January 24, 2020
With one kilometer to go in Friday’s Dubai Marathon, 11 men ran in a tightly-bunched lead pack. One of them would earn $100,000 for winning the race; one of them would finish 11th and earn nothing.
Unheralded Olika Adugna Bikila of Ethiopia kicked best, using a late move on the final turn to pass Kenya’s Eric Kiptanui and win in his debut in 2:06:15 (Kiptanui, also making his debut, was second in 2:06:17). The odd man out Ethiopia’s Beshah Yerssie Eskezia, who finished 11th, though he did pick up a small consolation: with a time of 2:06:34, he became the fastest 11th-place finisher in history. A time that would have stood as the world record as recently as 1998 is now a complete afterthought, not worth even a single cent of prize money.
Just another day in the post-Vaporfly marathon world.
While the depth in Dubai would have registered as staggering a few years ago, the rise of the Nike Vaporflys — the top 11 men all wore them on Friday — made it seem routine. Four marathons in history have seen 11 men break 2:08; three have taken place in the last four months.
The runner-up in Dubai was Kenyan debutante Eric Kiptanui. The 30-year old, who retired for the sport for 5+ years but has since come back and run 3:37 for 1500 and 58:42 for the half, took the lead at the 2:03:54 mark and held it for roughly 50 seconds before Adugna pulled away.
While Adugna’s victory was far from expected — the 20-year-old came in with a half marathon pb of just 61:43 — it fit the pattern in Dubai, which has come to be known for breakthrough victories by little-known Ethiopians. The women’s result was more predictable: Ethiopia’s Worknesh Degefa entered as a heavy favorite, with a 2:17:41 PR, over two minutes faster than anyone else in the field, and big city victories in Dubai (2017) and Boston (2019).
As she did in Boston, Degefa went to the front early and was never challenged. Though she slowed after an aggressive start (she was on 2:16:31 pace through 15k and hit halfway in 68:36), Degefa hung on to win by 33 seconds in 2:19:38 over countrywoman Guteni Shone, who took over three minutes off her PR in the 17th marathon of her career to run 2:20:11.
Quick take analysis below.
Quick Take: Another year, another unknown men’s champ in Dubai
Every year, a dozen or so Ethiopian marathoners head to Dubai in January in search of a big payday. And every year, one of them — usually someone only familiar to the most hardcore running fans — takes home a giant check and a fast PR.
Olika Adugna is the fifth man in the last nine years to win Dubai in his debut. Here’s a look at how the other four have fared since their big wins (none have ever run faster than they did in Dubai):
2012 Ayele Abshero (2:04:23): DNF’d at the 2012 Olympics, then finished 3rd at 2013 London and 4th at 2014 London. Fastest time since Dubai win is 2:06:57. Hasn’t run a World Marathon Major since 2014, but still a prolific racer; just ran 2:08:20 for 2nd in Mumbai last week.
2013 Lelisa Desisa (2:04:45): One of the best marathoners of the 2010s, he’s won New York, Worlds, and Boston twice. 2:04:45 remains his PR.
2014 Tsegaye Mekonnen (2:04:32): Best major finish is 5th (2014 London) in four appearances. Hasn’t broken 2:07 since January 2016 and hasn’t raced at all since November 2018, though he’s still only 24 years old officially.
2019 Getaneh Molla (2:03:34): Hasn’t raced a marathon since his debut last year, though he did run 8:18 for two miles at the Pre Classic last June.
Considering Adugna was wearing the 2018 Nike pro singlet today, it would appear that he does not currently have a shoe contract. That should change soon.
Quick Take: Degefa’s hot streak rolls on
Worknesh Degefa has never run a bad marathon: in five career starts, she has either won or run a personal best every time out. Her last three have been particularly impressive: a 2:17:41 Ethiopian record at 2019 Dubai, a win at 2019 Boston, and now a 2:19:38 win at 2020 Dubai. She looks a strong contender for the Ethiopian Olympic team, but before that she’s headed back to Boston in April to defend her title.
Our only concern after this one is she appeared to have a slight limp at the end of this one. As was the case in Boston, her big lead dwindled at the end. Up by 1:30 at 35k, she lost 57 seconds in the final 7.2 k and 19 seconds in last 2.2k.
Quick Take: As deep as the men’s race was, 2012 Dubai was even more impressive
As mentioned above, when we noticed that 11 men were still in the lead pack with 1k to go, we started to feel really bad for whoever was going to finish 11th as 11th in Dubai takes home zero in prize money.
In the end, Beshah Yerssie Eskezia took home zero in prize money in 2:06:34 but did set a world record of sorts as the fastest 11th placer in marathon history, destroying the 2:07:28 it took to place 11th in Dubai in 2012. It also was a big pb as his previous pb was 2:08:37.
The 2012 Dubai race was phenomenal in terms of depth. In the pre-Vaporfly era, four men broke 2:05, four more broke 2:06 as 8th was 2:05:42 (still the best 8th place in any marathon), 9th ran 2:06:17 (still the best 9th place ever) and 10th ran 2:06:29 (still the best 10th place ever).
And if you are looking for the best depth up front, then 2018 Dubai takes the prize as it still holds the all-time best times for place for 4th (2:04:06), 5th (2:04:08), 6th (2:04:15), and 7th (2:04:44). It’s worth noting that 2018 was the last year the Dubai Marathon was huge. Last year, the overall prize money was cut from $816,000 to $385,000 with first place prize money reduced from $200,000 to $100,000.
Quick Take: Maybe this will help put the men’s depth in perspective
At halfway, 24 men were in the lead pack and hit 13.1 miles between 62:43-62:46. Nineteen of those men were Ethiopian. In the history of the world, only two Americans have ever gone out in sub-63:00 in a records-eligible marathon, according to agent Dan Lilot (Ryan Hall went out in 61:54 in Boston in 2011, though the first half of that course is significantly downhill and Hall had a huge wind at his back).
Only three Americans — Ryan Hall, Khalid Khannouchi, and Galen Rupp — have ever run 2:06 in the marathon, something that 10 Ethiopians achieved today in Dubai.
Quick Take: Hawi Feysa runs 2:23
The most notable debut on the women’s side was achieved by 6th placer Hawi Feysa of Ethiopia. The 20-year-old, who ran 14:38 for 5000 in Hengelo last year before getting 8th at Worlds, ran 2:23:36.
6th place in Dubai only pays $4,500. One might wonder with such low prize money how long Dubai can keep attracting tons of talent, but by running a fast time, a runner can greatly help their world ranking. And a high world ranking is key to getting invited to other marathons as races need highly-ranked runners to keep their status (platinum, gold, silver, etc).
Quick Take: Race commentators Paula Radcliffe and Tim Hutchings had some interesting things to say about the Vaporfly controversy
It’s clear that neither is a big fan of what the shoes are doing to the sport of marathoning. We don’t have time to transcribe what they said in the second half of the race so listen below (Audio only).
Radcliffe was asked whether times run in Vaporflys should be annulled by World Athletics, should the shoes be banned. She said she believes they should stand — even though annulling the times would mean she’d get her world record back.
“I think it would be very, very harsh to do that, given the number of performances [in the Vaporflys],” Radcliffe said. “There’s too many.”
Brigid Kosgei ran 2:14:04 in the Vaporflys in Chicago last year to break Radcliffe’s 2:15:25 world record, though Kosgei’s time has not yet been ratified by World Athletics.
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