Marathons ask so many questions, not least the one asked of every runner from the fastest to the slowest: how to hold it together when things get tough in the last 10km.
Each runner must face that question on their own and come up with their own answer, but the Gold Coast Marathon on Sunday (7), an IAAF Gold Label event, also poses a heap of other interesting questions.
Can the man dubbed ‘King Kenneth’ by race organisers, Kenya’s Kenneth Mungara, continue to hold back the years to achieve a fourth victory on the Gold Coast? Has Bernard ‘Kip’ Lagat learned enough from a humbling marathon debut in New York last year to mount a credible challenge? Can New Zealand’s Zane Robertson, who missed last year’s Commonwealth Games marathon on the Gold Coast through injury, atone with a victory this time and perhaps take the family record off twin brother Jake into the bargain?
Turning to the women’s race, can Australia’s leading finisher in the Rio 2016 Olympic marathon, Milly Clark, cap a successful comeback from injury by becoming the first local winner since Lauren Shelley in 2009?
First, let’s take Mungara, as befits an athlete who is the defending champion and holds the race and Australian all-comers’ records with his 2:08:42 in 2015. Sunday will be precisely two months before his 46th birthday, but he shows no signs of slowing down. Should he win again, Mungara will join Pat Carroll, who himself has the credentials to be considered king of the Gold Coast, and Margaret Reddan as four-time winners of the event.
He may not even be first in category. Bernard Lagat turns 45 in December. By any measure, Lagat is the best all-round distance runner to compete in the Gold Coast race. A silver and bronze Olympic medallist at 1500m and second-fastest ever at the event, world over 1500m and 5000m in Osaka in 2007 – he sits comfortably in any conversation of track distances up to, and including, the 10,000m. The marathon is another matter. His debut of 2:17:20 in New York last year was a harsh learning experience and left him with something to prove.
“One of the most important things I learned from running the New York Marathon,” Lagat said when his Gold Coast commitment was announced, “was the experience of ‘hitting the wall’. A lot of people warned me about it and told me to watch for it, but nothing quite teaches you like living through that experience… I panicked a bit, questioned myself if I could finish.”
If Lagat has conquered those doubts, he could be a big factor on the Gold Coast.
Zane Roberston believes he could have won the Commonwealth Games race. A half-marathon PB of 59:47 suggest that is more than just idle talk. He was happy to talk up his chances pre-race.
“First and foremost, I always target the win,’ Robertson said. “I want to run as fast as the pacemakers allow and once they step off the road anything can be possible. Perhaps a new Oceania record?”
Robert de Castella holds the Oceania record at 2:07:51, his winning time the first year the Boston marathon went open in 1986. Of equal note, Zane’s twin brother Jake holds the New Zealand, and family, record at 2:08:26.
The Gold Coast race also serves as the Oceania championships, so the Oceania champion will accrue valuable rankings points for the Tokyo 2002 Olympics.
Kenyan pair Ezekiel Chebii and Philip Sanga Kimutai both boast personal bests of 2:06:07, the former from 2016 in Amsterdam, the latter from 2011 in Frankfurt. But the man with the most recent 2:06-clocking is Japan’s Yuta Shitara who ran a national record 2:06:11 in Tokyo last year, a mark subsequently bettered by Suguru Osako’s 2:05:50 in Chicago. Along with the indefatigable Yuki Kawauchi, he gives Japan a strong hand in what has been traditionally a strong race for them.
Milly Clark is not the fastest entrant in the women’s race but her personal best of 2:29:07 on her debut in 2015 and top-20 finish in Rio are solid credentials. She is returning after an 18-month absence with foot injuries and has run just a couple of half-marathons in the 75-minute range. But she followed a similar pattern before her debut marathon. Having done it once before, Clark is hoping to repeat the trick.
Fastest entrant in the women’s race is Kenya’s Mercy Kibarus, who will be seeking to go one better than her second-place finish in the 2017 race. There are six athletes with personal bests below 2:30 in what looms as a very open race.
Japan has provided the women’s winner in six of the past nine Gold Coast races, with this year’s fastest entrant being Yuka Kawauchi, now married to Yuki, who ran 2:31:39 as Yuka Mizuguchi in 2014.
Len Johnson for the IAAF