Bahrain’s Eunice Kirwa became the first woman to complete the Gifu Seiryu Half Marathon within 70 minutes, winning the IAAF Silver Label Road Race in a course record of 1:09:37 on Sunday (17).
The Asian Games marathon champion finished exactly one minute ahead of her nearest challenger and took 26 seconds off the previous course record, set by Mestawet Tufa in 2013.
In a relatively slower but closer men’s race, James Rungaru led a Kenyan 1-2-3, winning in 1:02:21.
In the women’s race, four runners – Kirwa, Kenya’s Paskalia Kipkoech and Ethiopia’s Atsede Baysa and Marta Tigabea – passed 5km in 16:11 before Kirwa began to pull away.
Tigabea soon fell back to fourth while Kirwa forged ahead and passed 10km in 32:34, 28 seconds ahead of Baysa and Kipkoech. With each step, Kirwa continued to pull away and by 15km, reached in 49:06, she was 52 seconds ahead of Baysa with Kipkoech a further 30 seconds adrift.
Kirwa eventually crossed the line in 1:09:37. Of her 18 half marathons to date, Kirwa has now won 11 of them. Only once has she ever finished outside the top two.
Baysa, the two-time Chicago Marathon champion, finished second in 1:10:37.
Kipkoech, the 2012 world half-marathon bronze medallist, was running in third place from 10km onwards but was unable to hold off a fast-finishing Brianna Nelson. The US runner moved up from fifth at 5km to fourth at 15km and then caught Kipkoech at 20km. Nelson pulled ahead to finish third in 1:12:43, eight seconds in front of Kipkoech.
Yuko Mizuguchi was the first Japanese finisher, placing fifth in 1:13:47, a couple of minutes adrift of the 1:11:03 PB she set in Maurgame earlier this year.
Rungaru makes early break
In the men’s race, Rungaru broke away from his competitors in the opening stages. He reached 5km in 14:17 and was already 10 seconds ahead of a chase pack which included fellow Kenyans Martin Mathathi, Michael Githae, Patrick Mwaka and Cyrus Njui, all of whom run for Japanese corporate-sponsored track teams.
Although Rungaru slowed slightly over the next 5km, he still managed to extend his lead over the rest of the field and passed 10km in 28:55. Githae and Njui were 17 seconds in arrears with Mwaka four seconds behind, a few strides in front of Mathathi.
Approaching the 15km point, 2011 and 2012 Gifu Seiryu winner Mathathi moved up from fifth to fourth. Rungaru remained in front though, passing 15km in 43:52, 19 seconds ahead of Githae and Njui.
Githae then left Njui behind and set off in pursuit of Rungaru. By 20km, which Rungaru reached in 59:04, Githae was just 11 seconds behind and he continued to gain on the leader. But he had left his challenge too late and eventually finished six seconds behind Rungaru, who won in 1:02:21.
It was Rungaru’s second half-marathon victory in succession, having won in Nice last month with a personal best of 1:00:12.
Mathathi, the 2006 world cross-country and 2007 world 10,000m bronze medallist, continued to make his way through the field in the closing stages and finished third in 1:02:40. Njui and Mwaka finished fourth and fifth respectively.
Sixth-placed Yusei Nakao was the top Japanese finisher, clocking 1:03:34 to finish four places higher than he did last year.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
1 James Rungaru (KEN) 1:02:21
2 Michael Githae (KEN) 1:02:27
3 Martin Mathathi (KEN) 1:02:40
4 Cyrus Njui (KEN) 1:02:50
5 Patrick Mwaka (KEN) 1:03:31
6 Yusei Nakao (JPN) 1:03:34
7 Kenta Matsumoto (JPN) 1:03:38
8 Ben St Lawrence (AUS) 1:03:41
9 Taiga Ito (JPN) 1:03:52
10 Ryota Matsushima (JPN) 1:04:08
1 Eunice Kirwa (BRN) 1:09:37
2 Atsede Baysa (ETH) 1:10:37
3 Brianne Nelson (USA) 1:12:43
4 Paskalia Kipkoech (KEN) 1:12:51
5 Yuko Mizuguchi (JPN) 1:13:47
6 Kaori Yoshida (JPN) 1:14:28
7 Marta Tegabea (ETH) 1:15:18
8 Hiroko Shoi (JPN) 1:15:27
9 Marina Seki (JPN) 1:15:55
10 Shoko Shimizu (JPN) 1:16:57