The arrival of the annual RAK Half Marathon each February means it’s game-face time for many of the world’s top road racers, most with an eye on a spring marathon. Race day this year, for what is inarguably the world’s fastest half marathon, is Friday 14th February and there is every reason to believe the racing in RAK as well as the times, will once more be supreme.
The three fastest times in history for a women’s half marathon on a record-legal course, have been set in Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) topped by Mary Keitany’s seemingly impregnable 65:50 world record from the 2011 event. And aside from the two dozen sub-one hour clockings by the men in this corner of the UAE, only inadequate drug-testing facilities on the day of the very first event back in 2007 were in the way of Sammy Wanjiru’s 58:53 being officially recognised as a then world record.
But on the issue of drug testing and in every other respect, Race Director Nathan Clayton’s organisation each year since, has been right up to speed and in the six editions since Wanjiru’s astonishing run, the results have been nothing short of breath-taking, with 19 individual men breaking 60 minutes on a total of 24 occasions. Last year, the first five tore round the capital of this Emirate, the name of which means “The top of the tent”, in under the hour, itself a record in any one race, and there is good reason to believe that this year’s field might blow the roof right off the tent, so to speak.
The men’s field includes no less than 11 who have broken 60 minutes, two of them – Bernard Koech and Stanley Biwott of Kenya, having gone comfortably under 59 minutes. But this tells only half the story, for the quality of the men’s race is unsurpassed, boasting a refined mix of half marathon specialists and full-blown marathon runners, making winner prediction harder than ever before.
Much attention will be focused on the form of Kenya’s reigning Chicago Marathon Champion Dennis Kimetto, arguably the road racer of the year for 2013. Aged either 29 or 30- his age being a disputed issue – the 2012 RAK champion won both the Tokyo and Chicago marathons last year, his 2:03.45 win in the latter achieved with consummate ease and was not far outside the world record.
Facing Kimetto, is a range of compatriot and Ethiopian rivals sufficient to constitute a smorgasbord for those who know their road racing. Amongst them are Stanley Biwott, close runner-up in RAK last year with 58:56 and a man who has won four of his last five half marathons, and Micah Kogo, the former world record holder at road 10k. Perhaps the most intriguing name in the line-up is Ibrahim Jeilan of Ethiopia, track World Champion at 10,000m in 2011 ahead of Mo Farah and just one of those targeting a marathon in London, in his case a debut.
The women’s field is at least as strong, with last year’s second and third placers in RAK, the Jeptoo pairing of Priscah (66:11) and Rita (66:27) respectively, topping the bill. London champion in 2013 and latterly noted for her fabulous demolishing of both Meseret Defar and Tirunesh Dibaba in the downhill Great North Run with a 65:45 clocking, it would be surprising if Priscah did not have at least one eye on a world record attempt, even with the defence of her London title her primary aim.
Outside of other Kenyans, their greatest rival might be 2010 runner-up Mare Dibaba, if she’s fully recovered from her early January marathon win in Xiamen that currently tops the world rankings (2:21:36). What she is clearly recovered from, is the stomach ailment that side-lined her for the entirety of 2013, and like Jeptoo, Dibaba has much focus on a spring marathon, in her case Boston. One debutante to watch is 2009 World 10,000m Champion Linet Masai, whose longest ever race is 10 miles – though that resulted in a world record (50:39) back in 2009.
With both reigning Boston champions in the line-ups (Lelisa Desisa and Rita Jeptoo), as well as current London and Chicago winners present, there will be more than one or two significant Race Directors watching the results in RAK with keen interest. As the big names are out in force and weather conditions have been perfect for six years out of seven, slow racing is not an option, and results are likely that once again will raise “the top of the tent” on February 14th.
|2011||Mary Keitany||(KEN)||65:50 WR|