Paul Tergat at the pre-race press conference in Beirut (Blom Beirut Marathon organisers) © Copyright
General News Beirut, Lebanon

Beirut Marathon reflects growing passion for road running

With a men’s course record last year and a determined set of Ethiopians and Kenyans ready to line up early on Sunday morning for the latest edition of the BLOM Beirut Marathon, the words of race director Mark Dickinson on the eve of the race ring especially true: “My ambition is to inspire people to understand that running is awesome.”

A grand total of 31,233 athletes will be putting those words to the test, including 550 entered for the marathon. That event and the 5 and 10k events have become symbols of a resurgent city which has known more than its share of conflict. That the marathon in Beirut is more than a race is borne out by the presence of Paul Tergat as guest of honour. The former World record holder for the marathon remains very much in competitive trim but will be a spectator on Sunday, supporting his fellow Kenyans as part of an initiative by the local Kenyan embassy.

“It means a lot to me to be here. Sport has a unifying factor, it can bring countries and people together. Organising this kind of race can give people living here something to support, to get behind it and I’m proud to be helping that.”

Men’s race a clash between Kenya and Ethiopia

 The Kenyan embassy in Beirut took the initiative in bringing what Tergat describes as a strong group to the marathon. Last year the Ethiopian Alemayehu Shumye improved the course record to 2:12:47, over three minutes faster for any version of the course. The Kenyan men include Stephen Maina, owner of a very respectable 2:14:08 for fourth place at home territory in Mombasa in 2007 while Eston Nyaga clocked 2:15:46 for sixth in the same race. Those performances should ensure an evenly matched contest with the leading Ethiopians. Abraham Yilma makes his third appearance in Beirut with only a winner’s medal needed to complete his full set on the podium. His lifetime best is 2:15:17, set in finishing eighth in the Carpi Marathon in Italy in 2007. His fastest here is modest by international standards – 2:20:18 as runner-up in 2006 – but the course has been revised and, in Yilma’s opinion, is now far more conducive to fast running.

“I feel stronger than before. We have been training in the highlands and forest of Sululta and Entoto, not far from Addis, and I believe I can break the course record.”

Yilma is not the only one to follow that credo. His fellow Ethiopian Mohammed Temam might well spring a surprise at the age of 20. Making his debut at the distance in the Abebe Bikila Marathon in June this year, he clocked 2:16 for fifth place on the hilly course and with 2,500m altitude into the bargain. He is confident he can slice several minutes off that time.

Tadesse leads women’s field

In the same training group as Temam is one of the leading contenders for the women’s title: Mihret Tadesse. Her record so far in the marathon is flawless – winning in 2:42:12 in Barcelona in 2008 in her sole outing at the distance. Formerly a half-marathon specialist, her training partners confirm her strength but she might need all of it to cope with her compatriot Sisay Measo. Her personal best of 2:35:51 from third place in Treviso in 2007 makes her the fastest woman on the start line. She has a simple explanation to justify her statement that she’s in better shape than ever: “Hard training, hard work!”

Among the Kenyan women, Jackline Kemunto has run 2:40:44 for eighth place in the Standard Chartered Nairobi Marathon as recently as October 25, so this will be a test of her powers of regeneration. The women’s course record is 2:36:46 from 2004, owned by a runner by the name of Ndereba, Anastasha to be precise, the younger sister of Catherine, the former World marathon champion.

Andy Edwards for the IAAF