Konstanze Klosterhalfen, Peres Jepchirchir and Tamirat Tola PHOTO: Giancarlo Colombo

New regime, new course, but with Olympic and world champions and the usual array of speedsters, Saturday’s Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon is virtually assured of the sort of fast times that have been a feature of the event throughout its 17 year history, including three women’s world records.

 
Pride of place both on the start list and at this morning’s press conference in one of the smaller emirates in the UAE were Olympic marathon and three time world half-marathon champion, Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya, and keeping the balance in the long-term East African distance running rivalry, world marathon champion Tamirat Tola of Ethiopia heads the men’s entry. The wild card, hoping to gatecrash the party is Konstanze Klosterhalfen of Germany, who surprised the East Africans when she beat a dozen of them to win her debut half-marathon in Valencia in 2022.

Jepchirchir may neither be the fastest marathoner or half-marathoner among current women long distance runners, but she knows how to win races, an asset far more valuable than fast times. In the seven months between late August 2021 and mid-April 2022, she won the Olympic, New York and Boston Marathons, a rare collective achievement. In her comeback marathon following an injury, she finished third in last year’s London Marathon. And she has won 12 of her 16 half-marathons. She is loath to admit her plans yet, but this RAK ‘half’ is perfectly scheduled as a springboard, to going back to London in April, to upgrade that third place.

Tola was similarly annoyed that an injury preventing him successfully defending his 2022 world marathon title in Budapest last summer, but a speedy recovery saw him break the long-standing New York Marathon record with 2.04.58 three months later. He is one of the few elites to be making his debut in the RAK ‘half’ and the scale of his task may be judged by the fact that on paper there are 15 men faster than his best of 59.37 set seven years ago in Prague. But he suggested that is due for drastic revision. ‘I’d like to think I can do under 59 minutes if the race turns out to be fast,’ he said at the press conference. Fastest man in the field is Daniel Mateiko of Kenya with 58.26, but his colleague Benard(sic) Kibet has the advantage of having won last year in 58.45.

Klosterhalfen, ‘Koko’ to her pals may prove to be not only the wild card, but the joker in the pack in the women’s race. A world bronze medallist on the track and European 5000 metres champion, the German called a halt to her summer season last year when a foot injury caused her to reassess her career. She had changed her shoe sponsor, left her coach and long-term training venue in the USA already. She then switched again and has teamed up with Gary Lough, latter-day coach to Mo Farah and spouse of former world record holder Paula Radcliffe (here in RAK as a TV commentator). Klosterhalfen has also switched her altitude training venue to Addis Ababa, where she has just spent six weeks, coming directly to here. ‘Road running is still a bit of an adventure for me’, she said this morning. ‘I still want to run on the track, but I want to more road races’.

The roll-call of winners since the race began in 2007 is a ‘Who’s Who’ of distance running over the last two decades; beginning with Sammy Wanjiru and Berhane Adere in the inaugural race, via luminaries such as Patrick Makau, Geoffrey Mutai, Elvan Abeylegesse, Mary Keitany, Geoffrey Kamworor, Lelisa Desisa, Samson Kandie and Hellen Obiri. Add to that Jepchirchir herself who won in 2017 in a then world record of 65min 06sec.

The promoters of the successful marathon down the road in Dubai have been invited this year to give the RAK ‘half’ a makeover, and they began by introducing a 10k race for locals and altering the half-marathon course. ‘It’s faster and better than any route before here in Ras Al Khaimah; we’ve cut out some of the sharp turns,’ said race director Peter Connerton, ‘so we’re hoping for at least similar times and hopefully better. But with a couple of good races into the bargain’.

MAIN CONTENDERS IN RAK

MEN

Daniel MateikoKEN58:26

Kennedy KimutaiKEN58:28

Seifu TuraETH58:36

Amdework Walelegn ETH 58:40

Benard Kibet KoechKEN58:45

Alex Korio KEN 58:51

Birhanu Legese ETH 58:59

Haftu Teklu ETH 59:06

Tamirat TolaETH59:37

WOMEN

Ababel YeshanehETH64:31

Margaret KipkemboiKEN64:46

Peres JepchirchirKEN65:06

Catherine Amanang’ole KEN 65:39

Konstanze KlosterhalfenGER65:41

Tsigie Gebreselama ETH65:46

Evaline ChirchirKEN66:01

Vivian Kiplagat KEN 66:07

Yalemget YaregalETH66:27

For more information please visit: https://rakcalendar.ae