The reputation of the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon was enhanced in spectacular style today, with a record 11 men breaking the one-hour barrier, while three women battled for supremacy in a finishing sprint that put them all under 66 minutes.
In perfect early morning, sun-kissed conditions and mostly staged on the new circuit of the Al Marjan Island complex, a small but select women’s elite group set off in conservative fashion, passing 10km in 31:02. Their male pacers maintained a steady if not lightning-quick tempo through 15km (46:43) by which time the group had reduced to five, including reigning IAAF world half marathon champion Netsanet Gudeta of Ethiopia and her debutante compatriot Senbere Teferi.
With a male pacer dictating the tempo, the group was reduced to three by 20km (62:26), Zeineba Yimer ensuring it would be an Ethiopian clean-sweep of the podium. Despite the accelerating tempo over the last kilometre, none of the three was prepared to commit early, and in the ensuing sprint for the line, it was proven track specialist Teferi, who proved the strongest. Her winning margin of just one metre from women-only world record holder Gudeta, resulted in the fastest women’s debut in history, with her more heralded opponent given the same time of 65:45. Yimer’s third place time of 65:46 ensured all three produced huge personal bests, each breaking 66 minutes for the first time.
Behind this trio, another five finished well inside 70 minutes, though boasting rights, went to Ethiopia’s first four finishers, with Kenyans filling places 5 to 8. Significantly, in her first serious race in almost two years, Peres Jepchirchir the 2017 champion in a then world record, was sixth in 67:36, an ominously solid return for a young mother still far from fully fit.
The elite men’s pack, despite a stronger field in depth – thirteen men on the start line had broken the magical one-hour mark in the past – started in similarly reluctant fashion, passing 5km in 14:13, as opposed to a target of 13:55. An acceleration to 10km in 28:10 (13:57 split) didn’t get the large pack of seventeen much closer to the planned schedule, but there were fireworks to come.
Soon after half way, 21-year-old Abadi Hadis of Ethiopia, fastest in the field and proven track performer, had seen enough. He accelerated so viciously that the large pack reduced to single file within the space of one hundred metres, and his 2:40 split for the fourteenth kilometre, set the race ablaze. By 15km (41:48) it was down to just he and Kenya’s Stephen Kiprop, who at just 19, had in 2018, one of the most spectacular opening seasons in history, producing three sub-one hour clockings.
Try as he might, Hadis could not shake Kiprop, at times zig-zagging across the road while the Kenyan hid in his slipstream, as if glued in position. The frustration for Hadis, himself only contesting his third ever Half, was palpable, but he stuck gamely to his task, such that by 18km the pair had opened a gap of nine seconds on the chasing duo of Switzerland’s Julien Wanders and Fikadu Haftu.
At 20km (55:46), Hadis had thrown down a devastating second 10km segment of 27:36, but still couldn’t shake his younger nemesis, while behind them the challenge for the final podium spot see-sawed between Wanders and Haftu, neither giving any quarter and their battle carrying them to eventual spectacular times.
Only inside the last kilometre did a small gap appear behind Hadis, and the immediate impression was that his persistent efforts would be rewarded. Even one hundred metres from the line, he led by two to three metres, but Kiprop was not done, and displaying raw power and finding yet another level of reserves, the Kenyan surged past Hadis fifty metres from home, to breast the tape in an event equalling record time of 58:42 (Bedan Karoki’s record time of 2018 was on the old course). Hadis looked broken as he crossed the line two seconds down, but it was his surging determination through the second half which led to astonishing times in depth behind them.
In third, Fikadu Haftu (59:08) shaded the spectacular European Record of Julien Wanders (59:13,) his fourth continental record inside twelve months, with behind him both Morris Gachaga (59:22) and Mule Wasihun (59:34) ensuring the top six set or equalled their personal bests. The first eleven men broke the one-hour barrier, with Kaan Kigen Ozbilen of Turkey (59:48) in eleventh setting a new Turkish record. It is the first time in history that more than nine men have broken sixty minutes.
A glorious day on the new circuit at this barrier-breaking race beside the glistening Arabian Gulf, might have been yet better if both elite fields had attacked their respective contests with more early aggression, but to critique Ras Al Khaimah 2019 that way, would be harsh. Fabulous new standards were set in a variety of ways, and the experimental course along the Al Marjan Island peninsular has proven a dramatic success. In years to come, the fields will get larger, the races faster and the reputation will be even harder to match. The constants are the winning factors – great weather, great organisation, and as this year, superb foot racing.h2. Confirmed Results of Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon 2019