Peter Kirui leading the Sportisimo Prague Half Marathon (VIctah Sailer for Sportisimo Prague Half Marathon) © Copyright
Preview Santa Pola, Spain

Close battles expected in Santa Pola

Having recently been awarded IAAF Bronze Label Road Race status, the Santa Pola International Half Marathon on Sunday (22) has attracted competitive fields for both races.

This year’s men’s cast is headed by Kenya’s Peter Cheruiyot Kirui, a consistent performer over the distance who holds a career best of 59:22 from 2014. The 29-year-old, who finished sixth in the 10,000m at the 2011 IAAF World Championships, has run faster than 60 minutes on five occasions throughout his career, two of them last season.

Kirui’s last outing came two months ago in Valencia, barely 150 kilometres away from Santa Pola, where he finished third in the marathon with a season’s best of 2:08:12, just two minutes shy of his PB.

Fellow Kenyan James Kipsang has the fastest PB of all the entrants, but his 59:09 lifetime best was set back in 2009. Kipsang, who used to share the Kenyan marathon record at 2:04:27, ended 2016 with a season’s best of 1:04:27, but he also won the Daegu Marathon last year with a more respectable 2:10:46.

France’s El Hassane Ben Lkhainouch (PB of 1:01:31), Kenya’s Daniel Muindi Muteti (1:02:11) and Italy’s Stefano La Rosa (1:02:15) should fight to complete the top three on Sunday. The 31-year-old Italian finished 20th at last month’s European Cross Country Championships before going on to finish fourth at the Rome New Year’s Eve 10km in 29:18.

Partridge faces African power

Britain’s Lily Partridge will start as the favourite for the women’s race. She enjoyed a fine 2016 season with a season’s best of 1:11:39 to finish fourth at the Great Scottish Half Marathon, just a minute shy of her PB set in Reading the previous year. The 25-year-old’s last competition came at a low-key 10km race in Poole, where she clocked 33:24.

Partridge’s toughest opposition might come from Ethiopia’s Bezunesh Getachew, who clocked a 5000m PB of 15:16.98 last year while still a junior and a half marathon PB of 1:11:41 in 2015.

Both women will have to be at their best to beat Kenya’s Antonina Kwambai, who boasts a 1:12:28 clocking in addition to a 10km career best of 31:52.

Poland’s Dominica Nowakowska and Corolina Nadolska, plus Lithuania’s Vaida Zusinaite, will also be in contention on Sunday.

A €5000 bonus is on offer for anyone who breaks the course records of 1:00:15 in the men’s race (set by Vincent Yator in 2015) or 1:09:23 in the women’s race (set by Rosa Chelimo in 2012).

The Santa Pola circuit has a well-deserved reputation as a fast one as it offers a completely flat surface. In addition, the small town of 30,000 inhabitants is located barely four metres above sea level, which is an obvious advantage for endurance efforts.

About 9000 runners are expected to line up on Sunday. Weather forecasters predict a cloudy day with a 75% of rain likelihood and a temperature in the 10-12C range by the time of the event.

Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF