2019 Dubai Marathon Preview: The Return of Guye Adola, Ibrahim Jeilan Debuts, & What Will Emmanuel Saina & Ruth Chepngetich Do For an Encore?

By LetsRun.com
January 23, 2019

Prime-time marathoning is back.

The Dubai Marathon may no longer be the world’s richest race – race organizers have slashed the elite prize money by more than half to protest the IAAF refusing to give them the highest label for road races (“Platinum status”) simply because the race has fewer than 15,000 finishers even though Dubai clearly is one of the world’s most competitive marathons thanks to the fact that it has given out more than $11 million in tax-free prize money since 2008 – but the 2019 edition has attracted a slew of fast runners to the Persian Gulf as there is still $100,000 on the line for whoever breaks the tape. And while the runners will face an early wakeup call on race day (the gun goes off at 6 a.m. local time), the 9:00 p.m. ET start is ideal for American distance fans with no plans on a Thursday night.

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Despite the reduced prize purse, the men’s field is — on paper — as good or better than the 2018 edition that saw a staggering six men run between 2:04:00 and 2:04:15. Last year’s field contained six men who had run under 2:07 going into the race, with Tamirat Tola leading the way at 2:04:11. This year’s field has eight sub-2:07 men, with three men owning a faster PR than Tola — Guye Adola (2:03:46), Asefa Mengstu (2:04:06), and Sisay Lemma (2:04:08). With 8 sub-2:07 performers, Dubai has more sub-2:08 guys than all but 2 of the Abbott World Marathon Majors had in 2018.

# of Sub-2:07 Performers
2019 Dubai 8
2018 New York 6
2018 Chicago 9
2018 Berlin 5
2018 Boston 9
2018 London 7
2018 Tokyo 7

Plus there’s a debut for 2011 10k world champ Ibrahim Jeilan — yes, the guy who took down Mo Farah in Daegu in 2011 — and the return of Kenyan Emmanuel Saina, who ran a shocking 2:05:21 in his debut in Buenos Aires in September.

On the women’s side, there are five women who have broken 2:25, including two who ran under 2:20 last year — Ruth Chepngetich (2:18:35 in Istanbul, T-#7 all-time) and 2017 Dubai champ Worknesh Degefa (2:19:53).

We tell you the four storylines to watch for in this year’s race below.

What: 2019 Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon
When: Friday, January 25, 6:00 a.m. UAE Standard Time (9:00 p.m. ET, Thursday, January 25)
Where: Dubai, United Arab Emirates
How to watch: You can watch a free live stream here on LetsRun.com

Men’s elite field

Name Country PB Comment
Guye Adola Ethiopia 2:03:46 Fastest debut ever at ’17 Berlin but had a rough ’18
Asefa Mengstu Ethiopia 2:04:06 4th last year, then won Seoul in November
Sisay Lemma Ethiopia 2:04:08 5th last year; 1 of just 3 men to break 2:05 2x in ’18
Lemi Berhanu Ethiopia 2:04:33 ’16 Boston champ was 1st (’15) & 2nd (’16) in 2 Dubai appearances
Emmanuel Saina Kenya 2:05:21 Ran shocking 2:05 in Buenos Aires in debut last year
Kelkile Gezahegn Ethiopia 2:05:56 PR’d in Rotterdam, then won Lanzhou & Frankfurt last year
Seboka Dibaba Ethiopia 2:06:17 His PR is 7 years old; hasn’t broken 2:09 since ’15
Tadesse Abraham Switzerland 2:06:40 Eritrean-born Abraham is shooting for Mo Farah’s 2:05:11 Euro record
Adugna Takele Ethiopia 2:08:31
Shifera Tamru Ethiopia 2:08:50
Yenew Alamirew Ethiopia 2:08:56 Track stud (7:27/12:48 pbs) ran 2:08 in debut last year in Dubai and then 2:10 in Amsterdam.
Birhanu Teshome Ethiopia 2:09:03
Herpassa Negasa Ethiopia 2:09:14
Fikadu Kebede Ethiopia 2:09:37
Shingo Igashi Japan 2:13:15
Kansuke Morihashi Japan 2:14:25
Kenichi Jiromaru Japan 2:14:48
Ibrahim Jeilan Ethiopia debut 2011 10k world champ has raced 3x in last 2 years
Getaneh Molla Ethiopia debut 12:59 5k man was 5th at ’18 World Half Champs

Women’s elite field

Name Country PB Comment
Ruth Chepngetich Kenya 2:18:35 Ran a shocking 4-min PR of 2:18 in Istanbul last year
Worknesh Degefa Ethiopia 2:19:53 Won Dubai in her debut in ’17; ran 2:19 PR for 4th last year
Sharon Cherop Kenya 2:22:28 2012 Boston champ but only 4th in Rome & Ljublana last year
Sintayehu Lewetegn Ethiopia 2:22:45 After 2:30 and 2:36 in her first 2 marathons last year, ran big PR in Frankfurt
Rahma Tusa Ethiopia 2:23:46 PR’d to win Rome in April; 5th in NYC
Birke Debele Ethiopia 2:25:28 Ran big PR to finish 2nd in Hamburg last year
Muluhabt Tsega Ethiopia 2:25:48 Coming off big PR to take 5th in Shanghai last year
Waganesh Mekasha Ethiopia 2:25:57 Coming off big PR to win Hengshui last year
Sule Utura Ethiopia 2:29:04
Tigist Assefa Ethiopia debut 2016 Olympian at 800m (1:59.24 PB) has never raced above 10k before

Adola was so new to the marathon in his debut at 2017 Berlin that Kipchoge had to tell him to follow the blue line

1) Can Guye Adola re-establish himself as one of the world’s best marathoners?

In September 2017, Guye Adola came as close to beating Eliud Kipchoge as anyone has in the past three-and-a-half years. Running fearlessly in his debut marathon, Adola led Kipchoge by three seconds with just under 5k to go, and though the indomitable Kipchoge fought back to win in 2:03:32, Adola finished just 14 seconds behind in a debut record of 2:03:46.

The performance is even more impressive when you consider the context. The weather that day was wet and humid — not ideal for running fast. Remember, Kipchoge ran almost two minutes faster on the same course with near-perfect conditions in 2018. That doesn’t mean that Adola could have run 2:01, but it’s also worth pointing out that he beat third placer Mosinet Geremew by 2:26 in Berlin, and Geremew ran a course record of 2:04:00 in Dubai four months later. Adola’s ceiling is very, very high.

But after a couple of solid races to start 2018 (2nd at the Houston Half, 4th against a strong half marathon field in Riyadh), Adola struggled mightily the rest of the year. He developed stomach problems — an ulcer, according to his agent, Gianni Demadonna — over the winter, limiting his training, and also developed an unspecified injury in London that caused him to jog it in there in 2:32. Demadonna told us that Adola wanted to get back to training and racing in June, even though he was not ready, and that was proven at the Usti Nad Labem Half in the Czech Republic in September where he could manage just 64:31; he then decided to withdraw from October’s Frankfurt Marathon, citing illness.

Demadonna says Adola has been training since October and think that he “looks ready to race again at his top level.”

Embed from Getty Images

2) Can Emmanuel Saina & Ruth Chepngetich replicate their out-of-nowhere breakthroughs from last fall?

One year ago, the only people who had heard of Emmanuel Saina and Ruth Chepngetich were either: a) related to them; b) a race organizer or agent); or c) a super die-hard fan of distance running.

Then last fall, both athletes made headlines for posting ridiculously fast marathon times in unlikely places. On September 23, Saina ran 2:05:21 in his marathon debut in Buenos Aires, the fastest ever marathon run in South America, and we spent a good portion of that week’s Week That Was trying to figure out exactly how it happened (the wind may have helped). Seven weeks later, Chepngetich dropped her PR from 2:22:36 to 2:18:35 to win the Istanbul Marathon and move into a tie for #7 on the all-time list.

How big of an outlier was Chepngetich’s performance? Well, it was the fastest women’s time ever run outside of a World Marathon Major. In fact, of the 28 fastest performances of all time, only two have come outside of a WMM/Dubai: Chepngetich’s 2:18:35 in Istanbul, and Tiki Gelana‘s 2:18:58 at 2012 Rotterdam.

One more thing Saina and Chepngetich have in common: they’re both represented by Federico Rosa, who has become notorious for representing a string of high-profile athletes who have tested positive for PEDs, including Rita JeptooJemima Sumgong, and Asbel Kiprop. The fact that Rosa is their agent may explain why Saina and Chepngetich are running Dubai instead of a picking up a nice appearance fee at a World Marathon Major this spring — some WMM race directors may be skeptical of a “breakthrough” performance from a Rosa athlete after being burned by Jeptoo and Sumgong in the past.

3) Will anyone bust out as a new marathon star? What will 2011 10k world champ Ibrahim Jeilan do in his debut?

Over the years, Dubai has developed a reputation for producing unlikely champions as men such as Ayele AbsheroTsegaye Mekonnen, and Tesfay Abera, have entered the race as total unknowns and emerged with fast PRs and big fat winner’s checks. Will anyone follow in their footsteps this year?

In a way, it’s impossible to answer that question — the definition of a surprise champion is that we aren’t able to predict it before the race. And in the men’s race, there’s so much talent up front — Adola, Saina, and Ethiopians Asefa Mengstu (2:04:06 for 4th last year), Sisay Lemma (2:04:08 for 5th last year), and Lemi Berhanu (2015 Dubai champ, 2016 Boston champ) — that the win will likely go to one of those guys.

Embed from Getty Images

There are a few not-quite-as-established marathoners who could threaten, however. Let’s run through them:

  • Kelkile Gezahegn, Ethiopia (2:05:56 pb): Winning Dubai would count as a “breakthrough” for the 22-year-old Gezahegn, but only because he has yet to face a field this strong. Since debuting in 2016, he’s won seven of his 10 marathons, and his 2018 season couldn’t have gone much better: a 2:05:56 pb for third in Rotterdam in April, a 2:11:00 win in Lanzhou in June, and a 2:06:37 win in Frankfurt in October. The only concern? Dubai will be his fourth marathon in 10 months.
    Of course, Gezahegn is a marathoner through and through. He may be the only person we’ve ever seen on the results database tilastopaja.eu with only marathon result. The site lists 10 career marathons for him and all 10 are marathons – 4 in 2016, and three in each of 2017 and 2018.
  • Ibrahim Jeilan, Ethiopia (debut): Remember this guy? Jeilan, who beat out Mo Farah for the 10k world title in 2011 (and took silver behind him two years later), has basically disappeared since taking 8th at World XC in 2017. He raced only twice last year, and neither were particularly impressive: he could manage only 29:20 for 10k on the roads in October, finishing over a minute behind race winner Jacob Kiplimo. Jeilan hasn’t even run a half since 2014, so we have no idea what to expect in his marathon debut (his half pb is 61:47).
  • Getaneh Molla, Ethiopia (debut): Molla would seem a lot better suited to debut than Jeilan. He’s still got some track speed (12:59 in Brussels last year) but also ran 60:47 in Valencia last year to finish 5th at the World Half champs. Expect him to run with the leaders in Dubai.

4) Which Sub-2:20 Woman Will Win The Women’s Title?

On the women’s side, Ruth Chepngetich (2:18:35)  and Worknesh Degefa (2:19:53) are certainly the ones to beat on paper.

However, if one of them falters, there are five women coming in after running big PRs in their last race: Sintayehu Lewetegn (2:30:29 to 2:22:45), Birke Debele (2:29:45 to 2:25:28), Muluhabt Tsega (2:28:08 to 2:25:48), and Waganesh Mekasha (2:29:18 to 2:25:57). Plus there’s Rahma Tusa, who PR’d last spring in Rome (2:25:12 to 2:23:46) before finishing 5th in New York last fall. Generally, if you run a big PR in a smaller marathon with little competition, it means that you’re positioned to run another PR in a bigger, faster marathon, but it’s a big jump from 2:22-3 to 2:18-19, and even bigger jump from 2:25 to 2:18-10.

And while it’s unlikely that every single one of these women PRs again in Dubai, simple probability suggests that at least one of them will improve even more, perhaps enough to win Dubai. We just won’t know which one until race day.

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MB: Official 2019 Dubai Marathon Discussion Thread

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