2019 RAK Half Preview: 2016 World Champ Peres Jepchirchir Returns for Showdown with 2018 World Champ Netsanet Gudeta as 13 Sub-60 Men Square Off

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By LetsRun.com
February 6, 2019

Lelisa Desisa is one of the greatest marathoners in the world. The two-time Boston champion last year added the New York City title to his resume by becoming just the second man in history to break 2:06 in New York, taking down studs Shura Kitata and Geoffrey Kamworor in one of the most competitive NYC Marathons in history. In most races around the world, the reigning NYC Marathon champion would be the unquestioned headliner.

The RAK Half Marathon is not most races. The RAK Half calls itself the “World’s Fastest Half Marathon” for a reason. Last year, Desisa ran the RAK Half and finished 10th. This year, he is just one of 13 — yes, thirteen — men in the field who have broken 60:00 (his 59:30 pb ranks him 10th among them). It’s not fair to call him an afterthought, but he’s probably not winning this race. And that tells you a lot about the quality assembled at the 2019 Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon.

Talent abounds in both the men’s and women’s fields. Ethiopian Abadi Hadis (58:44 pb) and Kenyans Jorum Okombo (58:51), and Alex Korio (58:51) are 3 of the 23 members of the sub-59:00 club, while on the women’s side, Peres Jepchirchir — who broke the world record at RAK two years ago — will compete for the first time since that race after missing last year due to pregnancy. Add in world half marathon champion Netsanet Gudeta and 2015 world 5k silver medalist Senbere Teferi (making her half marathon debut) and the women’s race should be exciting.

Plus there’s a new course, which begins and ends on the man-made Al Marjan Island. Race organizers are hoping that it will be even fasterthan the course that saw winning times of 58:42 and 64:52 (one second off the WR) last year  (the new course has just two hairpin turns vs. three for the old one) .

Race details below, followed by previews of the men’s and women’s races. Two of the reasons we love RAK are that it’s run early in the morning UAE time (which is prime time in the USA) and there’s a free live stream.

What: 2019 RAK Half Marathon
Where: Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates
When: The women’s race begins at 9:45 p.m. ET on Thursday, followed by the men’s start at 10:00 p.m. ET
How to watch: You can watch a free live stream of the race embedded on LetsRun.com here
*Elite fields

Who Will Be the Next Star Born at RAK?

When we discussed Bedan Karoki‘s chances ahead of last month’s Houston Half Marathon, we pointed out that he is the course record holder at RAK and how that put him in very elite company. And with RAK coming this week, we thought it was important to remind everyone of just how impressive the list of sub-59:00 guys at RAK is:

The seven men who have broken 59:00 at the RAK Half
1. 58:42, Bedan Karoki 2018
2. 58:52, Patrick Makau 2009 (former marathon WR holder)
3. 58:53, Sammy Wanjiru 2007 (Olympic marathon champ)
4. 58:54, Geoffrey Kamworor 2013 (three-time World Half champ, two-time World XC champ, NYC Marathon champ)
5. 58:56, Stanley Biwott 2013 (NYC Marathon champ, 2:03 marathoner)
6. 58:58 Geoffrey Mutai 2013 (2x NYC Marathon champ & CR holder, Boston Marathon champ & CR holder, 2:03 marathoner)
7. 58:59 Wilson Kipsang 2009 (former marathon WR holder, 5 WMM victories)

Aside from Karoki, every guy on that list has won at least one World Marathon Major; Wanjiru, Mutai, and Kipsang all earned the unofficial title of “World’s Greatest Marathoner” at some point in their careers. With conditions looking great for racing on Friday (55 degrees, 5 mph winds), will we see another guy join the club this year?

If someone does break 59:00, we think it will be one of these young studs. In the descriptions below, we talk about how severak of them “came out of nowhere” but there’s a reason for that – they are all very young. The first three men mentioned below are officially 21 years old, the fourth is 20 and the fifth is just 19.

  • Abadi Hadis, Ethiopia (58:44 pb): Probably the best all-around runner in the field, he ran 12:56 on the track last year, owns a 10,000 PR of 26:57, and earned bronze at World XC in 2017. He ran 58:44 on the super fast Valencia course in October, but can he replicate that run at RAK?
  • Jorum Okombo, Kenya (58:48 pb): He’s the top returner from last year (4th in 59:36) but was just 18th at the World Half Champs and was awful in the second half of 2018, failing to break 61:00 in five of his last six half marathons. With seven half marathons in nine months last year, perhaps he was over-raced? RAK will be his first race since October.
  • Daniel Kipchumba, Kenya (59:06 pb): Kipchumba came out of nowhere to run 59:06 in Verbania last year, then beat a stacked field (HM WR holder Abraham Kiptum, 58:33 man Jemal Yimer, Yomif Kejelcha) in Copenhagen in October. A potential star in the making.
  • Stephen Kiprop, Kenya (59:21 pb): Another guy who came out of nowhere — Tilastopaja lists no results prior to February 2018 — he ran 59:44 at his HM debut in March and lowered his PR to 59:21 in Valencia in October.
  • Amedework Walelegn, Ethiopia (59:22 pb): Officially just 19 years old, Walelegn ran a PR of 59:22 to beat Kipchumba in New Delhi in October. He was also 2nd in the junior race at World XC in 2017.
Embed from Getty Images

Hadis has the fastest times of the bunch, but we’re a little skeptical that he’ll be able to run as fast as he did in Valencia last year, where nine guys broke 59:30, led by Abraham Kiptum’s world record. That was a ridiculously fast race that doesn’t come along that often, though with the weather forecast at RAK, maybe Hadis can do it again. Okombo looked worn down at the end of last year, and until he proves he’s in shape again, we’re a little cool on his chances. Kipchumba, Kiprop, and Walelegn are all intriguing as they’re all young guys who posted some big performances last year. We could see one of them jumping another level and laying down a top time on Friday.

You’ll note that 58:51 man Alex Korio was not on our list. That’s because, while he did run sub-59:00 in Copenhagen in 2017, he was only 8th in Houston and 5th in Riyadh last year before dropping out of the World Half Champs in March. He hasn’t finished a race since May. Lelisa Desisa is the most accomplished guy in the field, but it may be tough for him to contend with the 13.1 specialists as he gears up for the Boston Marathon in April.

One other man to watch is Switzerland’s Julien Wanders. Still only 22, he shocked the world by running 60:09 in Barcelona last year and looks to be in even better shape this year. Prior to that 60:09, he ran 28:13 and 28:02 in 10k road races in South Africa and France at the end of 2017. He ran those same two races in 2018 and clocked 27:32 and 27:25 — both European records for that distance. Mo Farah‘s European record of 59:32 in the half should be safe, but Wanders has a good chance to become the fifth European to run sub-60.

LRC prediction: It seems simplistic and boring, but we’re taking Hadis FTW. He ran 12:56 last year on the track and is coming off a 58:44 pb in his last half marathon. No one else in the field can match those times, so he’s our guy. Wanders breaks 60:00.

Peres Jepchirchir Returns For Showdown With World Half Champ Netsanet Gudeta; Track Star Senbere Teferi Debuts

Peres Jepchirchir entered the 2017 RAK Half as the world half marathon champion and exited it as the world record holder thanks to her 65:06 clocking. She was, quite clearly, the best female half marathoner in the world at the time.

Jepchirchir broke the WR at RAK in February 2017 but hasn’t raced since

Jepchirchir has not raced in the two years since that day, taking off the 2018 season to give birth, and a lot has changed. For one, she is no longer the world record holder; her 65:06 lasted just seven weeks before Joyciline Jepkosgei erased it from the record books with her 64:52 in Prague. In the ensuing two years, the floodgates have opened, with Jepkosgei lowering her own record to 64:51 in October 2017 and Fancy Chemutai and Mary Keitany both running under 65:00 at RAK last year. Which means that Jepchirchir, who broke the world record in her last race, is now #5 (barely) on the world all-time list.

The six fastest female half marathoners ever

164:51WRJoyciline JepkosgeiKEN8 Dec 931Valencia22 Oct 2017
264:52Fancy ChemutaiKEN20 Mar 951RAKRas Al Khaimah9 Feb 2018
364:55Mary KeitanyKEN18 Jan 822RAKRas Al Khaimah9 Feb 2018
465:04Joan ChelimoKEN10 Nov 901Praha7 Apr 2018
565:06WRPeres JepchirchirKEN27 Sep 931RAKRas Al Khaimah10 Feb 2017
665:07Caroline KipkiruiKEN26 May 943RAKRas Al Khaimah9 Feb 2018

Courtesy Tilastopaja

Jepchirchir’s return to the sport will serve as a baptism by fire; as you can tell by the list above, four of the six fastest half marathoners in history have run their PRs at RAK within the last two years. It’s a lot to ask for her to step in and immediately be one of the best in the world again, but it bears repeating that she was the best half marathoner in the world just two years ago. Still just 25 years old officially, she should have plenty of racing left in her legs.

The favorite on Friday has to be Ethiopian Netsanet Gudeta, who succeeded Jepchirchir as world half marathon champion — and set a women’s-only WR of 66:11 in Valencia in the process. 66:11 is a long way off the mixed gender world record (while the RAK women will race before the men, they will have male pacers), but don’t be surprised if Gudeta lops a minute or more off her PR on Friday. Remember, though the final 5k in Valencia was definitely wind-aided, Gudeta had to battle that same wind earlier in the race. She also won the race by 43 seconds — a staggering margin considering the runner-up was WR holder Jepkosgei.

That wasn’t Gudeta’s only standout performance of 2018. In her next half marathon in Olomouc in June, she ran 67:30 to win by over two minutes. Then in Bogota in July, she won in 71:34.

71:34 doesn’t sound that impressive, but it was a MONSTER performance when you consider that:

1) Bogota is located at 8,660 feet of elevation
2) She beat runner-up Brigid Kosgei by 3:06. Yes, the same Brigid Kosgei who ran 2:18:35 to win the Chicago Marathon last fall and just crushed everyone at the Houston Half last month.

That makes Gudeta the heavy favorite in our book, and with male pacemakers at RAK, we wouldn’t be shocked to see her challenge the WR.

There are a few of other women to keep an eye on. Ethiopia’s Senbere Teferi ran a PR of 14:23 for 5,000 on the track last year. She also ran 2:24 in her marathon debut in Dubai last year, but strangely, this will be her first half marathon. Ethiopian-born Alia Mohammed Saeed, now competing for the UAE, will be the home favorite and ran a PR of 66:13 in her half marathon debut in Valencia in October. And 20-year-old Ethiopian Zeineba Yimer took 5th at the World Half Champs last year before running a pb of 66:21 in Copenhagen.

LRC prediction: Gudeta was the best half marathoner in the world last year. She’s our pick.