2016 World Half Marathon Championships Preview: A Race For The Ages – Mo Farah Vs. Geoffrey Kamworor & Bedan Karoki In A World Champs Grudge Match

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By LetsRun.com
March 24, 2016

Saturday’s IAAF / Cardiff University World Half Marathon Championships promises to be a true classic. For the first time, the event comes to Wales (Cardiff, specifically) and the lure of a global championship on British soil was enough to attract the top distance runner on the planet, Mo Farah, who headlines the 100-man field. Farah will have his hands full as he faces two tremendous Kenyan rivals at the top of their game. Leading the Kenyan challenge is Geoffrey Kamworor, the reigning world half marathon and world cross country champion whom Farah defeated over 10,000 meters in a great battle at the World Championships in August. Then there is world Cross Country runner-up Bedan Karoki, who is undefeated lifetime in the half marathon, and has been tearing it up in cross country and on the track in Kenya this winter while preparing for his marathon debut. Three studs on top of their game squaring off on British soil for a world championship at a distance that does not favor Farah.

Full preview below.

The women’s race lacks the star power of the men, but it promises to be fast. Two years ago, Kenya made history by sweeping the top five places in the women’s race and it’s well-positioned to come close again in 2016 as four of its five entrants (Cynthia LimoMary WaceraPeris Chepchirchir and Gladys Chesire) have broken 67:00 this year.

Team USA includes Jared Ward, who will represent the U.S. in the marathon in Rio this summer, plus Sara Hall and Olympic Marathon Trials top-six finishers Janet Cherobon-Bawcom and Kellyn Taylor. Details followed by a full preview of the men’s race below. Our women’s preview is here: LRC 2016 World Half Marathon Championships Preview: Kenyan Rivals Mary Wacera & Cynthia Limo Square Off For the World Title

What: 2016 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships

Where: Cardiff, Wales

When: Saturday, March 26. Women’s race begins at 9:35 a.m. ET, men’s race at 10:10 a.m. ET. Note: due to an error on the IAAF site, we had the time listed as 6:10 am ET earlier in the week.

How to watch: In the United States, the race will be streamed live online by NBC Sports Live Extra beginning at 9:30 a.m. ET. In the United Kingdom, the race will be shown on BBC One starting at 1:30 p.m. GMT. UK viewers may want to tune in to BBC One at 1:00 p.m. however as the network will be showing a 30-minute show called “Can Seb Coe Save Athletics?” in which Steve Cram travels to Monaco to follow Coe and question him about the sport’s doping and corruption scandals.

Course map

Men’s Race: A True Heavyweight Showdown Between Farah, Kamworor & Karoki

Entrants

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Kamworor has excelled on the track, roads and in cross country

Kamworor has excelled on the track, roads and in cross country

Geoffrey Kamworor — Kenya, 23 years old, 58:54 pb

Recent races: 1st Kenyan Police XC Champs (Jan. 16), DNF Discovery XC Champs (Jan. 31), 1st Kenyan XC Champs (Feb. 13)

Why he could win: Quite simply, Kamworor is a monster. Last year, he won World XC in March, ran 26:52 on the track in May, took silver at Worlds in the 10,000 in August and finished second in the NYC Marathon in November. If he focuses on a race, chances are he’s going to run well in it.

And Kamworor does better in the half marathon than any other distance. Before NYC in November, his coach Patrick Sang said he felt the half marathon was Kamworor’s best distance right now. He’s the defending champion in this event, running 59:08 (second-best winning time in event history) to claim the title in Copenhagen two years ago and his personal best of 58:54 (T-#8 all-time) is also tops in the field. Looking at Kamworor’s track record in the half marathon over the past three years, he usually runs fast, wins, or does both.

Geoffrey’s Kamworor’s Half Marathons Since 2013

Date Location Time Place
11/23/2014 New Delhi 59:07 2nd
7/27/2014 Bogota 63:18 1st
6/7/2014 Ceske Budejovice 60:09 1st
3/29/2014 Copenhagen (WC) 59:07 1st
2/2/2014 Eldoret 64:10 17th
12/15/2013 New Delhi 59:30 2nd
7/28/2013 Bogota 63:46 1st
2/15/2013 Ras Al Khaimah 58:54 1st

Apart from that race in Eldoret (in which Kamworor may have been holding back given he ran the Tokyo Marathon three weeks later), Kamworor’s record is spectacular. He’s coming off the two best years of his career and also beat Karoki in their last race against each other (last month’s Kenyan XC Champs).

Why he might not win: Kamworor won two of his three XC races this winter but he DNF’d the third, a race won by Karoki. We’re not too worried by that performance (Asbel Kiprop also DNF’d and two-time Worlds 10k medallist Paul Tanui finished outside the top 20) but it could be a red flag that everything wasn’t perfect in the buildup.

The bigger concern is Farah: Kamworor is 0-3 all-time against the Brit (2011 Pre Classic 10,000, 2015 Pre Classic 10,000, 2015 Worlds 10,000). Though all three of those races came on Farah’s preferred surface/distance, the latter two showed that it will not be easy to drop Farah. At Pre last year, Kamworor mostly avoided running from the front (in fact, Farah pushed the pace more than he did) yet still could not muster a kick and wound up third behind Farah and Tanui. At Worlds, Kamworor did most of the work, yet despite running 27:01 in the heat and humidity of Beijing, he could not shake Farah, who outkicked him after moving to the front with 500 to go.

The good news for Kamworor is that a half marathon is over twice as long as a 10,000, and Kamworor has shown that he’s not afraid to try to break the field by attacking from the front. But Farah has had a lot of success using the same sit-and-kick tactics at 13.1 miles as he’s employed on the track. Last fall, he ran 59:22 to win the Great North Run, outkicking Stanley Biwott (who would go on to defeat Kamworor at the NYC Marathon less than two months later). In March of last year, he sat and kicked on Micah Kogo to break the European half marathon record, running 59:32 to win in Lisbon. He won the Great North Run in 2014 by playing sit-and-kick as well (though there were some concerns that Farah was allowed to win that race).

The good news for Kamworor is that a few truly transcendent talents have been able to beat Farah at 13.1 (Kenenisa Bekele in 2013, Geoffrey Mutai in 2014) and Kamworor just might be a transcendent talent.

Bedan Karoki at Stanford in 2011

Karoki at Stanford in 2011

Bedan Karoki — Kenya, 25 years old, 59:14 pb

Recent races: 1st Discovery XC Champs (Jan. 31), 2nd Kenyan XC Champs (Feb. 13), 1st World’s Best 10K, 27:42 (Feb. 28), 1st Nakuru 1500, 3:42 (March 18), 1st Nakuru 5,000, 13:38 (March 18)

Why he could win: Karoki, like Kamworor, is coming off a tremendous year and is in great shape right now. Last year, he was second at World XC and 4th in the 10,000 at Worlds and capped it off by winning the Copenhagen Half Marathon in September in a PR of 59:14. So far, he’s lost just once in 2016 (by four seconds to Kamworor at last month’s Kenyan XC Champs) and defeated a quality field at the World’s Best 10K on February 28.

Most recently, last weekend, Karoki won both the 1500 (3:42.1) and 5,000 (13:38.1) 45 minutes apart at a meet in Nakuru, Kenya, in which he stomped a 5,000 field that included studs like Thomas Longosiwa, Jairus Birech, Paul Koech and Nixon Chepseba. He closed his last 1200 of the 5,000 in 2:54, so he’s got speed if the race goes slow in Cardiff.  After that performance renowned coach Renato Canova declared to our correspondent on the ground in Kenya that Karoki is the favorite at the World Half Champs. Now, we know what you are thinking: 3:42 and 13:38 don’t sound that impressive. But remember Nakuru is at 6,070 feet of altitude. According to the NCAA altitude converter, Karoki would be credited with running a 3:35.1 and 13:08.2 on a dirt track within the span of 45 minutes.

He’s also undefeated for his life in half marathons, going four-for-four with an average time of 59:39.

Why he might not win: Historically, Kamworor has been better than Karoki. Kamworor has a faster pb, and in their last five races, he’s come out on top in four of them — World XC, Kenyan WC Trials, Worlds 10k and Kenyan XC Champs. The only one Karoki won was the Discovery XC Champs this year, in which Kamworor wound up a DNF. Karoki’s probably not peaking for this race either: he’s making his marathon debut at the London Marathon next month.

Additionally, while Karoki’s track double last week extremely impressive, it might not have been the smartest idea to have run two fast track races just eight days before the World Half Marathon Championships. And might the fact that Karoki ran so well over the shorter distances suggest that he’s sacrificed some strength for the longer distance? One traditionally might think so, but don’t forget Karoki is making his marathon debut next month in London. 

Props to Karoki for being old school and racing in the midst of his marathon buildup. Running a 1500/5000 and half-marathon on back-to-back weekends is pretty cool. Throw in a marathon a month later and it’s something we’ve never seen before.

More: LRC Goes To Kenya Why Bedan Karoki Is The Favorite At The World Half Champs

Mo Farah — Great Britain, 33 years old, 59:22 pb

Recent races: 2nd Great Edinburgh XCountry (Jan. 9), 1st Glasgow Indoor Grand Prix 3000, 7:39 (Feb. 20)

Why he could win: Farah wins everything. At the last three global championships, he’s successfully pulled off the 5,000/10,000 double and his half marathon record is almost as good:

Date Race Time Place
9/13/2015 Great North Run 59:22 1st
3/22/2015 Lisbon Half 59:32 1st
9/7/2014 Great North Run 60:00 1st
3/16/2014 NYC Half 61:07 2nd
9/15/2013 Great North Run 60:10 2nd
2/24/2013 New Orleans Rock ‘n’ Roll 60:59 1st
3/20/2011 NYC Half 60:23 1st
Farah is extremely tough, but he has lost in half marathons before. Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Archive licensed by LetsRun.com

Farah is extremely tough, but he has lost in half marathons before.
Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Archive licensed by LetsRun.com. *Relive the epic 2013 Great North Run here

Farah’s speed at the end of races is what draws headlines. When you put a 3:28 1500 runner against a bunch of 3:3x guys in a tactical 5,000, it’s not much of a surprise when the 3:28 guy wins. But what makes Farah one of the best ever is that he pairs that speed with tremendous strength. In Beijing last year, Kamworor ran Farah ragged for almost 24 laps but when it came time to kick, Farah still had plenty in reserve, managing a 54.2 final 400 in a 27:01 race that would have been faster had he not started celebrating before crossing the line.  

No one on the track today can run fast enough to drop Farah and that’s largely been the case in his half marathons as well. Farah has run seven in his career and he’s used sit-and-kick tactics in his last three — which just so happen to be the three fastest of his career. As on the track, we still don’t know what Farah is capable of in the half marathon as he’s mostly been content to win races rather than chase times. Sub-59:00 is not out of the question.

The fact that Farah was able to beat World Indoor bronze medallist Augustine Choge and run 7:39 over 3,000 on February 20 while in half marathon training is also a good sign.

Why he might not win: While the half marathon is not the marathon, where track PBs are essentially useless when it comes time to kick, it’s still over twice as long as the 10,000. Farah has unbelievable range, but even he has his limits (see the 2014 London Marathon). If someone like Kamworor or Karoki (or if the two work together, as they did in Beijing) pushes it at 59:00 pace, Farah’s not going to be able to close in 54 seconds.

There’s also the possibility that at a super fast pace Farah gets dropped and isn’t around at all to kick. Last year in Lison, Farah decided the pace was too hot and dropped back, only to come from behind and get the win.  While Farah has been able to beat some terrific runners in his half marathons (Stanley Biwott, Mike Kigen, Micah Kogo), none have been as good as Kamworor or Karoki over the 13.1-mile distance. If Kamworor and Karoki can keep a sub 59 pace until the end, Farah might not be there.

It also came out on in the Evening Standard on Thursday that Farah’s preparations took a step back with a recent bout of sickness and that, according to the article, “neither Farah nor Salazar are too caught up on the result.” We’ll take that with a grain of salt given that no source is listed for either of those claims (and later in the article Salazar is quoted as saying Farah is “as good as he’s ever been”), but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Other contenders

Kamworor, Karoki and Farah are the “Big Three” but there are several other guys who could medal on Saturday. We run through them here.

  • Guye Adola, Ethiopia, 25 years old, 59:06 pb: Adola took bronze two years ago in Copenhagen and actually beat Kamworor at the New Delhi Half Marathon later that year, running his pb of 59:06. However, he got spanked by Farah last year in Lisbon (finishing fourth in 60:45, 1:13 behind Farah) and was only fifth in the half marathon at the All-Africa Games in September.
  • Edwin Kipyego, Kenya, 25 years old, 59:30 pb: Kipyego has the fastest season best in the field, running 60:27 to win the City-Pier-City Half Marathon in The Hague three weeks ago. He was fifth at last month’s RAK Half (but only five seconds behind first) and ran his PR of 59:30 last September in Copenhagen (though he lost to Karoki by 16 seconds). Like Adola, he also got his ass kicked by Farah in Lisbon last year (he was fifth in 61:48, 1:03 behind Adola and 2:16 behind Farah)
  • Nguse Amlosom, Eritrea, 29 years old, 59:39 pb: Amlosom was third at the always-competitive RAK Half on February 12 (tops among athletes entered here) and was fifth at the World Half Champs two years ago. He was also a World Championship finalist last year at 10,000, though he finished 13th, well back of Farah, Kamworor and Karoki.
  • Simon Cheprot, Kenya, 26 years old, 59:20 pb: A fine runner but not a winner: he’s run 15 career half marathons but has never recorded a victory at that distance. He’s put together some solid recent performances at 2016 RAK (6th, 60:46) and 2015 Copenhagen (4th, 59:32) but he finished behind other World Half contenders in those races.
  • Edwin Kiptoo, Kenya, 22 years old, 59:26 pb: He ran two quick half marathons last year (59:35 in The Hague, 59:26 in New Delhi) and was seventh at the RAK Half in February. He has nice potential and a medal here is not out of the question.
  • Tamirat Tola, Ethiopia, 24 years old, 60:08 pb: He was sixth at World XC last year and ran a big pb of 60:08 in his first half marathon since 2013 last April.
  • Samsom Gebreyohannes, Eritrea, 24 years old, 60:12 pb: He ran his pb in this race two years ago to take eighth (#4 returner) but hasn’t done much since then. Most recently, he ran 61:26 for third at the Houston Half Marathon in January.

So who wins?

This is more than the World Half Marathon Championships. It’s a referendum on whether Farah can be beaten in the Rio 10,000. If Kamworor or Karoki can’t beat Farah at this distance, what hope do they — or anyone else — have at defeating him on the track this summer?

That being said, it may not be possible to draw huge conclusions no matter what happens as there is one huge factor we haven’t talked about – the weather. The forecast for this race is horrific.

Men's race starts at 2:10 pm local

Men’s race starts at 2:10 pm local

So it looks like the race will take place in the middle of a wind and rain storm.

Weather.com’s forecast calls for a foul day in South Wales on Saturday, with a 100% chance of rain and winds from 25 to 35 miles per hour with gusts over 40 mph. Kamworor and Karoki would be foolish to let the pace go slow, but if they do elect to push it, they need to keep in mind the wind. During the middle stages of the race, that wind (blowing out of the south) should help the runners as the course goes south from the start until mile 4 but then turns north from mile 4 to mile 11. However, if Farah is still with the leaders at mile 11, it could spell doom for everyone else as the course is south for the final 2+ miles, which would allow Farah to conserve energy drafting behind the leader before kicking at the finish. 

Course map

Now, we’re going to give out some free coaching advice to the Kenyans. We hope if they don’t read this themselves, a coach or an agent does and passes this on to them.

One thing that Karoki and Kamworor should consider doing if Farah is drafting on them is splitting apart. On a track, it’s easy for someone with a superior kick to draft as everyone on a track is very close to each other as everyone stays close to lane 1 as you are making two turns every 400 meters. On the road, there is no need for people to stay near each other as people don’t need to stay near the inside of lane 1 to save ground. In a road race, the competitors can spread out across the road. If Kamworor and Karoki split apart, then Farah can’t draft off of both of them. He’d have to decide which one he wants to draft off of. That person could then slow down and let the other one go for the win. Farah would then be forced to go it alone to try to catch the other one.

Before we make a pick, we want to say we really respect Mo Farah for showing up here. Though a spring half marathon makes more training sense for him than World Indoors (he’s done a spring half each of the last three years), he could easily have dodged Kamworor by returning to Lisbon or New York. Or he could have done World Indoors in his adopted hometown of Portland and coasted in the 3,000. Instead, he chose to tackle Kamworor at his best distance in a World Championship.

Kamworor is the man we’re picking for the win. He’s run 59:07 or better three times and who excels in races that reward toughness, such as World XC, which he won as both a junior and senior. He’s not afraid to take it to Farah, and after losing to the Brit on the track last year, you can be sure he’ll be motivated to win this one. 

That being said we’ll never count Mo Farah out of a race. A win here would definitely help build up his legacy. When we were talking amongst ourselves as to whom we should pick for the win, one of us said, “Umm. Mo Farah never loses does he? Why would we overcomplicate this?”

Well, because it makes the rest of the season more interesting. As mentioned earlier, if Farah wins this race on Saturday, it’s hard to even fathom him losing in Rio. Thus, as both fans and journalists, we’re almost obligated to pick someone not named Farah as it makes it more interesting.

Team USA and the team race

In the overall team race, where countries are scored by adding the times of their three fastest finishers, Kenya will be favored to win. With Kamworor and Karoki, they have the best 1-2 punch in the field and have three other sub-59:30 guys to round out the roster. Two years ago, Kenya was upset by Eritrea which put five in the top eight to break Kenya’s six-year win streak, but three of their top four are gone, which hurts their repeat bid. Still, they should battle with Ethiopia for the silver.

The US team is as follows:

Scott Bauhs – 29 years old, 61:30 pb, 31st at Trials. 
Ben Bruce
– 33 years old, 62:28 pb, DNF at Trials.
Tim Ritchie – 28 years old, 61:23 pb, 28th at Trials.
Jim Spisak 
– 25 years old, 62:26 pb.
Jared Ward – 27 years old, 61:42 pb, 3rd at Trials.

Top 10 At 2014 World Half
1 Eritrea 2:58:59
2 Kenya 2:59:38
3 Ethiopia 3:00:48
4 South Africa 3:03:13
5 Uganda 3:04:39
6 Japan 3:05:45
7 United States 3:06:18
8 Bahrain 3:06:27
9 France 3:07:28
10 Spain 3:08:01

Team USA was seventh two years ago and it would be a solid showing if they could match that performance in Cardiff as four of the five members of the team – Scott Bauhs, Ben Bruce, Tim Ritchie and Jared Ward – are all coming off the Olympic Marathon Trials six weeks ago (Bauhs was 31st, Bruce was a DNF with a glute problem, Ritchie was 25th, and Ward was 3rd). What kind of shape will they be in right now? Plus two of the members of the U.S. team – Jim Spisak and Ben Bruce –  have never broken 62:00 and 61:57 was only good for 28th place two years ago.

We’re excited to see what Ward can do in his first race since he became an Olympian by placing third at the U.S. Olympic Trials. It also will be the first time he gets the honor of representing the U.S. at an international competition. Spisak has been making some nice progress recently and maybe the others can surprise some people. However, a top-20 finish by any of these guys would qualify as a big success (the rough weather forecast may help in that respect).

Vote in the polls below and talk about the race on our world famous fan forum / messageboard:

MB: Official 2016 World Half Marathon Discussion Thread
MB: Kamworor talking smack? “I know most Kenyans are waiting for the day we shall beat Farah. That day is coming soon.”
MB: Farah’s handlers lowering hopes for W Half – “a bout of sickness is believed to have pegged back his preparations”
MB: World Half Champs – US Team?

 


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