Julien Wanders (59:13) Shatters European Record; Stephen Kiprop (58:42) and Senbere Teferi (65:45) Win 2019 RAK Half

By LetsRun.com
February 8, 2019

Since its inception in 2007, the RAK Half Marathon has developed a reputation as one of the world’s top half marathons, and the 2019 edition showed why: fast times, two thrilling races decided in the final 100 meters, a record number of sub-60 finishers in a single race (11) and to top it all off, a European record. Not bad for a single morning’s racing.

In the men’s race, Kenya’s Stephen Kiprop, 20, erased a five-meter deficit with 200 meters to go to blow by Ethiopia’s Abadi Hadis, the 21-year old 12:56 5ker, and win in 58:42 to Hadis’ 58:44 and tie the event record set by Bedan Karoki last year (this year’s race was contested on a new course). We timed him unofficially in 56 flat for his last 400. Kiprop, who came in with a 59:21 pb, moves into a tie with Karoki and Erick Kiptanui for 7th on the world all-time list, while Hadis, who also ran 58:44 in Valencia last year, dropped into a tie for 10th.

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A little farther back, Switzerland’s 22-year-old Julien Wanders lost the battle for third (Ethiopia’s Fikadu Haftu, who ran 59:08, outsprinted him over the final kilometer) but came away with a European record of 59:13, smashing 21 seconds off Mo Farah’s previous mark from 2015 (Farah also ran 59:22 at the 2015 Great North Run, though that course was not record-eligible). Not only was Wanders’ time a European record, but it also represented the fastest time ever by someone born outside of Africa; the previous best was 59:33 held by Brazil’s Marilson dos Santos. The fastest time by an European-born runner prior to today belonged to Portugal’s Antonio Pinto at 59:43 (which is the same time as Ryan Hall’s American record).

Behind Wanders, 7 more men broke 60:00, bringing the total to 11 – the most in history for a single race (previous record was 10 from Valencia last year).

The big move came at 10 kilometers, which a large lead pack hit in 28:10. The rabbit stepped off shortly thereafter, and Hadis seized control, ripping his next 5k in 13:38, a move that only Kiprop could match. Kiprop continued to sit on Hadis as they approached the finish, but Hadis managed to open a gap of around three meters as they hit 20 kilometers and was threatening to pull away.

But the stubborn Kiprop would never let that lead grow beyond about two seconds, and with just over 100 meters remaining, he made his move. A stunned Hadis had no response and could only watch as Kiprop pulled away to win by two seconds.

Women’s Race

The women’s race was equally thrilling, with 2015 World Champs 5k silver medalist Senbere Teferi — running her first ever half marathon (though she did run a marathon last year) — outsprinting world half marathon champ Netsanet Gudeta and 20-year-old Zeineba Yimer (5th at 2018 World Half) to win in an Ethiopian blanket finish. Both Teferi and Gudeta were clocked at 65:45, with Yimer a second behind in third.

Teferi celebrates

Those three had separated from the field during the final 5k of the race and would run together until Teferi and Yimer launched into their kicks with 400 meters to go, edging just ahead of Gudeta. Gudeta would battle back and re-pass Yimer just before the line, but could not catch Teferi, who owns a 4:01 1500 best and ran a PR of 14:23 for 5,000 on the track last year. We clocked Teferi’s final 400 in an unofficial 63 seconds.

2016 world half champ Peres Jepchirchir, who set the world record at RAK in 2017, was 6th in 67:36 after taking 2018 off to have a child.

Both the men and women raced in nearly ideal weather conditions as it was 54 degrees Fahrenheit at the start (12 C) with a dewpoint of just 39 (4 C) at the start. The humidity was 65% and the wind just 3 mph.

Quick Take: The closes in these races (if accurate) were very impressive

Hadis couldn’t quite break Kiprop

There were four inflatable markers on the side of the course at 100-meter intervals over the final 400. We went back and timed the final 400 of both the men’s and women’s races using those markers. When we told LetsRun.com stat guru John Kellogg, that we timed the men’s winner in 56.0 and women’s winner in 63.5, he was surprised and said that anything under 60 for a race not too far off world record time would be very good. He wondered if the measurements were accurate as he said both closes seemed “awfully fast.”

Quick Take: Wanders’ run backs up what we said recently — if you want to be great, you must be willing to move across the world

Julien Wanders – Photo courtesy of NN Running Team

We went to the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix last month, where we saw dominant wins by Yomif Kejelcha and Konstanze Klosterhalfen — an Ethiopian and a German who moved halfway across the world in order to maximize their potential. After that race, we noted that while talent is important, so is desire: Kejelcha and Klosterhalfen, like Mo Farah before them, uprooted their lives with the sole purpose of becoming better runners.

Wanders did the same thing, moving to Kenya at age 18 with a 5k PR of 14:06, and his results the last two years have shown that it was the right decision. Last year, he broke the European 10k road record twice, running 27:32 in October and 27:25 in December, clocked a 60:09 HM pb in Barcelona, and finished 8th at the World Half Champs — the only non-African-born runner in the top 20. Now he’s the European record holder in the half marathon.

Could Wanders have done all that in Switzerland? Well it’s possible; we’ll never know for sure. But we don’t think it’s a coincidence that the fastest European half marathoner ever and the fastest European-born marathoner ever (Norway’s Sondre Nordstad Moen) both spend most of the year training in Kenya.

We’d love to see what would happen if you took the top 10 finishers at NXN from this year and made them spend the next four years in Kenya (note: this is just a thought experiment!). Perhaps that would help the US find its next sub-2:10 marathoner.

After the race, we caught up with Wanders in an exclusive interview, which you can view here: LRC Julien Wanders Reacts After SMASHING European Half Marathon Record With A 59:13

Stephen Kiprop after the race

Quick Take: Shoes aren’t everything

A lot has been made recently about Nike’s Vaporfly 4% shoes (we’ve certainly contributed to it), with both winners in last month’s Dubai Marathon (both of whom smashed the course record) wearing the shoes. But while there were plenty of runners wearing the Vaporflys in today’s race, neither of the winners were among them. Proof that you can still run fast in shoes other than the Vaporfly (Julien Wanders, for the record, was wearing the Vaporflys).

Leading Results (More results here)

More results can be found here.

Miss the race? Watch a full race replay here.

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