March 21, 2018
UPDATE: According to The Daily Nation, both Fancy Chemutai (64:52 pb, #2 all-time) and Mary Wacera (66:29 pb, reigning bronze medalist) have withdrawn from the race. And because Chemutai and Wacera withdrew from the race at such a late stage, they will not be replaced, meaning Kenya will be sending just three women when five is the maximum. That’s good news for the rest of the world as Kenya went 1-2-3-4-5 in this race four years ago and 1-2-3-6-7 in 2016.
A Kenyan is going to win the women’s race at the 2018 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships. It’s just a matter of who. (Actually, maybe not — see above).
Kenya’s dominance in distance running has spanned many distances and disciplines, but in few events is it more pronounced than the women’s half marathon. Of the top 25 performances in history (all courses), just one belongs to a non-Kenyan — Great Britain’s Paula Radcliffe. Aside from Radcliffe, no non-Kenyan has ever broken 66 minutes (and Radcliffe’s came on a non-record-eligible course at the Great North Run). Meanwhile, there are two Kenyans who have already broken 65 minutes this year.
Four years ago in Copenhagen, Kenya pulled off a remarkable 1-2-3-4-5 sweep; two years ago in Cardiff, their performance dropped off, barely — Kenya could only go 1-2-3-6-7 as Ethiopians grabbed 4th and 5th. And last year, at World XC in Uganda, Kenya mimicked their Copenhagen performance by going 1-2-3-4-5-6 in that 10k race as well; amazingly, no one from that perfect XC team ran in either of the medal sweeps at the World Half champs. Kenya has that much talent.
There’s a very good chance that Kenya sweeps the podium once again in 2018. Kenya is led by the two fastest women in history — world record holder Joyciline Jepkosgei (64:51)
and Fancy Chemutai (64:52) — and boasts reigning bronze medalist (and top returner) Mary Wacera (66:29 pb ) and Ruth Chepngetich (66:19 pb) behind them. Though the fifth woman, 22-year-old Pauline Kamulu (68:04 pb) may prevent Kenya from a 1-2-3-4-5 sweep, this is another extremely strong Kenyan squad — perhaps its best ever, 1 through 4.
There are a few women who could prevent Kenya from sweeping the medals again in 2018, namely Kenyan-born Eunice Chumba of Bahrain (66:11 pb) and Ethiopia’s Netsanet Gudeta (67:26 pb, 6th and 4th at the last two World Half champs). Other than those two women, however, no one else in the field has run within a minute of the PR of Kenya’s top four runners. Kenya simply has too much firepower.
Of the five Americans in the field, Jordan Hasay (67:55 pb), who will be running this as she preps for the Boston Marathon in three weeks’ time, is the only one who has ever broken 70:00. Update: Hasay has withdrawn from the race – Breaking: Jordan Hasay Has Withdrawn From the 2018 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships – Will She Run The 2018 Boston Marathon? – so ignore everything we wrote about her below.
What: 2018 IAAF / Trinidad Alfonso World Half Marathon Championships
When: Saturday, Women’s race is at 12:05 pm ET, men’s race is at 12:30 pm ET
One interesting wrinkle about this race is that it will be held in the evening (5:30 p.m. local start time for the men, 12:30 pm ET) so it will be great and easy for local spectators to watch. It also will make it very easy for American viewers to watch. Usually it’s a pain for U.S. viewers to get up for European road races, but the late start means that even West Coasters shouldn’t have a problem watching it.
Weather: Temperature-wise, things look great as the high on Saturday is only 63 F in Valencia but the forecast is for 24 mph winds at race time.
— IAAF (@iaaforg) March 21, 2018
The Showdown: Jepkosgei vs. Chemutai
UPDATE: Again, as noted at the start of this article, Chemutai will not be running.
While we’re a little cautious of framing Saturday’s race as a two-woman affair (that’s what we did two years ago, and neither woman wound up winning), if they’re at their best, Kenya’s Joyciline Jepkosgei and Fancy Chemutai are far better than the rest of this field.
Entering 2018, Jepkosgei was the red-hot favorite to take this title. She exploded onto the scene last year with a three-minute PR of 66:08 at the RAK Half, but she was not close to done, running 64:52 to break the HM world record in Prague two months later before lowering that mark again to 64:51 in Valencia in October. Those were two of the seven world records she set last year, including a remarkable four in one race (she broke the 10k, 15k, 20k, and HM marks in Prague). For all that, we named Jepkosgei our Women’s International Runner of the Year.
But since Jepkosgei’s most recent world record in October, two more women have joined the sub-65:00 club. One is Mary Keitany, who will be taking a crack at Radcliffe’s 2:15:25 world record at next month’s London Marathon. The other is Chemutai, who was the runner-up behind Jepkosgei in her record run in Valencia (she ran 65:36 in that race). Chemutai’s sub-65:00 (officially 64:52, just one second off Jepkosgei’s WR) came in the same race as Keitany’s: the 2018 RAK Half Marathon, aka the deepest half marathon in history. That race saw the following accomplishments:
- Two women broke 65:00 in the same race for the first time.
- Four women broke 66:00 in the same race for the first time (previous best was two).
- Seven women broke 67:00 in the same race for the first time (previous best was six).
- Nine women broke 68:00 in the same race for the first time (previous best was seven).
- 11 women broke 69:00 in the same race for the first time (previous best was 10).
- All-time marks for place were established for the 2nd- through 11th-place finishers.
And even though Jepkosgei was in the race, it was Chemutai who broke the tape. She may well have broken the world record too, but decided instead to sit on Keitany in the late stages of the race before exploding to the front with 50 meters to go. Jepkosgei, meanwhile, could only manage fifth place in 66:46. For most runners, that’s a fantastic time, but not when you’re the world record holder and you finish almost two minutes behind the winner.
But don’t write Jepkosgei off so quickly. Yes, by her standards it was not a great race. But it was also her only defeat on the roads in the past year and what’s more, she wasn’t at 100%. After the race, her agency tweeted out that Jepkosgei had been battling the flu for 10 days before the race, and while she felt great going into the race, her chest began to feel tight at 10k and she wound up dropping off the leaders at 14k. After her huge 2017, everyone expected Jepkosgei to go out and try to break the world record again, and we have a lot of respect for her for trying to do that (she hit 10k in 30:34, which is 64:29 pace) even though she knew she was not at her best.
All of this makes for a terrific race in Valencia. Jepkosgei and Chemutai are great on their own, but together they could push each other to a new level on a course that race organizers claim is even faster than the one on which Jepkosgei set her WR in October. While Chemutai likes to run fast — both she and Jepkosgei requested a fast pace at RAK last month — expect Jepkosgei to be the aggressor. As she showed in her WR runs last year, Jepkosgei likes to attack from the very beginning — at the Prague Half Marathon, she went out in 14:53 for the first 5k, just seven seconds off Meseret Defar‘s road WR. She went out even faster when she returned to Prague in the fall, going out in 14:33 for the first half of the Birell 10K (she came back in 15:10 for the second half). Just look at her splits from her notable recent half marathons and you’ll notice a trend:
|Race||Date||10k split||10k pace from 10k to finish*||Final time|
|2017 RAK Half||2/10/17||31:05||31:35||66:08|
|2017 Prague Half||4/1/17||30:04||31:21||64:52|
|2017 Valencia Half||10/22/17||30:09||31:07||64:51|
|2018 RAK Half||2/9/18||30:34||32:37||66:46|
*The distance from 10k to the finish in a half marathon is 11,097 meters. For the table above, we took Jepkosgei’s split for that portion of each race and converted it to a 10k run at the same pace.
You can interpret the data one of two ways. The fact that Jepkosgei slows down so much in the second half of her races suggests that she could be capable of even faster times with better pacing. Alternately, it can be viewed as a sign of vulnerability — if someone can actually manage to stick with her, they may be able to pull away late. And Chemutai, who showed a great burst of speed at RAK last month while still running ridiculously fast, may just be that someone. But it’s still very hard to hang with someone as good as Jepkosgei. Mary Keitany slowed down a ton at last year’s London Marathon, but she was so good that she still won by almost a minute over another absolute stud in Tirunesh Dibaba. It’s very possible that Jepkosgei “pulls a Keitany” in this race and runs a big positive split while still blowing away the field.
It will also be interesting to see whether Jepkosgei treats this race differently because it is a global championship. Jepkosgei has never run a World Championship of any kind (though she did earn bronze in the 10,000 at the 2016 African Champs on the track). Does she still approach it like her other half marathons, with the goal of breaking the world record? And might that be her best strategy to win on Saturday anyway?
Jordan Hasay and the Americans
|Jordan Hasay||26||67:55||Ran 68:38 in Houston on 1/14; 2nd at USA 15K champs 2 weeks ago|
|Becky Wade||29||71:15||Her 71:15 in Houston in Jan. was a PR by over a minute|
|Elaina Tabb||26||72:29||Ran 72:29 in her debut in Houston in Jan.|
|Emma Bates||25||72:52||Her 72:52 in Doha on 1/12 was over 2 mins faster than either of her HMs last year|
|Natosha Rogers||26||70:45||USA half marathon champ; 5th at USAs in 10k last year|
The U.S. women’s squad looks very different to the U.S. men’s team that will line up in Valencia. For one, it’s a lot younger: the average age is just 26.4 years old, compared to 32.8 for the men (43-year-old Bernard Lagat does not help in that respect). It’s also a homegrown lineup as all five members of Team USA were born on American soil (compared to just one on the men’s side).
Hasay is the clear headliner, and if her progress is anything like it was last year, she should be ready to run fast on Saturday. Check out how her results so far this year compare to 2017:
|Houston Half Marathon||4th, 68:40||8th, 68:38|
|US 15K Champs||1st, 49:28||2nd, 48:40|
As you can see, though Hasay has finished lower in each race compared to last year, she has also run faster each time out. Considering she ran 67:55 in Prague two weeks before Boston last year, Hasay should be capable of something similar (or even faster) in Valencia three weeks out from Boston. Hasay’s coach Alberto Salazar told The Oregonian‘s Ken Goe that he thinks Hasay can break 2:20 in Boston “given the right conditions” and if that is the case, Hasay should be able to run significantly faster than 67:55 on Saturday (reminder: Molly Huddle‘s American record is 67:25).
That, of course, is assuming that it’s not too windy and that Hasay has backed off enough in training to give herself a chance to run fast in this race. Even though this is a World Championship, Boston is Hasay’s priority, and if she’s training through this race, obviously her performance will suffer. Based on her run in Prague last year and NOP teammate Galen Rupp‘s 59:47 in Rome two weeks ago, however, our guess is that she’ll have backed off enough to try to run fast on Saturday.
In the 21 previous editions of this race (not counting 2006, which was run at the 20k distance), Hasay’s PR of 67:55 would have put her on the medal stand all but twice, and even then she would have just barely missed out (it took 67:52 to medal in 2014 and 67:54 in 2016). But women’s half marathoning has progressed rapidly, even in just the past two years, with Kenyans such as Jepkosgei and Chemutai completely resetting the bar. Considering the fast course in Valencia and Jepkosgei’s propensity for pushing the pace, if conditions are good, a winning time under 65:00 is possible and it will likely take under 67:00 to medal, which could be too rich for Hasay’s blood. However, right now it looks as if it is going to be very windy in Valencia on Saturday, and that would slow times down significantly.
UPDATE: Natosha Rogers has withdrawn with a knee injury.
The other American that we want to focus on is Natosha Rogers. The 26-year-old has mostly limited herself to the 10k and shorter events, but she has a lot of promise in the half and, eventually, the marathon. In her debut last year, she ran 70:45 to win the U.S. champs in Columbus but hasn’t tried the distance again since then (though she was an impressive 5th at USAs in the 10,000). Remember, this is a woman who beat Shalane Flanagan to finish 2nd in the 10,000 at the 2012 Olympic Trials just a month after her 21st birthday. Almost six years later, that performance remains the most impressive of Rogers’ career (by a significant margin), but it also shows that she’s been able to handle longer events for a long time. Not many women can go straight out of college and contend in the 10,000; usually it takes time to build the strength necessary to succeed in that event. In fact, since Rogers, only one other woman has come off a collegiate season to place in the top three of the 10,000 at USAs — Hasay in 2013.
LRC prediction: With no Chemutai, this is Jepkosgei’s race to lose, and we don’t think she’s losing. Jepkosgei FTW.
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