The Mattoni Ceske Budejovice Half Marathon turned into a battle of attrition. Barselius Kipyego, the talented young Kenyan, was able to stay on pace over the second half of the race while the other lead runners faded. He was rewarded with the win and one of the fastest times in the last four years on this course, 1:00:30. In the elite women’s competition, it was Ashete Bekere of Ethiopia that struggled the least, pushing herself to a new course record of 1:10:40.
The thunderstorms that were part of the forecast held off, although a short rain shower just before the start of the race did add humidity to the air and some puddles to the asphalt. That didn’t stop the large Kenyan contingent from starting off with a quick pace, although runners started falling off by the 5K. The lead group was down to four runners (two of them pacesetters) by the 10K mark, still on target for 60 minutes. When they came to the course’s only real hill (a long, gradual burner), the attrition began in earnest. One of the pacers stepped off the course, while Kipyego first moved to the front of the group and eventually made his breakaway. Henry Kiplagat was the only runner to try to stay with the eventual winner, but by 18K it was clear that the youngest runner in the elite field would be the winner. Kipyego had used most of his energy on his final breakaway, and he was not able to kick himself under the 1 hour mark. Kiplagat finished second, also under 1:01, and pacesetter Geoffrey Koech ended up taking third.
In the women’s race pre-race favorite Risper Chebet struggled early, the first to fall off the lead group of three. Sarah Jebet, making her half-marathon debut, only made it a few minutes longer before she also fell back, leaving Bekere by herself in the lead. Although it was clear that she did not feel good for most of the race, she had the encouragement of the crowd and her hard-working pacer to push her. Bekere gutted out a very good performance, taking 14 seconds off the previous race record (which was set on a faster, double-loop orientation). Chebet was able to steady herself and move strongly into second, while Jebet held on to complete the podium trio. Though she does not speak much English, Bekere did express that she felt confident before the race that she could win. The race did not go exactly according to her plan, but she is proud to have the new race record despite struggling and having to run alone for the last 10K.
Though only 22, Kipyego is currently ranked 6th in the world with his 59:30 in Prague earlier this year and he seems to have a very clear plan for the future. “I will go back to Kenya to train, then return to Prague in September for the Birell Prague Grand Prix 10K. My full marathon will also be in Prague next year.” Kipyego was among the pacers for the 2016 PIM, and he certainly seems to have the potential to be a contender there in May. He clearly enjoys running in the Czech Republic and appreciates the support of the RunCzech organization. In addition to the winner’s prize, he earned a bonus for leading at the 18K mark, an innovation that helps provide incentive to stay up front in the middle portion of the race. There was also a young talent that stood out in the women’s field: Japan’s Ai Utsunomiya, only 20, finished fourth in 1:13:57.
Unfortunately, Geoffrey Mutai was not in the lead group for very long in his first race back from a seven-month layoff. Despite his conservative early running, there was a positive takeaway for the New York Marathon course record holder: he was able to rally late in the race to finish 6th in 1:04:28. It wasn’t quite as fast as he envisioned, but Mutai should be encouraged by his ability to close out the race well and is looking forward to his next race (a 10K).
It was a rough day for the top Czech runners, who both said they simply did not feel well for most of the race. "It was not my day. I honestly felt quite bad for most of the race, and I was not able to run as fast as I had hoped,” said Jiri Homolac, the top male Czech in 13th place. Longtime competitor Petra Kaminkova echoed that sentiment: “I don’t think the weather was the problem. I just didn’t have a very good day, and I hope I will feel much better in Olomouc [in three weeks].” There she will face Eva Vrabcova, who is bound for Rio to represent the Czech Republic in the marathon.