2022 Valencia Half Marathon Preview: Kibiwott Kandie Leads Field with FIVE Sub-59 Men
By Jonathan Gault
October 20, 2022
The Valencia Half Marathon has quickly developed a reputation as one of the fastest races in the world. In each of the last two editions, the world record has gone down — in 2020, Kenya’s Kibiwott Kandie ran 57:32 to set the men’s WR (since broken) and last year Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey produced arguably the greatest performance in the history of women’s distance running by clocking 62:52 to take 70 seconds off the women’s WR.
And it’s not just the winners who run fast in Valencia. The women’s runner-up in Valencia last year, Yalemzerf Yehualaw, ran 63:51 — the #2 performance of all time. On the men’s side, eight of the 10 fastest half marathoners in history set their personal bests in Valencia. The depth is beyond absurd. In 2020, Philemon Kiplimo ran 58:11 in Valencia which, at the time, put him #6 on the all-time half marathon list. He finished 5th.
What in the world is going on?
As usual, there’s more than one cause driving the fast times in Valencia. Here are a few of them:
- People come to Valencia to run fast. Valencia is not a “check-your-fitness-ahead-of-your-fall-marathon” kind of race. It’s a fast course, and the athletes racing there will typically make it the focal point of their fall season.
- The fields are loaded. With billionaire Juan Roig bankrolling the race, no half marathon has deeper pockets than Valencia. Fast athletes + fast course = fast times.
- Shoe technology keeps improving. Of the top 25 men’s and top 25 women’s half marathon times, only two came before 2017 (Zersenay Tadese‘s 58:31 from 2011 and Sammy Wanjiru‘s 58:33 from 2007). Guess what year super shoes were introduced?
The 2022 Valencia Half Marathon will be held on Sunday, and it’s a sign of how fast Valencia has been over the last two years that elite athlete coordinator Marc Roig was almost apologetic in saying that there may not be a world record this year.
“World records cannot be achieved every year,” Roig said when announcing this year’s elite field, “and Valencia’s level featuring the world’s second best record for males and the WR for females means we should demand a lot but not pressure ourselves with new world records.”
Putting aside the world record hype, the races should still be super competitive — especially on the men’s side, which features World Half silver medalist Kibiwott Kandie (57:32 pb), fellow Kenyan Sebastian Sawe (58:02 pb), three more sub-59:00 guys and former NCAA stars like Edward Cheserek, Cam Levins, and Ben Flanagan. On the women’s side, Houston Half champ Vicoty Chepngeno (65:03 pb) is the top entrant on paper, though Worlds 10,000 bronze medalist Margaret Chelimo (65:26) and German debutante Konstanze Klosterhalfen are also entered.
UPDATE: Milkesa Mengesha (58:58 pb) and Bosena Mulatie (65:46 pb) have both scratched.
Here are a few things to watch in this year’s race.
1) Who wins a stacked men’s race?
The men’s race features the #2 (Kibiwott Kandie, 57:32), #9 (Daniel Mateiko, 58:26), #10 (Kennedy Kimutai, 58:28), and #11 (Rodgers Kwemoi, 58:30) athletes on the all-time list in the half marathon. Yet there’s a distinct possibility none of those men wins on Sunday as the field is very deep behind them.
Kandie has shown the highest ceiling — his silver at the 2020 World Half and 57:32 at the 2020 Valencia Half are better than anything anyone else in the field has done. He has some strong performances at other distances this year, including a 26:50 for 10k on the roads in April and a 27:33 win at the Kenyan World Champs trials on the track at altitude in June.
Yet in Kandie’s last race, an attempt at the one-hour world record in Brussels in September, he was convincingly beaten by another guy in the Valencia field: Sebastian Sawe of Kenya. Sawe has been on fire in 2022, running 59:02 to win the Seville Half in January and 58:02 to win Rome-Ostia, as well as clocking 26:54 on the roads and 27:09 on the track in between.
Sawe is part of the high-powered Kapsabet training group of Claudio Berardelli that features 2022 Boston champ Evans Chebet, 2022 London champ Amos Kipruto, and 2022 Chicago champ Benson Kipruto. One note of caution: Sawe is, according to his World Athletics profile, 27 years old, yet before 2022 his most notable result was a 13:42 track 5k from 2019. He raced just once in 2020 and not at all in 2021. That’s a huge, almost unbelievable jump from totally irrelevant to one of the best in the world.
Other candidates for the win:
- Daniel Mateiko, Kenya (58:26 pb): The top returner from last year in 3rd, Mateiko was 8th at Worlds in the 10k in July.
- Rodgers Kwemoi, Kenya (58:30 pb): Kwemoi ran his pb of 58:30 at the RAK Half in February, finishing 2nd in a deep field, but was a disappointing 15th in the 10k at Worlds.
- Yomif Kejelcha, Ethiopia (59:05 pb): He’s run 12:52 and 26:49 on the track this year. Hasn’t run a half marathon since 2019, but that was in Valencia and he won it in 59:05. Used to be that a 3:47 miler might not be able to become an elite half marathoner, but athletes like Kejelcha, Tigist Assefa, and Genzebe Dibaba are forcing us to reconsider our beliefs about range.
- Tadese Worku, Ethiopia (debut): Worku was the World U20 champ in the 3k this year and the runner-up in the Ethiopian 10k World Championship trials in June, running 26:45 on the track. His first senior Worlds didn’t go great (he finished 14th) but he’s still only 20 and is clearly a major talent.
2) Will any of the North American-based athletes pop a big one? Can Ben Flanagan or Cam Levins take the Canadian record under 61:00?
If you scroll down the Valencia entries and you’ve followed NCAA distance running over the last decade, you probably found yourself saying, Hey, I know that guy! a few times. Edward Cheserek, Cam Levins, and Ben Flanagan all won NCAA titles…Kirubel Erassa and Parker Stinson were in the mix at NCAAs…and then there are guys like Callum Hawkins, Biya Simbassa, Jack Rowe (62:04 pb), and Ed Goddard (62:16 pb) who have improved quite a bit since their time in college. (Bet you forgot Callum Hawkins ran two years at Butler).
A couple things I’ll be watching:
Does Edward Cheserek show anything?
King Ches has largely been a nonfactor on the track since turning pro in 2017. Could things go better on the roads? He’s shown some promise in the half marathon so far, finishing 2nd, 2nd, and 1st in his three races at the distance, including a 60:37 at the NYC Half in March that put him just seven seconds behind sub-58:00 man Rhonex Kipruto. That’s his pb right now, but the Valencia course is much faster than NY. How fast can he go on Sunday? If you want to be a factor in the half marathon as a Kenyan, sub-60:00 isn’t good enough these days; you have to be sub-59:00.
How fast do the Americans go?
Back in January, Kirubel Erassa turned heads by running 60:44 in his half marathon debut just two weeks after getting COVID. That put him seventh on the US all-time list and created high expectations, but the rest of 2022 has been a disaster for Erassa as he has DNF’d twice and finished well back in his other two races at the NYC Half and Peachtree Road Race. He hasn’t raced since running 29:54 on July 4 at Peachtree, but if he’s back to peak fitness we could see a time in the low-60’s.
Biya Simbassa also PR’d in Houston (61:03) and his recent results have been strong too — he was 2nd at Falmouth, 5th at the US 20k champs, then won the US 10k champs in 28:12 on September 17. Everything is in place for a quick run in Valencia.
Does the Canadian record go down?
The Canadian record stands at 61:08 by Rory Linkletter from Houston in January, but there are two guys in this field who should have a shot at it. Ben Flanagan, who ran 61:37 in Houston, is coming up from the shorter distances. He’s run 28:11 on the roads this year and won the Falmouth Road Race in September. Cam Levins, meanwhile, is coming down in distance after crushing the Canadian record by running 2:07:09 to finish 4th at Worlds in the marathon in July. If they’re ready to roll, both men should be capable of taking down Linkletter’s record — especially if they’re able to push each other during the race.
3) Who wins the women’s race?
Kenya’s Vicoty Chepngeno has the fastest pb in the field at 65:03 from her win in Houston earlier this year, but since then her results have gone backwards as she was 4th in Istanbul in 66:58 in April and then 9th in Copenhagen in 68:22 in September. Fellow Kenyan Margaret Chelimo (aka Margaret Kipkemboi) comes to Valencia in much better form. She was 4th and 3rd in the 5k and 10k at Worlds, then took 2nd in the Diamond League final and on September 17 won the Dam tot Damloop 10-miler in the Netherlands in 50:42. She’s the favorite.
Also keep an eye on Konstanze Klosterhalfen in her debut. While Worlds didn’t go her way after she was bouncing back from COVID, she returned to her medal-winning ways by winning the 5k at the European championships on home soil in Munich.