The 14th edition of the DOZ Lodz Marathon, taking place this Sunday (16), will be only one part of a festival of road running in the Polish city. In addition to the marathon, an IAAF Bronze Label race, the highlight promises to be the Ibuprom Sport Zel Half Marathon, newly added to the programme and featuring one of the best fields seen on the Polish road-racing scene this year.
The organisers are hoping for a Polish all-comers’ record in the half marathon this weekend. Their hopes look well founded, as the three top entrants in the men's race have all run well under the current mark of 1:00:48, set by Victor Kipchirchir in Warsaw four years ago.
With a best of 59:33 achieved when he finished fourth in Valencia in 2016, Morocco's Mourad Marofit is the fastest on paper. The 36-year-old's resume also includes two wins in Marrakech and a 5000m best of 13:02.84 from 2008.
Ethiopia’s Mesfin Alemu is the other man in the field to have broken the one-hour barrier. He clocked 59:39 in Ostia in 2014, a race in which he finished second. This will be Alemu's second half marathon outing in Poland, after his third-place finish last year in Warsaw.
The Ethiopian is equally accomplished on surfaces other than road, with a 27:27.57 best at 10,000m and two top-10 finishes at the World Cross Country Championships.
Compatriot Andualem Belay is the next fastest among the entrants, with a 1:00:10 from Lille in 2012, a year in which he also had two other races under 1:01:00. More recently, the Ethiopian has been focusing on the full marathon distance, at which his best is 2:09:59 from Dubai in 2015.
There will be a strong Kenyan presence in the race as well, with a trio of experienced athletes.
Kipkemoi Kiprono looks to be a man in form, having smashed his personal best with 1:00:56 in Lisbon just last month.
Emmanuel Bor’s fastest time of 1:01:04 dates back two years, but he has shown excellent form during the 2018 cross-country season, finishing fourth at the Kenyan Championships and fifth at the African Championships.
The third part of the trio is Hillary Maiyo, a regular on the Polish road-running circuit, with six half marathon wins in the country last year alone, and third place in the recent race in Warsaw. With a best of 1:01:05 from last year, the Kenyan should once again be one of the top contenders.
Two more Kenyans will start as favourites in the women's race. Alice Kimutai is the faster of the two at 1:10:09, which she ran in New Delhi in 2013. Kimutai already has several victories in international half marathons to her name, the most recent coming in Lishui in 2016, and will be eager to add another one to the list.
Trying to stop that from happening will be her compatriot Christine Oigo, whose personal best of 1:11:32 was set just last autumn when she took the victory in Podgorica.
Oigo, like Maiyo, has raced prolifically in Poland. She comes to Lodz on the back of a win in Gdynia last month, followed by sixth place in Warsaw the following weekend. In the latter race she was only 11 seconds off her personal best.
Meseret Merine also featured prominently in the race in Gdynia, finishing third, and should once again challenge for a top placing this weekend. The Ethiopian's best of 1:12:52 from Pune in 2015 makes her the third fastest entrant.
Four-time Polish champion Agnieszka Gortel carries the local hopes. The 41-year-old veteran, with a personal best identical to Merine's, showed she is still in good competitive shape with a fifth-place finish in Gdynia.
A battle between Kenya and Ethiopia is on the cards in both men's and women's marathon. Asmare Workneh of Ethiopia, runner-up in last year's edition of the race, starts as favourite this time. The personal best of 2:09:56 from Dusseldorf in 2009 makes him by far the fastest in the field.
The most likely challenger to Workneh is arguably Kenya's Rodgers Kipchirchir, who also has a second-place finish in Lodz to his name, a feat he achieved in 2016. The same year, he also took second place in Munster in what is his personal best of 2:13:38.
Completing the trio of race favourites is a second Ethiopian, Tarekegn Zewdu, with a best of 2:14:41 from Zhengzhou last year.
Lemlem Berha of Ethiopia is the most accomplished runner in the women's marathon field, with a best of 2:29:42, set in Kosice in 2013. The same year, she was the winner in Barcelona. Among the multiple other podium finishes in her career, the most recent was her second place in Krakow in 2017.
Attempting to threaten Berha's dominance will be the 35-year old Jane Kiptoo of Kenya. A world-class track runner in the past, with PBs of 15:03.80 at 5000m and 31:15.79 at 10,000m, Kiptoo has focused on the marathon in recent years. Twice the winner in Geneva and twice runner-up in Sydney, the Kenyan set her fastest time to date in Dusseldorf four years ago, running 2:31:21.
Pawel Jackowski for the IAAF