Although it is a relatively new race, it is still something of a surprise that before this year no Kenyan athlete had ever won the Lanzhou Marathon. But in the fourth edition of the IAAF Bronze Label Road Race on Sunday (1), both races were won by Kenyan athletes.
Competing on a day when temperatures reached 25°C and on a difficult course that goes along the Yellow River, Eunice Jepkirui smashed the course record in the women’s race, clocking 2:31:53 to win by more than six minutes, while Gilbert Chepkwony triumphed in the men’s race with 2:14:18.
Jepkirui made her break early on and after being part of a 12-woman lead pack that went through the 5km marker just inside 18 minutes, she kicked on after 10km and shook off the last of her pursuers, Ma Zhen of China.
By 15km, Jepkirui was almost a minute clear of the chasing pack, led by 2012 Chicago Marathon winner Atsede Baysa of Ethiopia. The 30-year-old Kenyan passed the half-way mark just outside 1:15 as the chasing pack of nine women was now two minutes adrift.
She continued to forge ahead, operating well inside course record pace, and went on to win in 2:31:53, significantly improving on the course record of 2:35:23 set by Jia Chaofeng at the inaugural edition of the race in 2011.
As Jepkirui crossed the finish line, the real excitement was happening one mile behind with a three-way battle between a trio of Ethiopian athletes. Baysa, former middle-distance specialist Meskerem Assefa and teenager Alem Mokonnin were still together at 40km, which they passed in 2:30:26, but Baysa’s experience came into play over the final mile as she edged ahead to take second place in 2:37:55, two seconds ahead of Assefa. Mokonnin was third in 2:38:10.
Chepkwony bides his time
Unlike his compatriot in the women’s race, Gilbert Chepkwony waited until much later in the men’s race to make his move.
A group of seven athletes were still together at 10km, which was reached in 31:05, but just three men – Chepkwony, Sahle Warga and Tariku Jufar – were left in front at the half-way mark and their split of 1:06:20 suggested that the course record of 2:13:15 could be in danger.
After passing 30km in 1:35:20, Jufar, a former winner in Houston, Beijing and Ottawa, began to drift back, leaving just Chepkwony and former Toronto Marathon winner Warga out in front.
Warga then began to lose contact with Chepkwony as Kenya’s William Chebor, having remained a few seconds behind the leading pack for the duration of the race, moved up into second place.
But Chepkwony’s lead at that point was safe and he went on to cross the line in 2:14:18, the second-fastest winning time in Lanzhou and within a minute of Girma Assefa’s course record, set in 2011.
Chebor finished 17 seconds behind to take second place, while Warga finished third in 2:15:25 with Jufar almost two minutes behind.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF
1 Gilbert Chepkwony (KEN) 2:14:18
2 William Chebor (KEN) 2:14:35
3 Sahle Warga (ETH) 2:15:25
4 Tariku Jufar (ETH) 2:17:22
5 Gezahegn Girma (ETH) 2:18:09
6 Duncan Kibet (KEN) 2:18:38
1 Eunice Jepkirui (KEN) 2:31:53
2 Atsede Baysa (ETH) 2:37:55
3 Meskerem Assefa (ETH) 2:37:57
4 Alem Mokonnin (ETH) 2:38:10
5 Ednah Mukwanah (KEN) 2:39:16
6 Mercy Jelimo (KEN) 2:39:50