2014 Mattoni Usti nad Labem Half Marathon (© Organisers)
The Kenyan talents of Peres Jepchirchir and Daniel Chebii will complete a busy week competing in Czech races when they line up for the fifth edition of the Mattoni Usti nad Labem Half Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, on Saturday (12).
Fresh from their triumphs in the Birell Prague Grand Prix 10k last Saturday, where Jepchirchir ran the fastest women’s 10km of the year with 30:55 and Chebii beat a high quality men’s field in 27:42, they turn their attentions to the seventh and final race in the RunCzech series for 2015.
Having run so impressively in the Czech capital, much will be expected of Jepchirchir.
Her best for the half marathon is 1:09:12 and she will be looking to improve on that; and also recuce the women’s course record of 1:09:08, set by another Kenyan, Josephine Chepkoech, in 2013.
Impressively, Jepchirchir ran almost even 5km splits in Prague so that suggests that she has a good feel for high-level pace judgement despite her relative inexperience internationally.
Reflecting on her development, she acknowledges the value of training in the same group as Mary Keitany in the Kenya town of Iten.
Jepchirchir credits the African record holder in the marathon and 2009 world half marathon champion with passing on important principles.
“I learned the importance from her of hard work and also when to rest. It’s boosted my confidence just to know I can train alongside her,” commented Jepchirchir.
Her rivals include Caroline Kilel, the winner of the 2011 Boston Marathon. The Kenyan has proven ability at the shorter distance, finishing fourth at the 2009 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships
Also coming into the reckoning could be another rising young Kenyan talent, Linah Cheruto.
Cheruto finished over a minute adrift as the runner-up to her compatriot in Prague last Saturday but has solid half marathon credentials with a best time of 1:10:22.
Bahrain's Shitaye Eshete will be be making her half marathon debut and is having only her second race on the roads (she had two on the track in April) after a maternity break in 2014. She finished a solid fourth in Prague a week ago.
A contender from Ethiopia is Amane Beriso, not at her best last week but with a 1:08:43 half marathon to her credit.
More than one Masai to look out for
Chebii remarked after his 10km victory last weekend that he was “only 70 per cent fit” after spending much of 2014 on the injured list but his rivals in Usti will recognise his talent only too well.
Gilbert Masai, also from Kenya, finished three seconds behind Chebii in Prague and their personal bests for the half marathon are comparable, although Chebii could claim home advantage of a kind as his 59:49 best was set on Czech soil when winning the Mattoni Ceske Budejovice Half Marathon in 2012, while Masai ran his fastest time of 59:57 to finish fifth in Lille the same year.
However, it’s another Masai who is the fastest man going into the race: Titus Masai.
He didn’t show his best form over 10km last week in Prague but ran 59:41 for third place in the Rome Half Marathon last year.
Elijah Tirop is another to add into the reckoning, having won the Mattoni Karlovy Vary Half Marathon in late May.
Chebii, though, is confident and knows the course, after having finished sixth here two years ago: “If I can break my best of 59:49, I know I am primed for a marathon debut either later this year or next.” The men’s course record stands at 1:00:38, set by Philemon Limo in 2013.
Andy Edwards (organisers) for the IAAF