Trumpeting peace and unity, the Banque du Liban Beirut Marathon gets underway on Sunday (8) in the Lebanese capital, incredibly, for the 13th consecutive year. In a region beset by conflict, this IAAF Silver Label Road Race has clearly gone a long way to establish the city in a positive light.
Even race ambassador and current world marathon record-holder Paula Radcliffe acknowledged she had carefully enquired about the safety issues of visiting the Middle East. It was Haile Gebrselassie who set her mind at ease, having preceded her as Beirut Marathon ambassador in 2014.
The men’s race favourite Elijah Kemboi of Kenya was the picture of confidence as he appeared at the pre-event press conference on Friday. The organisers have once again attracted some fine elite athletes and Kemboi, sporting a personal best of 2:07:34, is seeking victory and a race record.
“When I was preparing for Beirut I was looking to improve on my 2:07,” he said. “I want to run 2:07. I am in shape to do that if the course is flat.
“The course record is 2:11:13 and when you have a course record like that it is an indication that it is a hard course. So for this one maybe I will run 2:08.”
Organisers were forced to change the course this year due to prolonged construction along the old route. Kemboi and the other elites will no doubt find it more to their liking. Apart from a short climb at the start, which is near the Armenian Catholic Cathedral, and another rise near 7km, the course is flat.
Kemboi’s build up was interrupted by a bout of typhoid which forced him to miss two weeks of training. But he sufficiently recovered to act as pacemaker at the Eindhoven Marathon last month, comfortably taking the leaders through the half-way mark in 1:02:23. Now he is prepared to tackle a world-class field in Beirut.
“My coach gives me confidence,” says Kemboi. “He encourages me to do long runs every Sunday. We have been doing long runs starting with 30km, then 35km, then 38km, then 40km. So he gave me encouragement. For the pacemakers I want the pace that is systematic. I want to go 1:03:40 at half way.”
Edeo Mamo of Ethiopia leads the challengers. With a personal best of 2:09:52 from the 2014 Warsaw Marathon, he feels he is in his best condition ever.
“I have done my best training, it has gone very well, and so I expect to make my personal best time in Beirut,” he said. “My coach is Haji Adilo and I started training for Beirut three months ago, running twice a day with a morning run of two hours. I will try to win.”
Lobacevske faces tough Ethiopian opposition
Among the elite women, Diana Lobacevske’s Olympic qualifying time of 2:28:57 in Hamburg this year is the fastest personal best of anyone in the field. The Lithuanian is using the race as a test of fitness while keeping her focus on the 2016 Olympics.
“There is another Lithuanian girl (Rasa Drazdauskaite) who has also run the Olympic qualification; she was running the World Championships in Beijing,” says Lobacevske. “I didn’t because I was injured. I am back now and I hope I am back to normal. I am not in my best shape now after the injury but we will see.
“This is my second time here in Beirut. I was fourth in 2:35 (in 2011). This course was not that easy, it was quite hilly. But for me now it is like very good training.”
Lobacevske is aiming to run 2:32, just outside the course record of 2:31:38. But whether that will be good enough to win remains to be seen.
Elena Nagovitsyna of Russia and the Ethiopian duo of Bizunesh Urgesa and Belaynesh Shifera Yigezu have their sights set on the US $10,000 first place prize money and generous time bonuses.
With Lobacevske standing next to her smiling, track specialist Nagovitsyna shed light on her expectations for Sunday.
“I was training for a few months and my expectation will be to run around 2:30” said Nogavitsyna. “I will try for that.”
“My main goal is the 10,000m in the Olympic Games next year so I am still not 100% a marathon runner. Probably next year after the Olympics I will be a marathon runner. Right now it’s more about endurance training for me. The biggest opponent is myself; I just run against myself.”
The race weekend – which includes the classic marathon, a marathon relay, a 5km, 10km and even a 2km fun run for kids with parents escorting them – is expected to attract 38,000 entries.
Paul Gains (organisers) for the IAAF