October 10, 2014
The hype leading into the 2014 Bank of America Chicago Marathon has rightly been surrounding running legends Kenenisa Bekele and Eliud Kipchoge. (We have a separate article here on Kipchoge and Bekele from Friday’s media day.) Both are seasoned track veterans with multiple medals to their name and both have had great starts to their marathon careers (Kipchoge with a 2:04:05 PR; Bekele 2:05:04 in his debut). However, unless you read the LRC Chicago preview, you might be thinking that Sunday is setting up to strictly be a 2-man race. Well that is not the case.
The Two Ethiopians Who Are Actually Faster Than Bekele
Besides Bekele, there are two other stud Ethiopian runners in the field. Tadese Tola and Feyisa Lilesa (note Lilesa got left out of our Chicago preview in an error) are not two guys to be overlooked as they both have faster marathon PRs than Bekele. Lilesa ran 2:04:52 in the 2012 Chicago Marathon where he was second (Tsegaye Kebede won in 2:04:38). So Lilesa is a fast guy who has had success on this course. Tola has a 2:04:49 from the 2013 Dubai Marathon where he was third. Even though he hasn’t ran that fast since, he’s still raced consistently well placing 2nd, 3rd, 1st, 2nd and 1st in the five marathons he’s ran since Dubai.
The two are training partners and feel they’re in shape to run faster than their PRs and challenge for the win. Lilesa wasn’t intimidated by the 1:01:40-1:01:45 pace the rabbits have been instructed to run, saying, “The first half is easy. … In 2013 when I ran in London, I ran 61:35 for the half. So the first half is not tough … it’s the next one where things get tougher.” We asked Tola if he felt he was being overlooked coming into this race since he has the 2nd fastest PR in the field, but the focus is mostly on Bekele and Kipchoge. Tola’s response was, “I don’t really think much about that because what matter is what we’ll see on Sunday.”
And we’ll add this, neither of them are going to be star struck by racing against Ethiopian legend, Bekele. We asked if it was weird racing against him in the marathon since he’s been so successful on the track and if their was almost an “aura of respect” surrounding him. Lilesa and Tola are 8 and 6 years younger than Bekele, so when he was setting his world records they were still in the youth/junior ranks in Ethiopia and likely he was one of their boyhood running heroes. However, they did not talk like two fans here as their collective response from the interpreter was, “This is a marathon. Of course if we were talking about 10,000m or 5,000m it would be as you say. But because it’s the marathon, and you never really know what will happen with the marathon, and we’ve never run a marathon with him …. we’ll just have to see when the race comes. Also, it’s only his (Bekele’s) second marathon.”
The Kenyans Are Going With The Leaders And Ready To PR
Bernard Koech and Dickson Chumba are two others guys who could come out on top on Sunday. Koech has a 2:04:53 best (Dubai 2013) and 58:41 half and Chumba won Tokyo last year in the race’s first year as a World Marathon Major. His PR from that day of 2:05:42 is more impressive than it sounds considering Tokyo is not as fast as Chicago or Berlin. (Compare elevation profiles from all six WMM races here.)
We got a quick word with these two on Friday and both are feeling very good about their training and plan on going with the rabbits who are set to take the group through a 1:01:40 first half. Koech feels he’s in better shape than when he ran 2:04:53 and said, “At the start of the race I’ll try to stay with the faster group and we’ll see the outcome”. Chumba is confident that he’ll be able to run faster than he did in Tokyo and said he’d be happy with anything in the 2:04 range.
We didn’t get a chance to talk to Sammy Kitwara, but he has ran 58:48 and 2:05:16 and definitely could challenge any of the guys mentioned above.