Dubai Men’s Preview: Will Kenenisa Bekele Arrive As A Marathon Force In Dubai? Or Will Countryman Lelisa Desisa Win 2nd Title In 3 Years?

January 21, 2015

Are you ready for some Thursday night marthoning?

The first major marathon of the year is upon us, as the 2015 Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon will take place at 10 pm ET Thursday evening  (7 am Dubai time on Friday morning) on the shores of the Persian Gulf. Technically Dubai isn’t a “major” as it’s not part of the Abbott World Marathon Majors (Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, New York) but with a $200,000 first-place prize (the richest in all of track and field), an $800,000 prize purse (plus $100,000 for a world record) and a history of producing extremely fast times (five men broke 2:05 in 2013, the most ever in a single race), it’s clearly one of the world’s premier marathons.

The men’s field is extremely deep (21 guys have broken 2:10) but there’s some real quality at the top, led by 17-time world champion Kenenisa Bekele, who will attempt his third career marathon (and first under the guidance of coach Renato Canova). Bekele won’t have it easy, however, as he’ll take on 2013 Dubai/Boston champ and fellow Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa, who was edged out by Wilson Kipsang at the 2014 NYC Marathon last fall. Sub-2:05 guys Berhanu Shiferaw (2:04:48 pb), Feyisa Lilesa (2:04:52) and 2014 Houston Marathon champ Bazu Worku (2:05:25 pb) could also contend for the win. We break down what to watch for in the men’s race below; women’s preview coming later.

What: 2015 Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon

When: Friday, 7 a.m. UAE Standard Time (10 p.m. Thursday ET)

Where: Dubai, United Arab Emirates

How to watch: Free live online stream here

Prize money (men’s and women’s are the same): 

Article continues below player.
1st $200,000
2nd $80,000
3rd $40,000
4th $20,000
5th $12,000
6th $11,200
7th $10,400
8th $9,600
9th $8,800
10th $8,000

There is a $100,000 bonus for a world record.

Just How Fast Is Dubai?

Dubai has garnered a reputation as one of the fastest marathons out there. Some have suggested it’s short, but those people have likely never looked at the Dubai course map. In addition to being totally flat, Dubai is essentially an out-and-back course, with just four turns over the entire 26.2 miles. On a still day, it’s easy to see why the times have been so fast. The recent data certainly shows that Dubai is a good place for a PR. Check out the top 10 from the past three years:


Place Athlete ’14 Dubai Time PB Fastest non-Dubai time
1 Tsegaye Mekonnen 2:04:32 2:04:32 2:08:06
2 Markos Geneti 2:05:13 2:04:54 2:06:35
3 Girmay Birhanu 2:05:49 2:05:49 2:06:06
4 Tamirat Tola 2:06:17 2:06:17 2:12:22
5 Azmero Molalign 2:07:12 2:07:12 2:10:25
6 Shuma Dechasa 2:07:13 2:06:43 2:06:43
7 Abrha Milaw Asefa 2:07:46 2:07:46 2:08:09
8 Abere Kassw 2:08:18 2:08:18 2:12:34
9 Abdelmounaim Harroufi 2:09:11 2:09:11 N/A
10 Alemayehu Belachew 2:09:50 2:09:50 2:10:02


Place Athlete ’13 Dubai Time PB Fastest non-Dubai time
1 Lelisa Desisa 2:04:45 2:04:45 2:10:12
2 Berhanu Shiferaw 2:04:48 2:04:48 2:08:51
3 Tadesse Tola 2:04:49 2:04:49 2:05:57
4 Endeshaw Negesse 2:04:52 2:04:52 2:08:32
5 Bernard Koech 2:04:53 2:04:53 2:06:08
6 Nicholas Kipkemboi 2:06:33 2:06:33 2:13:57
7 Dadi Gemeda 2:07:55 2:05:41 2:07:01
8 Mike Kigen 2:08:24 2:06:59 2:06:59
9 Habtamu Asefa 2:08:28 2:08:28 2:10:38
10 Gemechu Worku 2:08:53 2:07:43 2:07:43


Place Athlete ’12 Dubai Time PB Fastest non-Dubai time
1 Ayele Abshero 2:04:23 2:04:23 2:06:31
2 Dino Sefir 2:04:50 2:04:50 2:09:13
3 Markos Geneti 2:04:54 2:04:54 2:06:35
4 Jonathan Maiyo 2:04:56 2:04:56 2:06:47
5 Tadesse Tola 2:05:10 2:04:49 2:05:57
6 Dadi Gemeda 2:05:41 2:05:41 2:07:01
7 Shami Dawit 2:05:42 2:05:42 2:05:58
8 Deressa Chimsa 2:05:42 2:05:42 2:06:25
9 Seboka Tola 2:06:17 2:06:17 2:07:27
10 Yemane Adhane Tsegay 2:06:29 2:04:48 2:04:48
Ethiopia is always well-represented in Dubai Ethiopia is always well-represented in Dubai

Over the last three years, 27 men have finished in the top 10 in Dubai (Markos Geneti, Tadesse Tola and Dadi Gemeda have done it twice). Of those 27, 26 have run at least one other marathon outside of Dubai. And of those 26, 22 have run their PB in Dubai. On average those 22 runners’ Dubai PB is 2 minutes, 34 seconds better than their non-Dubai PB.

Berlin may be the place to set world records, but no marathon is deeper at the top than Dubai. According to, the 2013 edition set records for all-time marks for place for 4th (2:04:52) and 5th (2:04:53); the 2012 edition set all-time marks for places 6th through 15th.

Tons of 2:0x guys flock to the race annually for a shot at the humongous prize purse — this year Dubai has 21 men with a PR under 2:10. For some reason, most of these guys tend to be Ethiopians — in the past three years, the top 10 has consisted of 24 Ethiopians, 4 Kenyans, 1 Moroccan and 1 Bahraini (born in Ethiopia) (Related: MB: Why does the Dubai Marathon attract way more Ethiopians than Kenyans?). The evidence is clear: if you’re Ethiopian, and you’re in shape, you have a great chance to run a PR in Dubai. Which leads us to…

How Will Kenenisa Bekele Fare?

By PR, Bekele ranks only fourth in the Dubai field, but by luminosity, he’s a clear #1. Dubai will be marathon #3 for the 5,000 & 10,000 world record holder and offers a great chance for the 32-year-old to break his PR of 2:05:04, set in Paris last year. After that run, Bekele looked set for an even better effort in Chicago in October, but he “struggled” there at least by his lofty standards, running 2:05:51 for fourth as old track rival Eliud Kipchoge won in a blistering 2:04:11.

On its own, 2:05:51 isn’t an awful performance. It’s a mark only 54 men in world history have bettered (the 55th fastest 1500 man in history has run 3:31.03 and 55th fastest 5000 man has run 12:55.94), but the expectations were so high for Bekele that anything short of a victory would have been disappointing — and even then, many fans would have been dissatisfied if he failed to take down Dennis Kimetto‘s 2:03:45 course record.

Bekele himself was shooting for a 2:03 in Chicago, and when he didn’t get it, he took action. He told us after Chicago that he needed to analyze his training (he averaged between 100 and 112 miles per week in his Chicago buildup versus 112-124 mpw prior to Paris) and his manager Jos Hermens said that, after doing just one run of 40 kilometers (just under 25 miles) in his Chicago buildup, Bekele needs to do more longer runs.

Kenenisa Bekele in Chicago Bekele, shown here in Chicago, feels more prepared for marathon #3

The biggest change, of course, is that Bekele is now working with Italian coach and renowned LRC messageboard poster Renato Canova (MB: RENATO CANOVA is Bekele’s new coach), who has guided athletes like Tsegaye Kebede (three major victories, nine top-threes), Moses Mosop (wind-aided 2:03:06 at 2011 Boston; 2011 Chicago champ) and two-time world champ Abel Kirui to great success in the marathon. Canova also has more experience than any coach preparing athletes for Dubai: he serves as the coach of 2014 champ Tsegaye Mekonnen as well as Ayele Abshero, who set the course record of 2:04:23 in 2012.

Bekele’s goal in Dubai is the same as Chicago — a course record — though that only requires him to run 2:04:23 as opposed to 2:03:45 in Chicago. About his Dubai buildup, Bekele told the IAAF, “I feel confident, I am happy and I know that I am better prepared than before.”

Though we don’t have specific details on how Bekele’s buildup has gone, it was likely much longer than his pre-Chicago buildup, which was just seven weeks according to the IAAF. Perhaps that’s why Bekele had no problem committing to London, which is less than 13 weeks after Dubai.

Hermens agreed with Bekele, saying to the IAAF:

“He is better prepared than before for his third marathon. When he was running on the track he could train for two months and then break a world record. But this approach does not work in the marathon. After Chicago, Kenenisa knew that he had to change something. For ten years he had the same training rhythm. He needed something new and different impulses. This is why I brought him together with Renato Canova. And it is going well. If he runs a low 2:04, improving by around one minute, that would be fine.”

MB: Now that’s what we call talent – Kenenisa Bekele trained for just 7 weeks – ran 2:05 in Chicago

The benefits of taking on Canova as a coach could be huge to Bekele. He’s no longer self-coached and has someone to help him with the learning curve of the marathon, which can be steep for a guy like Bekele who had to totally recalibrate his training after years of peaking for the track. Now he’s got someone who knows exactly what he’s doing helping to map out his training plan.

In many ways, 2015 is a make or break year for Bekele. Right now, he’s only two races into his marathon career. By the end of 2015, he’ll have likely completed five marathons (Dubai, London and a probable fall marathon — Berlin or Chicago would make sense) and we’ll have a much better idea about Bekele’s future in the event. At the moment, anything is on the table for Bekele over the next few years — a world record, an Olympic gold, status as the world’s top marathoner. But if he doesn’t succeed in 2015, some of those possibilities will start to slip off the table. Bekele turns 34 next year and if he hasn’t come close to achieving his peak as a marathoner by that point, it’s difficult to imagine him ever doing it.

For Friday, Bekele’s ceiling remains high. He’s a big talent with an experienced coach running a fast course. If an 18-year-old marathon rookie can run 2:04:32 (as Tsegaye Mekonnen did in winning Dubai last year) here, just think what Bekele is capable of. The current forecast calls for a temperature of 60 degrees and minimal wind at the start of the race (7 a.m. local time on Friday). Someone is going to fast; it might as well be Bekele.

Full 2015 Dubai Marathon men’s elite field

BIB Name Country Bib Name PB
1 Lelisa Desisa Benti Ethiopia DESISA 2:04:45
2 Berhanu Shiferu Tolcha Ethiopia SHIFERU 2:04:48
3 Feysa Lelisa Gemechu Ethiopia LELISA 2:04:52
4 Kenenisa Bekele Beyecha Ethiopia KENENISA 2:05:04
5 Bazu Worku Hayla Ethiopia WORKU 2:05:25
6 Girmay Birhanu Gebru Ethiopia BIRHANU 2:05:49
7 Chele Dechase Beyene Ethiopia DECHASE 2:06:33
8 Limenih Getachew Yizengaw Ethiopia GETACHEW 2:06:49
9 Tariku Jufar Robi Ethiopia JUFAR 2:06:50
10 Belay Asefa Bedada Ethiopia ASEFA 2:07:10
11 Deribe Robi Melka Ethiopia ROBI 2:07:16
12 Amanuel Mesel Tikue Eritrea MESEL 2:08:17
13 Dereje Tesfaye Gebrehiwot Ethiopia TESFAYE 2:08:17
14 Habtamu Assefa Wakeyo Ethiopia ASSEFA 2:08:28
15 Adugna Takele Bikila Ethiopia TAKELE 2:08:37
16 Abebe Negewo Degefa Ethiopia NEGEWO 2:08:46
17 Sisay Lemma Kasaye Ethiopia LEMMA 2:09:02
18 Ghirmay Ghebreslassie Embaye Eritrea GHEBRESLASSIE 2:09:08
19 Ezikiel Kiptoo Chebii Kenya CHEBII 2:09:15
20 Asmare Workneh Abate Ethiopia WORKNEH 2:09:20
21 Mutai Kipkemei Kenya KIPKEMEI 2:09:29
22 Vitaly Shafar Ukraine SHAFAR 2:09:37
23 Afework Mesfin Woldetensae Ethiopia MESFIN 2:09:47
24 Birhanu Addise Achamie Ethiopia ADDISE 2:10:20
25 Simon Cheprot Kenya CHEPROT 59:20 H
26 Andualem Belay Shiferaw Ethiopia BELAY 60:06 H
27 Mule Wasihun Lakew Ethiopia WASIHUN 60:08 H
28 Abdi Fufa Nigassa Ethiopia FUFA DEBUT
29 Boniface Kosgei Kirui Kenya KIRUI –
30 Lemi Berhanu Hayle Ethiopia HAYLE –
31 Chala Lelisa Debele Ethiopia DEBELE –
32 Kidane Tadessa Habtesilase Eritrea TADESSA –
33 Asefa Diro Hunde Ethiopia DIRO –
34 Eliud Kiprop Tarus Kenya TARUS –
35 Edwin Kibet Koech Kenya KOECH –
36 Bekana Seboka Dubaru Ethiopia SEBOKA –
37 Stanley Kessio Kibet Kenya KIBET –
38 Bikila Bayisa Garedew Ethiopia BAYISA
39 Habib Dube Bariso Ethiopia DUBE

The Best of the Rest

Dubai attracts so many fast runners (21 sub-2:10 guys) that it would be foolish to highlight all of them here. Instead, we’ll point out a few guys other than Bekele who have a decent chance at the win on Friday. Given some of the names up front, it seems unlikely that Dubai will crown a debut marathoner as its champion for the fourth consecutive year. Then again, given Dubai’s history of making stars out of previously unknown runners, it seems foolish to ignore the debutants.

Lelisa Desisa — Ethiopia, 25 years old, 2:04:45 pb (2013 Dubai), 59:30 half

Last two marathons: 2nd 2014 New York (2:11:06), DNF 2014 Boston

As good as Bekele was on the track, Desisa should be considered the favorite in this race given his prowess in the marathon. In 2013, he put together one of the greatest eight-month stretches in the history of marathoning — wins at Dubai and Boston and a silver at the World Championships. He followed that up with another very good year in 2014, winning the RAK Half in February (59:36) and the BAA Half in October before narrowly losing to Wilson Kipsang at the New York City Marathon. A DNF in Boston last year marred his record, but that’s his only bad race in over two years.

Desisa hasn’t been announced for a spring marathon, so it appears that Dubai, and its massive $200,000 first-place prize, is all that’s on his mind. Kenenisa Bekele, you have officially been warned.

Feyisa Lilesa — Ethiopia, 24 years old, 2:04:52 pb (2012 Chicago), 59:22 half

Last two marathons: DNF 2014 Chicago, 9th 2014 London (2:08:26)

Lilesa has proven himself to be a formidable marathoner in races he finishes. The problem is, over the past two years, he has more DNFs (three) than finishes (two). The 24-year-old has three career top-fours at majors (two in Chicago, one in London) and his 2:04:52 pb is third-best among entrants in Dubai. A 59:22 half marathoner, Lilesa has the wheels to bust out a fast time in Dubai. But with no gauge on his current fitness (he hasn’t completed a race over any distance since taking ninth at last year’s London Marathon in April), he qualifies as a major wildcard. Anything from a victory to a DNF is on the table.

Bazu Worku — Ethiopia, 24 years old, 2:05:25 pb (2010 Berlin), 61:56 half

Last two marathons: 1st 2014 Otsu Lake Biwa (2:09:10), 1st 2014 Houston (2:07:32)

Worku ran Dubai three years ago but was only 13th. 13th may sound like a disaster but realize he still ran 2:07:48. That was the first of four marathons he would run that year, none particularly well. He scaled back to three smaller marathons in 2013 and fared much better (wins at Houston and Grandma’s Marathon, a second in Eindhoven) and went two-for-two last year.

Worku is like the hot baseball prospect that struggles in his first call-up to the big leagues and has to go back to the minors for some seasoning. He looked like a prodigy when he ran a then-world junior record 2:06:05 in Paris at age 18 in 2009 but he DNF’ed at the World Championships in 2011 and was 13th and 12th at Dubai and London in 2012. Now that he’s had success on the lower rungs of the marathon circuit, he’s ready to try again at a big marathon like Dubai. Just like facing Clayton Kershaw is different from facing a Triple-A pitcher, there’s a big difference between racing against a field like Lake Biwa and the likes of Bekele and Desisa in Dubai. We’ll see how Worku handles the transition on Friday.

One last guy we should mention is 21-year old Berhanu Shiferaw of Ethiopia. He was second in this race in 2013 in 2:04:48 (just three seconds behind Desisa) at the age of 19. We can’t find any results for Shiferaw after that race, but his past success makes him worthy of note. It’s good to see him back on the start line as he’s clearly a huge talent.

Three Lesser-Known Guys Who Could Break Through

Given that the last three winners in Dubai were first-time marathoners, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a relatively unknown runner break through given the opportunity of running such a fast course. Below, we highlight three guys who could join the ranks of Ayele AbsheroLelisa Desisa and Tsegaye Mekonnen as breakout stars.

Ezekiel Chebii — Kenya, 23 years old2:09:15 pb (2014 Madrid), 59:05 half

Chebii has the fastest half marathon pb in the field at 59:05, set three years ago at the Lille Half Marathon, where he beat Eliud Kipchoge among others. He won his debut marathon last April at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Madrid Marathon in a course-record 2:09:15. Now that he’s facing real competition on a lightning quick course, Chebii should knock several minutes off that time on Friday.

Simon Cheprot — Kenya, 24 years old, debut, 59:20 half 

Cheprot clocked a quick 59:20 half in Rome last year (course was not record-eligible) and ran 27:41 on the roads for 10k last year in Prague. He was only 22nd at the World Half Marathon Championships last year (one place behind top American Josphat Boit), but if you can run 27:41 and 59:20, there’s a good chance you can run a solid marathon.

Mule Wasihum — Ethiopia, 21 years old, debut, 60:08 half

Wasihum’s half marathon pb isn’t blazing by international 2015 standards, but he set it in impressive fashion, trouncing a good field at the Paris Half Marathon last March. Wasihum won that race by 32 seconds and took the scalps of Mike Kigen (second to Mo Farah at last year’s Great North Run) and Olympic marathon champ Stephen Kiprotich. Dubai has a history of debut winners and as one of the more impressive marathon rookies in the field, Wasihum shouldn’t be overlooked. Remember, Mekonnen’s half marathon pb was just 62:53 when he won Dubai out of nowhere last year.

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