The Marathon World Record Survives But 30k WR Falls As Unknown Tesfaye Abera Comes From Behind To Win Dubai Marathon In 2:04:24

30k World Record is Shattered in Middle of Race by 17 Seconds; Abera Wins After Setting Massive 5:22 PR

January 22, 2016

Once again, as has been the case every year in Dubai since 2010 when Haile Gebrselassie won the last of his three straight Dubai titles, one man began the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon as a relatively unknown runner and finished it with global recognition, a massive PR and a check for $200,000. On Friday morning just before the 26-mile mark, 23-year-old Ethiopian Tesfaye Abera caught up to defending champion Hayle Lemi Berhanu and kicked past him to win Dubai in 2:04:24 thanks to a massive five-plus minute PR, missing the course record by just one second in the process.

Tesfaye Abera wins Dubai in a huge upset Tesfaye Abera wins Dubai in a huge upset

Unlike Berhanu, who had just one result on his record prior to his 2015 Dubai win (he also won the Zurich Marathon in 2014), Abera has had moderate success across several distances in the past but was by no means expected to win on Friday as in three previous career marathons he owned a modest pb of 2:09:46. That came in a win in the Mumbai Marathon in January 2015; Abera also ran 60:32 for the half marathon as a 20-year-old in 2012 and has represented Ethiopia at the last two World Cross Country Championships, including 2013, when he finished as the final scorer (14th overall) for an Ethiopian squad that held off Team USA for the gold.

The Race

The race itself was incredibly exciting, as 16 (!) men hit halfway in 61:39, a ridiculous feat considering Dennis Kimetto ran 61:45 for his first half during his world record run in 2014. By 30 kilometers, the seven men in the lead group (two of them rabbits) were all on world record pace. In fact, they had already broken a world record as the top three men at that point (Kenyan rabbits Edwin Koech and Amos Kipruto and Ethiopian 2:06 marathoner Sisay Lemma) hit 30k in 1:27:20 (2:02:50 pace), well ahead of the existing record of 1:27:37 set in Berlin in 2014 during Kimetto’s run. Three more men (Berhanu, 2014 Dubai winner Tsegaye Mekonnen and 2:10 marathoner Mula Wasihun) were at 1:27:21, per the Dubai timing website, with Abera (1:27:25) and Abayneh Ayele (1:27:27) also under the old record.

The weather cooperated The weather cooperated

Though conditions were extremely good for racing (almost zero wind and temps in the low-60s), the men could not hold on to the relentless pace any longer (the leaders split 28:54 for the 10k between 20 and 30k — that’s 2:01:56 pace) and they backed off significantly once the rabbits dropped out shortly after 30k. They ran their first 3:00 kilometer of the race from 30 to 31k and followed it with 1k splits of 3:02 and 3:09. By 35k (1:42:27; 15:07 for the last 5k), the world record had all but slipped away (they were on 2:03:30 pace at that point).

Though the pace was slowing, the racing was heating up. Wasihun yo-yo’d between the lead pack and no-man’s-land for a while before he was ultimately dropped by 38k, leaving four men: defending champ Berhanu (2:05:28 pb), 2014 champ Mekonnen (2:04:32 pb), last year’s Vienna/Frankfurt champ Lemma (2:06:26 pb) and Abera (2:09:46 pb). Lemma led the group but the first serious attack did not come until the men were less than two miles from the finish. Shortly before the drink station at 40k, Berhanu had fallen a step or two behind the leaders and coming out of the station, he had spotted them an additional two or three meters.

Was Berhanu dying? Hardly.

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Berhanu led late Berhanu led late

Was he acting like he was beaten to lull his competitors to sleep? Possibly, as he quickly moved to the front and, after looking back and yelling something that appeared to be directed to Abera, took off. Lemma and Mekonnen were powerless to respond as Abera was the only one who could hold on. At 41k, Berhanu fired another salvo and this time Abera began to crack as he fell a few meters behind.

Berhanu’s journey to a repeat victory was not complete. He was hurting, and Abera knew it, as Berhanu repeatedly checked his watch and turned to check on the size of his short lead. As they made the final of the course’s four turns into the home stretch, Abera was still only a few meters behind and at the 2:03:10 mark, he pulled level with and quickly passed Berhanu, who offered no resistance.

This one was dead even as the came up to the 26 mile mark This one was dead even as they came up to the 26 mile mark

Abera, a towering figure at 6 feet, 4 inches tall, pulled away to win in 2:04:24, with Berhanu second in 2:04:33 and Mekonnen third in 2:04:46. It marked just the fifth time in history that three men cracked 2:05 in the same race (three of those have come in Dubai; the other two were 2011 Boston and 2014 Chicago).

Top 10 Results *Full Results Here
1 Abera Dibaba, Tesfaye (ETH) 2:04:24
2 Berhanu Hayle, Lemi (ETH) 2:04:33
3 Mekonnen Asefa, Tsegaye (ETH) 2:04:46
4 Lemma Kasaye, Sisay (ETH) 2:05:16
5 Wasihun Lakew, Mula (ETH) 2:05:44
6 Ayele Woldegiorgis, Abayneh (ETH) 2:06:45
7 Kiplimo Kosgei, Samuel (KEN) 2:06:53
8 Regassa Dabe, Tilahun (ETH) 2:08:11
9 Kiplagat Rono, Thomas (KEN) 2:08:34
10 Teshome Bekele, Mesfin (ETH) 2:09:24

Quick Thought #1: Talk about a breakthrough for Abera.

This is what a 5 minute PB looks like. This is what a 5 minute PB looks like.

Don’t misunderstand us. Anyone who runs 60:32 for the half marathon at age 20 less than a year after running on the 4 x 400 at the African Champs (that’s what says happened for Abera) is clearly a talent. But there is no way in heck you’d predict a guy who still hasn’t broken that 60:32 pb from 2013 and who was 26th at World XC last year and ran  2:09:46 (1st in Mumbai in January), 2:10:49 (8th in Hamburg), and 2:10:00 (in Hengshui in September) in his first three marathons of his career last year would win Dubai. Of course, in his debut in Mumbai, he did win $41,000 and nearly break the course record (14 seconds off) so that time is a little misleading.

Abera wasn’t the only Ethiopian to have a big breakthrough. Fifth-placer Mula Wasihun also came in with a half marathon pb over 60:00 (60:08) and a very modest marthon pb (2:10:57 for 11th last year in Dubai in his only marathon), but left as a 2:05:44 man thanks to his 5:13 pb.

Quick Thought #2: What the hell do you do if you are the Ethiopian selectors for the Olympics?

In 2012, Ethiopia chose its three fastest runners on the year (Ayele Abshero – 2:04:32 FTW at Dubai, Dino Sefir – 2:04:50 for 2nd in Dubai and Getu Feleke – 2:04:50 for 2nd in Rotterdam) to go the Olympics. They all ended up dropping out of the Olympics. As a result, the Ethiopian selection was roundly ripped by nearly everyone including Haile Gebrselassie. If you are in charge of selecting the Ethiopian team, do you trust that Abera will be able to produce a similar performance at the Olympics?

Quick Thought #3: Dubai’s decision to move the start up 30 minutes was rewarded.

This baby started in the dark This baby started in the dark

The race started in the dark this year (6:30 a.m. local) as the organizers wanted to avoid some of the Dubai heat. The conditions ended up being VERY good. The temperature was nearly constant the entire race- 63-64 Fahrenheit with very little wind (the commentators kept saying no wind but said 2-3 mph).

The runners did their best to try to take advantage of the early-morning start for as mentioned above 16 men went out in 61:39. That feat prompted a messageboard post from “kmaclam” which made us laugh out loud:

20 guys just ran a 1/2marathon faster than Luke did last weekend, with another 13.1 to go!!

A little hyperbole by “kmaclam” as Luke Puskedra ran 61:29 last weekend in Houston. And for the record, only 13 men in the end up bettering Puskedra’s 2:10:24 pb.

Quick Thought #4: Tsegaye Mekonnen is back.

Talent doesn't go away Talent doesn’t go away (Mekonnen in 2014)

Mekonnen, who ran 2:04:32 to win Dubai as an 18-year-old two years ago, had struggled of late, DNFing his last three marathons (2014 Frankfurt, 2015 London and 2015 Amsterdam). But he returned to the site of his first triumph and ran a terrific race for third today in 2:04:46. Mekonnen is obviously in good shape — Dubai is a good opportunity to run fast, but you have to be fit to do it — the question now becomes whether Mekonnen can deliver the same kind of performance outside of Dubai (he’s only finished one marathon outside of Dubai, 2:08:06 for 5th in London in 2014). We’ll find out soon enough as Mekonnen is entered in Boston in April.

For perspective, Dubai produces many outlier times. Take a look at the five fastest men in the history of the Dubai course and their non-Dubai pbs.

Name Dubai time Non-Dubai pb
Ayele Abshero 2:04:23 (2012) 2:06:31 (2014 London)
Tesfaye Abera 2:04:24 (2016) 2:09:46 (2015 Mumbai)
Tsegaye Mekonnen 2:04:32 (2014) 2:08:06 (2014 London)
Hayle Lemi Berhanu 2:04:33 (2016) 2:07:57 (2015 Warsaw)
Lelisa Desisa 2:04:45 (2013) 2:09:17 (2015 Boston)

There are obviously some caveats there. Desisa is one of the world’s top marathoners and a two-time Boston champ. And many of the other runners are young and haven’t raced many marathons outside of Dubai (which provides ideal conditions for running fast). But running 2:04 in Dubai and 2:04 in London are two very different things.

Of course, not everyone runs their pb in Dubai. Haile Gebrselassie did run 2:04:53 in Dubai and then the 2:03:59 WR in Berlin in 2008.

Talk about Dubai on our messageboard: MB: Official 2016 Dubai Marathon Live Discussion Thread

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