Yalemzerf Yehualaw’s Half Marathon WR Won’t be Ratified, Both Her and Gidey Confident They Can Break World Record in Valencia

By Jonathan Gault
October 22, 2021

Yalemzerf Yehualaw flew to Valencia hoping to break her second world record.

Turns out, she’s still waiting on her first.

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On Friday, Yalemzerf discovered that the 63:44 she ran at the Antrim Coast Half Marathon in Northern Ireland on August 29 was not ratified as a world record by World Athletics because the course was 54 meters short. Had Yehualaw kept up her pace for the extra 54 meters, she would have run 63:53 — still well under Ruth Chepngetich‘s 64:02 from the Istanbul Half Marathon in April. But since the course was short, the record will revert to Chepngetich — probably. Chepngetich’s time hasn’t been ratified yet either, though there are no known issues with the mark. The current ratified world record is Ababel Yeshaneh‘s 64:31 from the 2020 RAK Half Marathon.

Yalemzerf’s world-record-that-wasn’t was the biggest news to emerge on Friday in the leadup to Sunday’s epic Valencia Half Marathon where she will face 5,000 and 10,000m world record holder Letesenbet Gidey, but there are a few more storylines worth highlighting ahead of the race. Let’s run through them quickly.

Yehualaw & Gidey expect battle for the world record

Yehualaw and Gidey are ready to roll in Valencia (courtesy Medio Marathon Valencia)

We already knew, from speaking to Yehualaw’s agent Daan van den Berg, that the world record was on Yehualaw’s mind entering Valencia. The question was whether the other big star in Sunday’s women’s race, 5,000/10,000 world record holder Gidey, would also be targeting the world record in her half marathon debut.

A year ago, Gidey traveled to Valencia to run the 5,000 meters as the undercard to Joshua Cheptegei‘s 10,000-meter world record attempt. No one was quite sure what to expect until Gidey asserted in the pre-race press conference, politely but firmly, “I think I will break the record,” referring to Tirunesh Dibaba‘s 14:11.15 that had stood for 12 years.

Sure enough, Gidey ran 14:06.62 two days later and the record was hers.

So when Gidey was asked whether she could break the world record in her half marathon debut in Valencia, it was worth paying attention to her answer.

“This is my first time [running a] half marathon,” Gidey said. “But I can do it.”

It’s not unprecedented for someone to run faster than the world record in their first half marathon. In fact, it happened not even a year ago in Valencia, when Rhonex Kipruto clocked 57:49 in the men’s race, better than Geoffrey Kamworor‘s 58:01 WR. But Kipruto was only the third man across the line on that day, and a similar fate could await Gidey as Yehualaw enters Valencia in outstanding form. And from the sounds of it, she is even more confident than Gidey.

“I’m ready for the competition,” Yehualaw said in Friday’s press conference. “Breaking world record? No problem.”

64:02 will be the time to beat, but both Yehualaw and Gidey flew to Valencia thinking that the WR was a good deal faster than that.

“To be honest, I think both ladies have already set their minds for under 63:44,” says Gidey’s agent Valentijn Trouw. “And I think the focus is the same.”

How low can the world record ultimately go?

In the last eight years, the women’s half marathon world record has been broken seven times, shaving a total of 1:48 off the record. The redirection of top talent from the track to the road and the supershoe revolution are the two engines powering that record spree, and the question now is where the record will reach equilibrium. Once Yehualaw, Gidey, and all of the other top talents have had a crack at it in the new shoes over the next two or three years, it’s pretty clear that it will be faster than 64:02.

When asked on Friday about how fast women could one day run, both Yehualaw and Gidey said the same thing: sub-63:00.

A few years ago, that time would have been laughable. And it’s still an incredibly aggressive goal, but recent advancements in women’s running suggest that a 62-minute half isn’t as crazy as it once seemed. Someone from 2016 would have a hard time believing the 10,000-meter and marathon world records would get down to 29:01.03 and 2:14:04, yet five years later, here we stand.

Of course, the half marathon world record has already seen a significant improvement since 2016. So how does sub-63:00 stack up? World Athletics scoring tables say a 62:58 half marathon is worth 1323 points — equivalent to 13:40.39 in the 5,000, 28:40.10 in the 10,000, and 2:11:28 in the marathon. We’re not close to 13:40 or 2:11, but 28:40 is no longer a fantasy time. In the span of three days in June, Gidey and Sifan Hassan ran 29:01 and 29:06; both conceivably could have gone under 29:00 had the Wavelight system been set for a faster pace.

WA scoring tables aren’t everything, but when you put two great athletes on a fast course in good weather, special things happen. Last year in Valencia, the men’s WR went from 58:01 to 57:32. It wouldn’t be surprising to see a similar improvement on the women’s WR on Sunday.

There is one American running in Valencia, Frank Lara. And he said he wants to break the American record. That gets its own story here.

The LetsRun.com broke down Valencia in depth on the Friday 15 Supporters Club podcast below.

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