2017 Prague HM Recap: Joyciline Jepkosgei Sets WR (64:52) To Become First Woman Ever Under 65:00 as Jordan Hasay Runs 67:55; Tamirat Tola Destroys Men’s Field in 59:37

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By Jonathan Gault
April 1, 2017

For the first time in history, a woman has broken 65:00 in the half marathon.

In one of the most aggressive displays in the annals of road racing, 23-year-old Kenyan Joyciline Jepkosgei won the 2017 Sportisimo Prague Half Marathon in a stunning 64:52 to slice 14 seconds off Peres Jepchirchir‘s seven-week-old world record. Jepkosgei, who announced before the race that she was targeting the record, went out extremely hard, and as a result, the half marathon mark was not the only one to fall; Jepkosgei’s splits at 10k (30:04), 15k (45:37) and 20k (61:25) were all faster than the previous world records. Fellow Kenyan Violah Jepchumba was second in 65:22, yet despite running a 29-second PR she actually moved down the world all-time list, as Jepkosgei pushed her from #4 to #5. Jordan Hasay finished fifth in 67:55 to join Molly Huddle and Deena Kastor as just the third American ever under 68:00 on a record-eligible course on a glorious spring day in Prague (sunny, 60 degrees Fahrenheit).

Jepkosgei after making history in Prague

Jepkosgei after making history in Prague

Olympic 10,000 bronze medallist and Dubai Marathon champion Tamirat Tola of Ethiopia destroyed the field in the men’s race, making a hard move just after 10 kilometers to win by over a minute in 59:37. Kenya’s Josphat Tanui was second, running 60:38 in his debut, while the U.S.’s Galen Rupp was 11th in 61:59, 16 days before his Boston Marathon debut.

Recap, results and analysis below.

Did you miss the races? Re-live them with our live thread — MB: Prague 1/2 predictions? Rupp ftw? – Official 2017 Prague Half Live Discussion Thread

Women’s Race: Jepkosgei Puts on a Show

Watching the race online, it was hard to tell what was going on as the announcers gave out no splits for the first half hour of the race. When they finally did, at 10 kilometers, we thought it might be an April Fool’s prank as 30:05 flashed up on the screen. Not only was that a ludicrously fast split in a half marathon (63:28 pace), but it was 16 seconds under Paula Radcliffe‘s road 10k world record of 30:21. But this was no joke. Joyciline Jepkosgei, who ran 66:08 at the RAK Half in February, and Violah Jepchumba, who set the course record of 65:51 in Prague last year, really were running that fast (the timing site had Jepkosgei at 30:04). In fact, they had actually slowed down as the two women covered the first 5k in a ridiculous 14:53, just seven seconds off Meseret Defar‘s road world record.

Jepkosgei was hurting late but held on for the world record

Jepkosgei was hurting late but held on for the world record

The rest of the women’s field was long gone by this point (third place was 51 seconds back at 10k), but the two Kenyans had company in the form of three male runners. Jepkosgei continued to push the pace relentlessly, and just before 15k (45:37, 37 seconds up on the old 15k WR), she began to open a gap on Jepchumba. She led by three seconds at 15k and her lead would only grow as she pressed on toward the finish line. Though Jepkosgei was slowing (her 5k splits were 14:53-15:11-15:34-15:48) and really began to grimace in the late stages of the race, she had banked so much time early on that, barring a Joshua Cheptegei-like blowup, it was no longer a question of whether she would break the world record, but by how much. Jepkosgei hit 20k in 61:25 (her penultimate WR) and grinded her way through the final 1100 meters to break the tape in 64:52, her male pacer stepping aside in the final meters to allow her to bask in the glory. Jepchumba crossed 30 seconds later in 65:22, an exceptional performance in its own right, with unknown Kenyan Fancy Chemutai also getting under 67:00, taking third in 66:58. Hasay made history of her own, running 67:55 for fifth in just her second career half marathon to move to #3 on the all-time U.S. list.

Official results *Timing site with splits

Winners Jepkosgei and Tamirat Tola

Winners Jepkosgei and Tamirat Tola

Quick Take #1: What a brave, crazy, amazing run from Joyciline Jepkosgei

Every world record is an incredible performance, but we can’t remember ever seeing one quite like this on the roads. This was a half marathon, but Jepkosgei approached it more like an 800, going out at a near-suicidal pace and holding on for the second half. The result was a big positive split of 30:04/31:25 for her first two 10k segments and a slew of world records. Yet even though she slowed dramatically for the second half of the race, her second 10k of 31:21 was still 66:08 pace, which is still an outstanding half marathon time.

Here’s the list of world records Jepkosgei claimed today, plus the old mark for comparison

10k: 30:04 (old mark: 30:21 by Paula Radcliffe at 2003 World’s Best 10K)
15k: 45:37 (old mark: 46:14 by Florence Kiplagat at 2015 Barcelona Half Marathon)
20k: 61:25 (old mark: 61:40 by Peres Jepchirchir at 2017 RAK Half Marathon)
Half marathon: 64:52 (old mark:65:06 by Jepchirchir at 2017 RAK Half Marathon)

QT #2: Who is Joyciline Jepkosgei?

Here’s a little primer on Jepkosgei if you’ve never heard of her.

She’s only 23 years old and only started racing outside of Kenya last year.

Last year she was 3rd in 31:28 at the African champs in the 10,000m. She ran in Prague for a 10k in the fall and ran over a minute slower (31:08) than she split today to finish 2nd. She also won the Marseille 20k in 67:02 last year and won a half in the Czech Republic in 69:07, and ran a more impressive 69:09 at altitude in Nairobi.

She showed she may be the real deal this year when she ran 66:08 for 3rd at the RAK Half in February. She skipped the 65s entirely today.

She went from being a virtual unknown to a pending world record holder in less than a year.

Quick Take #3: There’s still a lot of room for improvement when it comes to women’s world records on the road

Just as last year’s historic Olympic final showed what was possible for women’s 10,000 runners on the track, today’s race in Prague proved that women are capable of running significantly faster on the roads than the old world records suggested. Jepkosgei is a fantastically talented runner, so it’s not as if anyone can go out there and run 30:04, but considering that she ran that as the first 10k of a half marathon, it’s not a stretch to say that someone like Ayana, Vivian Cheruiyot or Jepkosgei herself can run well under 30:00 on the roads if they really want to. Same goes for 15k. And even though Jepkosgei broke the old half marathon record by 16 seconds, she left some meat on the bone — a massive positive split is not the most efficient way to run a world record.

The women’s HM WR has now gone down four times in three years. Considering the fastest half marathons of the year (RAK, Barcelona, Prague) are behind us, it’s unlikely that it falls again in 2017, but with the talent in the sport right now, it would not be a shock if Jepkosgei or another young stud breaks it in 2018. It certainly helps when you have a male pacer with you for the entire race, as Jepkosgei did today.

Quick Take #4: What does this mean for the marathon?

According to LRC guru John Kellogg, 65:00 for the half marathon converts to 2:18:34 for the full 26.2. McMillan’s running calculator says 64:52 is worth 2:16:31. Only four women in history have ever broken 2:19 (Paula RadcliffeMary KeitanyCatherine NderebaTiki Gelana) and it’s happened just twice in the last 12 years.

Already this year, four women have run 65:22 or faster for the half marathon. And though only one of them (Mary Keitany) is running a spring marathon, the times suggest one of two things:

1) There’s a wave of new talent in the half marathon that will make for fast times when they move up to the marathon in a few years
2) The current top women’s marathon times aren’t nearly as fast as they could be

We’re inclined to go with the second explanation. Remember, it’s not as if 2:16 or 2:17 is some fantasy time; Radcliffe’s world record is 2:15:25, and she ran two other marathons in the 2:17’s. It’s just been so long since anyone ran that fast that it’s begun to seem like an unreachable target. That doesn’t mean that someone’s going to go out and run 2:17 in London this year, but with so many women running in the low-65:00s or under for the half marathon, elite marathoners like Keitany or Jemima Sumgong may set their targets higher when it comes to a goal time for the full distance.

Hasay coming through for fifth place in a big PR

Hasay coming through for fifth place in a big PR

Quick Take #5: Jordan Hasay again proves that she was made for the roads; get ready to board the Boston Marathon hype train

Hasay surprised many by running 68:40 in her first serious half marathon in Houston in January, but the result was not a surprise to her; she had been hoping for 68:00 but was limited by the warm, humid conditions. The weather was much better for running today in Prague, and Hasay responded by smashing her old PR and joining Huddle and Kastor as the only American women under 68:00 on a record-eligible course (Kara Goucher and Shalane Flanagan have also done it on aided courses).

Hasay has said repeatedly in interviews that she enjoys training for the longer distances of the roads and that workouts have been going very well for her. It now appears clear that, despite setting the national 1500 record in high school and winning an NCAA mile title at Oregon, her strength lies in the longer distances. The only question is whether her range extends to the marathon. The most likely answer is yes, as all the names around her on the all-time U.S. half marathon list — Huddle, Kastor, Goucher, Flanagan, Cragg, Benoit — have run excellent marathons. But Hasay still has to go out there and do it, and as ready as she looked for Boston today, you can never quite tell what is going to happen in a marathon.

Still, Hasay’s buildup and results prior to this marathon could not have gone any better, and today’s result will lead to very high expectations for the 25-year-old when she toes the line in Hopkinton on April 17. Hopefully she can manage them well and produce a strong performance in her debut.

After the race today, she had the following to say to David Monti via text message about her race, “I felt very controlled and comfortable. The plan was to run smooth until 10 or 11 miles.  I found a nice rhythm and ran pretty evenly.  Then the last two miles I was able to close well.  I’m pleased with the effort and excited about my fitness going into Boston!”

Tola was all alone for the second half of this one

Tola was all alone for the second half of this one

Men’s Race: Tamirat Tola Utterly Dominates as Galen Rupp Fizzles

For the American fans waking up at 4:00 a.m. ET to watch the race live, the main focus was Galen Rupp and his pursuit of Ryan Hall‘s 59:43 American record. Rupp was coy before the race as to whether he would attack that mark, but it quickly became clear that Hall’s record would live to see another day as Rupp was struggling to hold on to the lead pack before they even reached five miles and by 10 kilometers (28:31 for the leaders, or 60:16 HM pace), Rupp was already 17 seconds behind.

Shortly after that, the race would be over from a competitive standpoint. Ethiopia’s Tamirat Tola, who beat Rupp out for the bronze medal in the 10,000 in Rio and set the course record of 2:04:11 at the Dubai Marathon in January, launched a vicious attack just after 10k and he quickly put 10 seconds on the lead pack, which had included 10 athletes just minutes earlier. After running 13:55 for his third 5k segment, his lead was 33 seconds by 15k and he’d continue to pad it all the way to the finish, winning in a big PR of 59:37 (old PR: 60:06), over a minute ahead of debutant Josphat Tanui, who pulled away late from fellow Kenyan Geoffrey Yegon to earn second, 60:48 to 60:41. Rupp was never a serious factor and crossed in 11th place in 61:59, over two minutes behind Tola.

Official results *Timing site with splits

Tola collected a nice payday and a big key (though he doesn't actually get a car)

Tola collected a nice payday and a big key (though he doesn’t actually get a car)

Quick Take #1: Tamirat Tola has established himself as one of the world’s best — and most versatile — long distance runners

In the last 12 months, Tola has accomplished the following:

  • Olympic bronze at 10,000 meters
  • Run 26:57 for 10,000 meters — twice
  • Set the course record of 2:04:11 at the Dubai Marathon
  • Run 59:37 to win the Prague Half Marathon by over a minute

On their own, each of those feats is impressive, but taken together, they’re remarkable. It’s not easy to be world-class in the 10,000, half marathon and marathon all at the same time, but Tola is a threat to win against anyone in the world at any of those distances right now. His run today was just more evidence of his exceptional fitness, and as stats ace Ken Nakamura points out, he’s now in elite company as a member of the sub-27/sub-60/sub-2:05 club.

Quick Take #2: It’s doubtful this was what Galen Rupp was hoping for, but that doesn’t mean we should panic ahead of Boston

Considering Galen Rupp flew halfway around the world to run this race today, we’d imagine he’s not too happy with his run of 61:59 today. If his goal was to run 62:00, he could have very easily stayed home and accomplished that feat — remember, two months before the Olympic Trials, he soloed a 61:20 at the fabled Foot Traffic Holiday Half Marathon in Portland. Instead, Rupp ran went out with the leaders, but was struggling to hold on even before Tola made his big move and could only clock 61:59.

But while today was not a good sign for Rupp’s Boston chances, it wasn’t necessarily a bad one, either. Rupp did achieve his goal of getting in a hard effort, and with another two weeks to taper, he will be a lot fresher when the gun goes off on Patriots’ Day. If Rupp’s goal was to run a fast half marathon today (and we suspect it was), then today’s result will come as a disappointment — as an athlete, you always want to hit your pre-race goals. But Rupp has consistently peaked well for the biggest races of his career, and given how well his first two marathons went, it’s going to take more than one subpar half marathon for us to write him off in Boston.

The bigger issue is Rupp’s foot. He withdrew from the Houston Half Marathon in January with plantar fasciitis and told David Monti today that the foot was still an issuee. If it’s still a problem in Boston, that will obviously hinder Rupp’s chances of success — though he proved in Prague that he can still run 2:04 marathon pace on it.

More: After Struggling in Prague, Galen Rupp Reveals He Had “Discomfort” In His Foot – “Hopefully, My Foot Will Be OK for Boston.”

Talk about all the action on our message boards — MB: Prague 1/2 predictions? Rupp ftw? – Official 2017 Prague Half Live Discussion Thread


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