Mary Keitany of Kenya smashed the World record* in the Half Marathon at the RAK Half, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, today (18).
Portugese soccer manager Jose Mourinho likes to describe himself as “The Special One”; well now maybe this tiny corner of the United Arab Emirates should describe itself as just that. This morning after the 7am start, with the sun hardly poking over the nearby Hajjar Mountains, Keitany tore round this counter-clockwise loop course to clock 1:05:50* and rip no less than 35 seconds off Lornah Kiplagat’s 2007 World record set when winning the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships at Udine, Italy in October 2007. Pocketing first place prize money of $25,000 plus the world record bonus of $50,000 as well, Keitany can target her next race at the Virgin London Marathon on 17 April with significantly increased optimism.
Although the best of the men and winning in 59:25 a few minutes earlier, Ethiopian Deriba Merga had to accept that his performance turned out to be almost the support act.
Torrid pace from the gun see several standards fall
From the outset the tiny 29-year-old Keitany, who won the 2009 World Half Marathon title, made her intentions clear, following pacemaker Simon Tonui in this mixed race through splits that saw one other World record and two World bests for good measure en route. Her historic first sub 1:06 time came after she’d gone through 8km in 24:30 (World Best), 15km in 46:40, 10 miles in 50:05 (World Best) and 20km in 1:02:36 (World Record*).
With a slight breeze coming from the east, but in conditions that were otherwise perfect (approximately 17C at the start), she looked relaxed as she passed through 5km in 15:18, already 5 seconds up on Dire Tune, the winner here two years ago and the current World record holder for One Hour on a track. She remained cool through 10km (30:45, so a 15:27 split) and then through 12km (37:04), that latter time later found to be 4m short. But for that slight measuring anomaly (parked cars during original measure being the culprit) she’d have lopped over a minute from Lineth Chepkurui’s 38:07 mark set at San Francisco in May last year. But it was in the second half that she started to do the real damage as she held the pace well.
With a stated target tempo of 3:08 per kilometre, she was clearly way ahead of schedule before half way, but it was the 15km split (46:40, so a 15:55) and then the 10 mile split (50:05) that showed her resilience – the second of those times a world best by over a minute and a half on Teyiba Erkesso’s 2007 Washington DC “Cherryblossom 10 Miler” clocking of 51:43. The slight slowing to 20km was forgivable but her 1:02:36 (15:56) at that point was still 21 seconds faster than Lornah Kiplagat’s World record mark of 1:02:57 set en route at Udine.
With the home straight almost a kilometre long, on making the final turn Keitany could see the finish and pushed hard for home. Memories of her effort in New Delhi 18 months previously, where she’d been on World record schedule up to 16 kilometres, evaporated as the sun climbed and the gulf between herself and Tune, now over three minutes down, continued to grow. With Tonui having stepped off the road at 20km, she tore through the final 1.1km in 3:24 to set the new record figures, seemingly still full of running. Cue bedlam at the Finish, with Tune still over three minutes away and with the hundreds of spectators gathered near the Finish able to enjoy the unfolding of the race via live big-screen coverage.
Merga goes it alone - Men’s race
For their part, despite the first three breaking 60 minutes, the men had to accept it was ladies day in RAK this year. But for awful pace judgement yet again, it might have been different. Merga as ever, pushed hard from the gun and by 5km, passed in 13:37, he was alone. His remarkable 10km split of 27:31 (13:54) came after a World best 8km time of 21:51 and preceded a “12km” clocking of 33:08 that would have (but for the missing 4m), been a world best by a full 38 seconds!
Charging through 10 miles in 44:53 (fourth fastest ever) the 28-year-old, who’d run an impressive 41:48 “club” competition 15km just last week, was beginning to show signs of paying the penalty for the over-exuberant first 10km and any thought of a World record was gone. Nonetheless Merga, who insisted when advised to hold back on the day before the race that “I just like to lead!”, passed 20km in 56:16 and had enough margin on the duelling duo of Bernard Kipyego (13:56, 28:04, 42:34, 45:44(10m), and 56:47) and Leonard Langat (13:47, 28:05, 42:35, 45:44 (10m), and 56:49) to stay well clear. His victorious mark of 59:25, comes after third places in RAK in 2007 and 2009, and was his seventh sub-60 Half Marathon clocking.
One day, Merga, who confirmed he’s 28 and no older, will get his spread of effort right – and only then will records of real significance come his way. But after a difficult 2010 (DNF’d in Chicago and Chunchon Marathons: “I had constantly sore thighs and hips for much of the year”, he said), it is clear that this relative late-comer is back in fine form and that there is a great deal more to come.
Tim Hutchings for the IAAF
Leading Results –
1. Deriba Merga (ETH) $25,000 59:25
2. Bernard Kipyego (KEN) $12,000 59:45
3. Leonard Langat (KEN) $9,000 59:52 pb
4. John Kiprotich (KEN) $5,000 1:00:10
5. Titus Masai (KEN) $4,000 1:00:40
6. Getu Feleke (ETH) $3,000 1:01:28
7. Maregu Terefe (ETH) $2,000 1:02:03
8. Dickson Marwa (TAN) $,1500 1:02:04
9. Hafid Chani (MOR) $1,000 1:02:23 pb
10. Alemayehu Shumye (ETH) $500 1:02:58 pb
1. Mary Keitany (KEN) $25,000 + $50,000 1:05:50 WR *
2. Dire Tune (ETH) $12,000 1:08:52
3. Mare Dibaba (ETH) $9,000 1:08:57
4. Rose Kosgei (KEN) $5,000 1:09:04
5. Agnes Kiprop (KEN) $4,000 1:09:11
6. Hilda Kibet (NED) $3,000 1:09:35
7. Sultan Haydar (TUR) $2,000 1:10:02 debut
8. Eunice Kales (KEN) $1,500 1:10:41
9. Christelle Daunay (FRA) $1,000 1:11:14
10. Aniko Kalovics (HUN) $500 1:13:45
Keitany splits: 5km 15:18 // 10km 30:45 // 15km 46:40 // 10m 50:05 // 20km 1:02:26 // Finish: 1:05:50
* pending the usual ratification procedures