March 20, 2015
It’s been 11 months since Mo Farah lost a race. Since his eighth-place finish at last year’s London Marathon, Farah has won two European gold medals, run 60:00 for the half marathon and set a world indoor record for two miles. In all, he’s won his last six races across the track and roads. The knock on Farah during that period is that many of those victories came against weakened fields, and while that wasn’t always relevant (does it matter how strong the field was if you set a world record?), there is some truth to that assertion.
There can be no criticism of Farah’s race selection this weekend — Sunday’s EDP Lisbon Half Marathon. He’s tackling a race distance (13.1 miles) that is slightly outside his comfort zone against a field that includes six men with sub-60:00 PRs (Farah’s PR is 60:00 from last year’s Great North Run, though that course isn’t legal for record purposes) who may go after the $100,000 World Record bonus being dangled before their eyes to celebrate the races 25th anniversary. The sub 60:00 guys include Kenya’s Stephen Kibet, whose 58:54 pb ties him for eighth on the all-time list, Ethiopia’s Guye Adola, who ran 59:06 in November to win the New Delhi Half Marathon and 2008 Olympic 10k bronze medalist Micah Kogo of Kenya (who ran 59:49 last year).
The women’s field is headlined by 2013 London/NYC Marathon champion Priscah Jeptoo of Kenya and Portuguese favorites Ana Dulce Felix (68:32 pb) and Sara Moreira (third at 2014 NYC Marathon).
Below, we tell you what you need to know about the races and break down Farah’s chances.
What: 2015 EDP Lisbon Half Marathon
When: Sunday, March 22, 6:30 a.m. ET
Where: Lisbon, Portugal
How to watch: Livestream here
Men’s Race: The World Record Is Not the Goal For Mo Farah — But Is There Any Chance It Goes Down Anyway?
This is the 25th edition of the race, and the race organizers wanted to make it extra special with the $100,000 bonus for a world record. Zersenay Tadese set the current world record of 58:23 in this race five years ago and ran 58:31 here the following year to record the #2 time in history.
There has been talk that Farah will be shooting for the world record in Lisbon, but after emailing with Farah’s agent Ricky Simms, that doesn’t appear to be the objective on Sunday.
“I haven’t heard anything about a world record attempt,” Simms said. “We haven’t asked for any pacemakers. There are six athletes entered with faster PB’s than Mo so his aim will be to compete and try to win the race.”
Could the world record go down anyway? The fast course and the quality of the field make it a possibility. With $100,000 for the record and such a strong field assembled it’s feasible someone will be tempted to go after it.
Even if Farah gets dragged by the field to chase after the record, it will be a tough get for him or anyone in the field. According to LetsRun.com stats guru John Kellogg, 58:23 is roughly equivalent to 26:25 for 10,000, a time only Kenenisa Bekele and Haile Gebrselassie have ever run. Where Farah ranks in comparison to those two is up for debate but it’s hard to see Farah producing a performance better than 58:23 given his past results in the longer distances.
Farah’s best events are the 5,000 and the 10,000. They’re his best events because he has enough strength to utilize his incredible speed (3:28.81 1500 pb) at the end of those races. Move up the distance, and Farah’s greatest skill — his closing speed — becomes less important. He’s never broken 60:00 in five career half marathons and he ran 2:08:21 in his only marathon. Farah has run 26:46 and 60:00, so to say he doesn’t have aerobic strength would be a lie. But he hasn’t demonstrated the historically-great aerobic strength required to run a time like 58:23.
Farah is clearly in great shape right now — he ran 8:03.40 for two miles to break the world record in his only indoor race on February 21 — but it’s foolish to project how an athlete will fare in a half marathon based on a two-mile time. No one knows how Farah will perform on Sunday — even the man himself.
“I’ll see how I’ll be on the day of the race,” Farah told the IAAF. “I’m in good shape, as my recent two miles world indoor best proved, but once I’m on the course I’ll see if I’m able to produce something special. I’ll go with the boys in the front and then we will see.”
It seems clear — Farah will run as fast as it takes to contend for the win. If another athlete is trying for a sub-59:00, Farah likely will stick with him. If the pace is more conservative (the winning time was 59:58 last year and 59:54 the year before), then that’s okay with Farah too. The conditions look as if they will be pretty good on Sunday (high of 64 degrees, with no rain until later in the day), so with a good performance, Farah could finally get under the 60:00 barrier.
One more thing: there has been some recent speculation that Farah may have been working with a new coach. That’s not true, according to Simms:
“Mo is 100% coached by Alberto,” said. “He made his annual winter altitude training trip to Africa (Ethiopia instead of Kenya this year) and was in daily contact with Alberto. Nothing has changed.”
Who Will Challenge Farah?
Is Farah the favorite? Given his track credentials, you can argue that he is, but generally a 60:00 guy is less likely to win a race than guys who have run 58:54, 59:06 and 59:07. Remember, Farah lost to Geoffrey Mutai at the 2014 NYC Half Marathon when he passed out after the race and to Kenenisa Bekele at the epic 2013 Great North Run: Kenenisa Bekele Holds Off Mo Farah In One Of The Most Thrilling Road Races In History – 2013 BUPA Great North Run.
Even in Farah’s most recent half marathon, his victory at last year’s Great North Run, there were questions about whether Mike Kigen let him win. In Farah’s half-marathon career, he’s raced 5 times and won 3 of them. Mo Farah is a good half marathoner, but he’s not a lock in this race. Here are the guys who could beat him.
Stephen Kibet, Kenya • 28 years old • 58:54 pb (2012 The Hague)
Kibet has the fastest pb in the field and won in Lisbon last year, albeit in a different half marathon (the Rock ‘n’ Roll Lisbon Half Marathon in October, where he ran 61:06). He was also second at the Beach to Beacon 10K in Maine in August (behind last year’s Lisbon champion, Bedan Karoki). He hasn’t raced yet this year, but his last two races were impressive: 59:21 at the New Delhi Half Marathon on November 23 and a 28:34 10K victory in Angola on December 31. Kibet is an experienced racer (17 career half marathons) and didn’t have a bad race in all of 2014. He’s a good bet to finish in the top three, if not the top one, on Sunday.
In case you are wondering, Kibet’s half-marathon pb is 2:08:05.
Guye Adola, Ethiopia • 24 years old • 59:06 pb (2014 New Delhi)
Adola is a big-time talent and has the potential to do some big-time damage if/when he moves to the marathon. Emerging from nowhere last year (his All-Athletics.com, Tilastopaja and IAAF profiles list no results before 2014), he took bronze at the World Half Marathon Championships in March, running 59:20, and capped his year by winning the ultra-competitive New Delhi Half Marathon in 59:06, defeating World Half champ Geoffrey Kipsang (and six other guys who broke 59:30 in the race) in the process. Like Kibet, Adola has yet to race this year, but given his breakthrough 2014 — and the potential for further improvement this season — Adola may be the favorite in Lisbon.
Micah Kogo, Kenya • 28 years old • 59:07 pb (2012 Great North Run)
Kogo’s 2014 season didn’t go to plan (17th at the Boston Marathon, 14th at NYC) but he still managed to run 59:49 at the RAK Half in February. He’s still only 28 years old, and with an Olympic bronze (10k, 2008) and 59:07 pb on his resume (plus 13:00, 26:35 and 2:06:56), he’s capable of challenging Farah if he’s fit.
Silas Kipruto, Kenya • 30 years old • 59:39 pb (2010 Milan)
Kipruto has the fourth-best pb in the field and is the highest returner, placing second in last year’s race in 60:17. However, his last two races have gone poorly (63:24 for 11th in a half marathon in Lille in September; 2:15:37 for seventh in the Mumbai Marathon on January 18). He’ll look to regain his form at the site of his last good race.
He ran 13:02/27:26 in 2008.
Deriba Merga, Ethiopia • 34 years old • 59:15 pb (2008 New Delhi)
It is unlikely Merga defeats Farah, but we mention him only to let everyone know that the 2009 Boston Marathon champion is back racing. Merga missed all of 2014 but debuted this year with a 63:36 half in Spain on March 8. That’s not a world-beating time, but it’s good to see Merga back competing again.
Will the World Record Bonus Affect the Race?
Taking a look at the top entrants, only Kibet, Adola and Farah seem capable of even attempting to run 58:23 pace (4:27/mile). Farah has already stated that the record is not a priority for him, so if someone is to attack the world record, it will be up to Kibet and Adola to lead the charge. $100,000 is a lot of money and could convince them to take a shot at it, but they’ll have to be certain they’re in great shape as going out that hard could have dangerous consequences. Whether the pace is fast or not, the race should be exciting to watch as a Farah victory is far from assured.
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Women’s Race: Priscah Jeptoo Is the Heavy Favorite
Whether you go by Jeptoo’s legal pb (66:11 from the 2013 RAK Half) or her non-legal pb (65:45 from the 2013 Great North Run), one thing is clear: she is head and shoulders above this field. No other woman in the field has broken 68:30 in the past nine years (Japan’s Mizuki Noguchi, 36, ran 67:43 in 2006).
This race will serve as a tuneup for Jeptoo before she makes her return to the marathon in London next month. Jeptoo was arguably the best road runner on the planet in 2013, when she won marathon titles in London and New York, and looked set for more of the same last year as she opened up with a 67:02 victory at the RAK Half in February. But an injury kept her from finishing London and caused her to withdraw from New York last fall. She bounced back by running 46:59 for 15K on November 16 (66:04 half marathon pace) and Sunday’s outing will let us know whether she’s on track to challenge for the win in London.
Overall, it’s not a bad field (eight women with pbs of 69:07 or faster), and women such as Rose Chelimo (68:40 pb from last year), and the home nation’s Ana Dulce Felix (68:32 pb) and Sara Moreira (third at NYC Marathon last year) all have a chance to run pbs. All eyes will be on Jeptoo, though. If she wins, she’ll show that she’s truly over her injury. If she wins and breaks 68:00, she’ll show she’s a legitimate challenger for London.