Geoffrey Mutai en route to his 59:43 win in Ras Al Khaimah (Victah Sailer) © Copyright
General News Ras al-Khaimah, UAE

Mutai aiming to regain title as super fields gather for Ras al-Khaimah Half Marathon

As for each of the previous six editions, this year’s Ras al-Khaimah Half Marathon on the northern shores of the UAE on February 15 promises fast times and fierce contests in both men’s and women’s races.

Five times with a sub-60 minute male winner, only strong winds last year slowed times, but resumption of normal service is expected with the exceptional fields making the winners’ names harder than ever to predict. The still-standing women’s World record of 65:50 was set here in 2011 by Mary Keitany, while the men’s course record is 58:52 by Patrick Makau in 2009.

Whoever does top the men’s rostrum – from a field of 12 sub-60 minute runners – will join an exalted list of road racing legends; Sammy Wanjiru (2007), Makau (2008-09), Geoffrey Mutai (2010), Deriba Merga (2011) and Dennis Koech (2012).

Mutai, the 2010 winner, returns knowing his victory in 59:43 helped to project him to his current status as one of the world’s most successful marathon runners of the last three years. Indeed, few could have guessed that when the late Sammy Wanjiru in 2007 won the inaugural event in this quiet port city less than fifty miles from Dubai, his 59:53 clocking would become just one of 19 sub-one hour performances in the first six years of the event.

Among those attracted by that promise of training fulfilment this year is the exciting Stephen Kibet of Kenya, last year world ranked number two with 58:54. Others to consider however, with more than a dozen Kenyans featuring on the elite list, include Ezekiel Chebii, the winner in Lille last September (59:05) and Pius Maio Kirop, Berlin winner last April (59:25).

Among the Ethiopians, World Marathon bronze medallist Feyisa Lelisa, winner at Houston in 2012 (59:22), has already retained that title this year, and Getu Feleke, fourth here twelve months ago and subsequently second in the Rotterdam Marathon in 2:04:50, will likely go better.

That astonishing World record of 65:50 by Keitany in the 2011 race confirmed that the RAK organisers can all but guarantee perfect conditions when much of Europe and North America is still mired in winter weather. As a result, the women’s field is also loaded with Elvan Abeylegesse of Turkey. After a relatively quiet 2011-2012, and now a mother, she is bullish about her chances of showing similar form to that which saw her win here three years ago in 67:07.

With a 66:38 PB, the fastest woman on paper for this year’s race is 2009 World cross champion and 2010 World half-marathon champion Florence Kiplagat. The 25-year-old boasts great 10,000m speed (Kenyan record-holder with 30:11.53) as well as a Marathon runner’s strength – she won Berlin in 2011 in 2:19:44.

Against her is World and Olympic Marathon silver medallist Priscah Jeptoo, who remarkably has never broken 70 minutes; a lopping of several minutes is long overdue. The Half-marathon is also the ideal distance for their compatriot Lucy Wangui Kabuu, another member of the sub-2:20 marathon club, who has a similar range of world-class times.

Kabuu is apparently in fine form and one to watch having won all three of the Half-marathons she’s ever contested, including both the Great North Run and the Delhi Half Marathon in 2011. Another top Kenyan, 2011 World Marathon bronze medallist Sharon Cherop, is another danger.

For the Ethiopians, former track star Meselech Melkamu will be making her debut in RAK, but her win in the Frankfurt Marathon last October (2:21:01), also her debut, suggests something spectacular is possible for the second-fastest woman of all time over 10,000m.

Melkamu’s team-mate Meseret Hailu is also one to watch. The 22-year-old landed a surprise win at last year’s World Half Marathon Championships, then followed it two weeks later with a 2:21:09 victory at the Amsterdam Marathon.

Like Mutai, who plans to run London, many of those competing in RAK have spring Marathon ambitions, but the date is far enough ahead of the big 42km gatherings to warrant a full-out effort rather than a measured preparation race. With the Half-marathon specialists thrown in to the mix, it is little wonder that the organisers had to turn away many good athletes.

The total prize and bonus monies offered of more than $250,000 don’t do any harm of course, but the RAK Half has never been easy and worthy champions are two of the few certainties.

Organisers for the IAAF

Elite entries for the Ras al-Khaimah Half-marathon (with PBs)

Stephen Kibet (KEN) 58:54
Ezekiel Chebii (KEN) 59:05
Micah Kogo (KEN) 59:07
Feyisa Lelisa (ETH) 59:22
Pius Maio Kirop (KEN) 59:25
Geoffrey Kipsang (KEN) 59:26
Geoffrey Mutai (KEN) 59:30
Joel Kimurer (KEN) 59:36
Stanley Biwott (KEN) 59:44
Daniel Chebii (KEN) 59:49
Emmanuel Mutai (KEN) 59:52
Getu Feleke (ETH) 59:56
Edwin Kipyego (KEN) 60:55
Daniel Wanjiru (KEN) 61:19
Tsegaye Mekonnen (ETH) 63:59
Yusuke Hasegawa (JPN) debut
Paul Maina Ngari (KEN) debut

Florence Kiplagat (KEN) 66:38
Lucy Wangui Kabuu (KEN) 67:04
Elvan Abeylegesse (TUR) 67:07
Rita Jeptoo (KEN) 67:08
Sharon Cherop (KEN) 67:08
Paskalia Kipkoech (KEN) 67:17
Filomena Chepchir (KEN) 68:06
Diana Chepkemoi (KEN) 68:08
Feyse Tadese Boru (ETH) 68:44
Meseret Hailu (ETH) 68:55
Ashu Kasim (ETH) 70:05
Priscah Jeptoo (KEN) 70:26
Meselech Melkamu (ETH) 70:25+