2020 Dubai Marathon Preview: Will the Course Records Fall For the Third Straight Year?

By Jonathan Gault
January 22, 2020

It’s a good week to be a running fan. The pro indoor track circuit returns this weekend with the Dr. Sander Invitational in New York and the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston, and on Thursday night, we get an appetizer with the Dubai Marathon. Though it’s not the most historic race or the most challenging course (flat with only six turns), Dubai always cranks out fast times and sets the tone as the year’s first major (but not technically an Abbott World Marathon Major) marathon.

The names in this year fields aren’t all familiar, but the depth is certainly there again in 2020: there are 11 sub-2:08 men entered — among major marathons in 2019, only Boston (15) had more. On the women’s side, Boston Marathon champ Worknesh Degefa returns to Dubai, where she ran 2:17:41 to finish second last year, to lead a field of six sub-2:24 women. There’s also $100,000 for the win — one of the richest first-place prizes in marathoning, and life-changing money for most of these athletes.

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Race details below, followed by a few things to watch in Dubai.

What: 2020 Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon
When: Friday, January 24, 6:00 a.m. UAE Standard Time (9:00 p.m. ET, Thursday, January 23)
Where: Dubai, United Arab Emirates
How to watch: You can watch a free live stream right here on LetsRun.com

Men’s elite field (sub-2:08)

Name Country PB Note
Soloman DEKSISA Gonfa Ethiopia 2:04:40 Won Mumbai & Hamburg in ’18; 2nd Amsterdam in Oct
Seifu TURA Abdiwak Ethiopia 2:04:44 PR came at ’18 Dubai; 6th Chicago in Oct
Suguru OSAKO Japan 2:05:50 Only planning on running 20-25k here ahead of Tokyo Marathon
Andualem BELAY Shiferaw Ethiopia 2:06:00 Has won last 4 marathons, including PR in Lisbon in Oct
Tadu ABATE Deme Ethiopia 2:06:13 Won Hamburg, 6th Amsterdam in ’19
Aychew BANTIE Dessie Ethiopia 2:06:23 Coming off win in Hengshui in Sep
Tsedat ABEJE Ayana Ethiopia 2:06:36 Ran 2:06 PR to win Seville last year
Belay ASEFA Bedada Ethiopia 2:06:39 Runner-up behind Abeje in Seville
Limenih GETACHEW Yizengaw Ethiopia 2:06:49 5th Barcelona, 3rd Shanghai in ’19
Yitayal ATNAFU Zerihun Ethiopia 2:07:00 2nd in Houston & Istanbul in ’19
Balew YIHUNIE Derseh Ethiopia 2:07:22
Olika ADUGNA Bikila Ethiopia DEBUT 5th in 10k at ’18 World U20 champs
Abe GASHAHUN Tilahun Ethiopia DEBUT 7:45/13:19 pbs but only 65:47 in only HM
Tefera MOSISA Midekssa Ethiopia DEBUT Won both of his half marathons last year (61:12 pb)
Eric Kiprono KIPTANUI Kenya DEBUT 58:42 half pb makes him T-#7 all-time
Zewudu HAILU Bekele Ethiopia DEBUT 62:06 half

Women’s elite field (sub-2:29)

Name Country PB Note
Worknesh DEGEFA Debele Ethiopia 2:17:41 LRC’s #3 marathoner in ’19 after 2nd Dubai, 1st Boston
Bezunesh DEBA Dejene Ethiopia 2:19:59 Boston CR holder hasn’t been relevant for 5 years
Bedatu HIRPA Badane Ethiopia 2:21:32 5th in Tokyo last year in WMM debut
Dera DIDA Yami Ethiopia 2:21:45 7th last year in marathon debut
Guteni SHONE Amana Ethiopia 2:23:32 5 years since her last PR
Dibabe KUMA Lema Ethiopia 2:23:34
Tigist ABAYECHEW Jabore Ethiopia 2:24:15 Went from 2:30 to 2:24 last year in Istanbul
Hayimanot ALEMAYEHU Shewe Ethiopia 2:25:51 Hasn’t broken 2:25 in 14 career marathons
Yenenesh TILAHUN Dinkesa Ethiopia 2:25:51 2:25 in debut in Seville last year
Obse ABDETA Deme Ethiopia 2:27:47 3rd in Shanghai in debut in Nov
Buze DIRIBA Kejela Ethiopia 2:28:06 Veteran road racer running ran 2:28 in debut at ’19 Houston
Hawi FEYSA Gejia Ethiopia DEBUT 14:38 5k pb; has never raced beyond 15k

1) Does the course record streak continue?

In each of the last two years, both the men’s and women’s course records have gone down in Dubai (the streak is actually three in a row on the men’s side), mirroring the overall drop in elite marathon times across the globe.

Year Men’s winner Time Women’s winner Time
2017 Tamirat Tola 2:04:11 Worknesh Degefa 2:22:36*
2018 Mosinet Geremew 2:04:00 Roza Dereje 2:19:17
2019 Getaneh Molla 2:03:34 Ruth Chepngetich 2:17:08

*not a course record

Those CRs are now quite formidable. 2:03:34 is the 16th-fastest men’s marathon ever run, while 2:17:08 is the fourth-fastest marathon time among women. It will take some effort to lower those marks on Friday. But considering how fast marathoners are running these days with the improved shoe technology — nine men broke 2:04 worldwide in 2019, more than the previous seven years combined — no one should rush to etch those CRs in stone. Conditions on Friday (67 degrees, 73% humidity, 6 mph wind at gun time) shouldn’t prevent anyone from running fast.

2) Who wins the men’s race?

Many athletes use Dubai as a stepping stone in their careers: show up, run a fast time, and use the performance to boost their appearance fees at major marathons. But since Dubai itself rarely offers appearance fees (outside of the years Haile Gebrselassie or Kenenisa Bekele showed up), the winner doesn’t always return to defend their title and it can be hard to predict a favorite from what is always a deep field.

This year’s men’s race is wide open. Ethiopia’s Solomon Deksisa, coming off a runner-up finish in Amsterdam, is the fastest in the field by PR (2:04:40), but seven other men have run within two minutes of his best. Realistically, any of those guys could win, but two stand out as particularly intriguing.

The first is another Ethiopian, Andualem Belay. Entering 2019, Belay had run 14 marathons, breaking 2:11 just once (2:09:59 at 2015 Dubai). Then Belay, now 27, dropped a 2:08:16 pb to win the Castellon Marathon in Spain, followed by a 2:08:51 victory in Riga and another huge PR of 2:06:00 to win Lisbon in October, breaking the course record in all three instances. That’s a pretty unbelievable breakthrough for a guy who was a relatively mediocre marathoner before last year, but after his 2019 campaign, he’s clearly among the favorites in Dubai.

Embed from Getty Images

The other guy to keep an eye on is Eric Kiptanui — the only Kenyan in the elite field. Kiptanui trained under Brother Colm O’Connell at the famed St. Patrick’s High School in Iten, but then left the sport for five years to join the military. He returned in 2015 and is now coached by Renato Canova, under whom he ran 58:42 in the half (T-#7 all-time) in 2018. He wasn’t quite as successful in the half last year — after winning Barcelona in February, he failed to break 62:00 in his next two half marathons — though he did run 13:11 and 27:33 on the track. Four of the last eight Dubai champs have been debutants, and should Kiptanui regain his 2018 form, he could add his name to that list. (For more on Kiptanui, the NN Running Team has an article about him on their website).

If you read through the elite field above, you’ll notice Japan’s Suguru Osako is also entered. He is not a threat to win, however: he is using Dubai as a tuneup for March’s Tokyo Marathon and will drop out around halfway, according to his coach Pete Julian.

3) Worknesh Degefa kicks off a busy 2020

Degefa celebrating her 2019 Boston title with men’s champ Lawrence Cherono

Unlike the men’s race, there is a clear favorite on the women’s side: Worknesh Degefa. The Ethiopian, who won Boston last year, has raced Dubai three times and has run a PR each time: a debut 2:22 win in 2017, 2:19 for 4th in 2018, and 2:17 for 2nd last year. With reigning Dubai champ Ruth Chepngetich opting for London instead this year, Degefa is the class of the Dubai field.

While Degefa is the fifth-fastest woman of all time, only one other woman entered in Dubai has broken 2:21: Buzunesh Deba, the 2014 Boston Marathon champ who hasn’t done anything of note since finishing 3rd in Boston in 2015. Barring a major breakthrough, Degefa should roll here.

Degefa hasn’t raced a marathon since her Boston victory last April, but Friday’s race could kick off a busy stretch for her. In addition to Dubai, she’s set to defend her Boston title on April 20. Should she run well enough in those two, she could be selected to run the Olympic marathon in Sapporo on August 2. That would be three top-quality marathons in just over six months. Maybe she should talk to Des Linden about how to approach that triple?

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