Four men will chase the elusive sub-60-minute mark, while prolific road racer Caroline Kilel of Kenya will seek to score her first half marathon victory in almost two years during the Mattoni Karlovy Vary Half Marathon on May 21.
The Mattoni Karlovy Vary Half Marathon is the third of seven races in the RunCzech Running League, and the first of the Czech regional races outside the capital city of Prague. Now in its fourth year, the race will carry, for the first time, an IAAF Gold Label as one of the highest regarded half marathons in the world.
Tucked 120 km away from Prague in the Ore Mountains, Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad) is a popular tourist destination not only for its hilly scenery and spa tradition, but also for the rich history, recaptured in the breathtaking Baroque and Art Nouveau architecture.
Karlovy Vary has attracted many great musicians, scientists, artists and dignitaries of the 19th century: Beethoven, Chopin, Freud, Mozart, Goethe, Franz Joseph I and others. Celebrities still flock here to make beautiful films and to enjoy the annual Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Landmarks in the Karlovy Vary region include Loket Castle, Bečov Castle and Chateau, with the unique Reliquary of Saint Maurus.
The race follows a scenic route along the Teplá River to the colonnade and continues passing by many enchanting buildings and promenade halls which appeared in famous films.
But don’t let the charming backdrop fool you. This course can be fast, as was proven last year when Kenya’s Elijah Tirop Serem broke the men’s course record, finishing in 61:01, while Ethiopia’s Mula Seboka lowered the women’s course mark by six seconds to 69:11.
But those records won’t last long if this year’s field has anything to say about it.
In the women’s race, everyone figures to be chasing the 35-year-old Kilel, the 2011 Boston Marathon champion and two-time winner of the Frankfurt Marathon. Kilel comes into the race in fairly strong shape, having just won the Daegu Marathon on April 3 in 2:27:39. At the half marathon distance, it has been seven years since she clocked her PB of 68:16 in Birmingham and two and a half years since her last triumph, in Keringet (72:15).
But Kilel isn’t likely to be handed victory easily by her opponents.
Joyciline Jepkosgei of Kenya ran 69:09 at altitude to finish second in the Nairobi Half Marathon on March 6; Bekelech Daba of Ethiopia is a 70:09 half marathoner and is coming off a solid 2:29:50 in the Nagoya Marathon on March 13; and Risa Takenaka of Japan has run 70:10 for the half and finished third in the Osaka Women’s Marathon in 2:29:14 on Jan. 31.
On the men’s side, there are four runners within in realistic striking distance of Serem’s standard. Leading the way will be Abraham Kasongor of Kenya, who ran 60:25 in a sixth-place finish in Istanbul last April.
Kasongor figures to get a strong challenge from a trio of men who have already run well this year. Mustapha El Aziz of Morocco won the Marrakech Half Marathon on January 31 in a personal-best 60:39. Simon Tesfai of Eritrea comes into the race fresh off a runner-up finish in 61:00 at the Berlin Half Marathon on April 3. Marofit Mourad of Morocco, winner of the 2010 Birell Prague Grand Prix 10K and a 61:43 half marathoner, has broken 30-minutes for the 10K in two of his three races this year, including a 28:37 victory in the St. Patrick’s Day 10K in Holyoke, Mass.
There will be plenty of local support for the Czech elites competing. On the men’s side Milan Kocourek, who just ran 64:23 in the Sportisimo Prague Half Marathon in April, heads that list. 43-year-old Petra Kaminkova, who ran her PB of 72:17 in Prague in 2014, is the top Czech in the women’s field.
Joe Battaglia for the Organizers
|Abraham Kasongor Akopesha||KEN||1:00:25|
|Mustapha El Aziz||MAR||1:00:39|
|Wilson Kiprono Too||KEN||Debut|
|Evans Kigen Kurui||KEN||Debut|
|Paulo Roberto Paula||BRA||1:02:30|
|Amos Kibivot Kurgat||KEN||1:01:56|
|Caroline Chaeptanui Kilel||KEN||1:08:16|