Ednah Mukwanah and Willy Ngelel will face tough challenges at the 31st edition of Dalian International Marathon when the Kenyans return to the Chinese city to defend their titles at the IAAF Bronze Label road race on Sunday (13).
Since winning in Dalian last year, Mukwanah has maintained her solid form. The 33-year-old claimed three titles from four races last year including her 2:32:58 victory in Dalian, and went on to improve her personal best to 2:30:24 when taking top honours at the Zhengzhou Marathon in March.
But Mukwanah will find herself surrounded by a clutch of sub-2:30 performers at the start line on Sunday.
Compatriot Sarah Chepchirchir boasts a career best of 2:19:47 from her big victory in Tokyo last year. She also won back-to-back titles in Lisbon in 2016 and 2017 but has yet to race in 2018.
Ethiopia’s Mulu Seboka is the second fastest entrant on paper with a PB of 2:21:56 from the 2015 Dubai Marathon. A former winner in Jakarta, Dubai, Daegu and Toronto, the consistent Seboka has recorded sub-2:30 performances every year since 2012, including a 2:25:01 clocking in her most recent outing in Seoul two months ago.
Workenesh Edesa also owns a PB faster than the course record of 2:26:12. The 25-year-old Ethiopian recorded her PB of 2:24:04 when taking victory at the 2016 Xiamen Marathon and, like Chepchirchir, will be contesting her first marathon of 2018 on Sunday.
Haimanot Alemayehu of Ethiopia is another woman to watch. The Hefei and Brescia marathon winner of last year trimmed some nine-and-a-half minutes off her PB to finish second in Seville with a 2:25:51 clocking in February.
Ngelel won in Dalian last year in 2:13:48, just 45 seconds outside the course record set by compatriot Julius Maisei in 2012. The record looks even more vulnerable this time as the organisers have assembled a dozen sub-2:10 runners in the men’s field.
Ngelel, a 2:10:50 performer, started the season with a 2:13:25 clocking to finish 14th in Paris. The 21-year-old will once again meet with compatriot Maiyo Johnstone Kibet, the runner-up of last year who he beat by five seconds.
Kibet also finished second in Taipei two months ago in 2:14:40, which is 4:38 shy of his lifetime best set in Frankfurt back in 2011. Although the 29-year-old has never bettered 2:10, he is always highly competitive and has finished on the podium in all six of his marathons since 2015.
Kenya’s Sylvester Teimet has the quickest PB in the field, as he clocked 2:06:49 in Seoul eight years ago. But the 33-year-old has not bettered 2:10 for four years and competed in Dongying just one week ago.
Victor Kipchirchir, also from Kenya, is much more reliable in terms of consistency. He set his career best of 2:07:39 to win in Valencia two years ago and came close to that mark last March with a 2:08:52 clocking in Seoul.
Three other Kenyans are also in contention for the title, including Elias Kemboi, who set a PB of 2:07:04 in 2010 and scored a 2:13:53 win at the Zhengzhou Marathon in March, Hillary Kipchumba with a PB of 2:08:23, as well as Edwin Koech with a PB of 2:08:17.
Vincent Wu for the IAAF