returned to competitive action for the first time since taking victory in September’s Berlin Marathon and produced a dominant display over 10 Miles, beating a competitive field by almost two minutes, crossing the line in 53:53.
The finishing time was some way short of Sonia O’Sullivan’s 51:00 course record, but didn’t reflect the quality of the 2010 World Half-marathon champion’s performance.
With rain beginning to fall and winds gusting as the starting gun fired, Britain’s World Championships Marathon runner Susan Partridge headed straight to the front of the lead pack, with Kiplagat wisely sitting just behind, shielded from the elements.
As the race wound away from the Portsmouth seafront and into the relative calm of inland roads, the Kenyan made her move and built a substantial lead of more than 30 seconds by the four-mile mark. From there, she was never troubled and the gap between her and the rest got larger and larger.
Kiplagat’s compatriot Polline Wanjiku, the winner of the Bath Half Marathon in March, won the battle for second place over Britain’s Charlotte Purdue, who was making her first competitive appearance since July 2012. The former European junior cross-country champion dipped under 57 minutes with 56:57, with Wanjiku just 14 seconds quicker.
For Kiplagat, despite the inclement conditions, it was a satisfying day’s work. With no fixed racing plans beyond the Delhi Half Marathon in December, today was all about keeping race sharp as she considers her options.
“Today was not easy because of the wind, but all in all I’m very happy because it showed I’ve maintained my good shape after Berlin,” she explained. “It was my first time ever seeing a strong wind like this, but it means that I can look forward to a race in Delhi later in the year and then think towards a Marathon in the spring.”
There is also the possibility of representing Kenya at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Copenhagen in March, although that, like her choice of Marathon, will depend on the decisions of others.
“It depends on my federation. If they select me, I will run. If they don’t, I will prepare myself for any Marathon that calls me. For now, I don’t know. If they give me the chance, I will try to win it again. I want to make history in my life by winning as much as I can. If I win two or three times, then I’ll be very happy.”
Bett conquers defending champion Mokoka
While the likely winner of the women’s race was clear from the early stages, the men’s race saw an enthralling two-way contest between last year’s winner Stephen Mokoka and Kenya’s track specialist Emmanuel Bett.
Mokoka, perhaps inspired by his victory in 2012, moved to the front of a highly competitive line-up from the start, as a lead group of 12 athletes quickly became established.
A tough first mile was covered in 4:48, with the runners spread out across the road and Britain’s Andy Vernon attempting to push the pace, until Bett, Mokoka and 21-year-old Thomas Ayeko of Uganda broke clear just after the two-and-a-half mile mark.
Ayeko, the winner of last week’s Great Birmingham Run, bravely managed to stay close to his two rivals until his recent exertions caught up with him after five miles and he drifted back.
The versatile Mokoka, the recently crowned South African Half-marathon champion, and Bett, the fastest 10,000m runner in the world in 2012, worked together for the next few miles and went through the 10km mark in 28:53.
Bett looked marginally the stronger until, with two miles remaining, the Kenyan surged twice before finally moving away.
With regular splits of around 4:30 per mile, the strong winds in the final stages of the race reduced the pace dramatically as Bett came home in 48:03, with Mokoka 19 seconds back. Ayeko held on to finish third in 49:08.
For Bett, it was a satisfying, if windy, end to the year after battles with injury plagued his track season.
“The race today was very tough, because of the wind,” said Bett, who managed to take 16 seconds off his PB in spite of the conditions. “There were two battles: the wind and my competitors, and the wind was the bigger competitor. For the last two miles the wind was very strong.”
Despite success on the roads here, the track remains the 28-year-old’s top priority.
“It’s not my long-term plan to be running long distances on the road,” he commented. “It’s part of my preparation towards the track season and the cross-country season, because really the training is no different. It is a way of building up my training and preparing for other races.”
The win over Mokoka and Ayeko allows the Kenyan to feel positive about his running as he looks to next year.
“I am aiming in 2014 to run even quicker, lower my PB and make the team for the Commonwealth Games. That is my target. I’ll go and see how my body responds and if it holds up well in training and without tiredness, maybe I’ll have one or two cross-country races. That will be enough.”
Just making the Kenyan team will not be easy, as Bett has found in the past. Despite his calibre, he has never represented Kenya at a major championships.
“The Kenyan trials are very tough and often tactical. There may be 20 talented athletes competing that day and one second will determine whether you’re in the team or if you lose.”
Dean Hardman for the IAAF