Under cloudless skies, which offered no protection from the early morning sun, Jackson Limo of Kenya ran away from a competitive field to win the Banque du Liban Beirut Marathon, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, on Sunday (8).
His time of 2:11:04 beat the previous course record and Lebanese all-comers' record by nine seconds.
The 7am start saw the temperatures already hovering around 19C, although part of the course ran along the Mediterranean where a gentle breeze was welcomed by the runners. By the finish the mercury rose to nearly 24.
The pack was paced by Bahrain’s Isaac Korir through the half-way point, reached in 1:04:21, with the Kenyan-born Korir stepping aside at that point.
Limo, who said he only ran in Beirut after he was turned down by the Amsterdam Marathon organisers, put distance between himself and Ethiopia’s Abdela Godana at the 35km mark and won by almost two minutes. The Ethiopian held on for second in 2:13:02.
“I was expecting to win the race,” said the 27-year-old Limo, who trains alongside Eliud Kipchoge. “I prepared very well for it. I made my move at 32km because I saw my colleagues were looking tired and I decided to push.”
At that point his compatriot Elijah Kemboi, the pre-race favourite with a 2:07:34 personal best, and Hussein Mohammed, the Ethiopian who would eventually finish third in 2:14:49, were still in contention but Limo withstood the heat better than his rivals.
“I was preparing to go to Amsterdam but they told me ‘with your time you cannot come here’ so I decided to come to Beirut,” Limo added. “I prefer to run Beirut. I am happy I have the course record.”
While Limo earned US $10,000 for the victory and another US $4000 for beating the race record and running faster than 2:12, Godana exuded disappointment. A year ago he was also second in Beirut and thought he was well prepared for this, the 13th edition of the Beirut Marathon.
“I was expecting to win but I was tired,” said the Ethiopian. “I was also second last year. This year I thought I would win. When he got ten metres on me I wasn’t thinking about him after that. I was thinking about the guy in third and worried he would catch me.”
Limo is the oldest of eight siblings and has been using his earnings as a professional runner to prepare for his and his family’s future.
“I got some land for farming,” Limo said. “I built my house and am thinking of my future. I have my brothers and sisters they are in school and I still help them with education by paying their tuition fees. They run in school but they have reached the level of nationals.”
Surprise win from debutante Bouaasayriya
While the men’s race was a battle of the East Africans, it was a surprise when a Moroccan international emerged victorious in the women’s race.
Kaltoum Bouaasayriya, who represented her country at both the 2013 IAAF World Championships and the 2012 Olympics in the 3000m steeplechase, won the race in 2:36:05 with Meseret Abebayehu of Ethiopia following 21 seconds later.
Pre-race favourites Elena Nagovitsyna of Russia and Lithuania’s Diana Lobacevske both dropped out before the half-way point, the former complaining of a stitch while the Lithuanian, who will represent her country at the 2016 Rio Olympics, said she turned her ankle at 18km.
It was Bouaasayriya’s debut at the distance and she looked as if she had finished with plenty to spare. Her modest time of 2:36:05 was more the result of an admitted fear of the distance.
“I thought I would either get first or second place,” said the 32-year-old who is coached by Bobker Rizky. “This is my first marathon and I am very happy with it. At about 41 kilometres I knew I was going to win the race.
“I feel there was a little bit of fear because it was my first marathon,” she added. “I hope to run faster next time.”
A pair of Ethiopians – Meseret Abebayehu, second in 2:36:26, and Bizunesh Urgessa, third in 2:42:07 – completed the podium.
Paul Gains (organisers) for the IAAF