Kenyan marathoners Eliud Kipchoge, Mary Keitany and Priscah Jeptoo headline the ninth edition of the RAK Half Marathon which will be staged on an even faster course on Friday (13).
Last year, eight men broke the one hour-mark while nine women ducked under 70 minutes and, for this year's race, the course has been modified to make it even faster.
Kipchoge, at just 18, took the world 5000m title in 2003 when he beat Hicham El Guerrouj and Kenenisa Bekele – two of the all-time greats on the track – for the gold medal in Paris.
Almost 12 years later, Kipchoge has proved himself to be a ferocious competitor on the roads with three wins out of his four marathon starts, and a half marathon best of 59:25. In 2014, just his second season focusing on the classic distance, he won both the Rotterdam and Chicago Marathons.
Against him will be a field as strong as any seen in Ras Al Khaimah before.
He will face six more runners with bests faster than 60 minutes, including fellow Kenyans Jonathan Maiyo (59:02), Cyprian Kotut (59:12) and Peter Kirui (59:22).
The Ethiopian contingent includes Mosinet Geremew (59:11) and the holder of the world junior marathon best Tsegaye Mekonnen.
Mekonnen’s half marathon best stands at 1:02:41, although he passed through halfway in 1:01:39 en route to his time of 2:04:32 at the Dubai Marathon last year.
The RAK Half Marathon men’s course record is 58:52 set by Kenya’s Patrick Makau in 2009.
Keitany the women’s favourite
On the women's side too, there is an equal abundance of riches, including Keitany, the second-fastest half marathon runner in history and the favourite to take her third RAK title.
Back in 2011, Keitany set what was then a world record of 1:05:50 – which remains the course record – before returning 12 months later to finish first again in 1:06:49.
Another fast time should be on the cards for Keitany, although she has said she isn’t targeting a world record as she gets ready for the London Marathon on 26 April.
Facing Keitany will be her compatriot and RAK defending champion Priscah Jeptoo, who is on the comeback from a leg injury which forced her to miss the London and New York marathons last year.
Jeptoo finished second two years ago in a personal best of 1:06:11 before winning by a minute last year in 1:07:02. Jeptoo is also targeting the London Marathon in April, and a fast 15km just before Christmas shows she is returning to form after a stress fracture.
Five other runners in the elite women’s field boast bests faster than 68 minutes: Meseret Hailu (1:06:56), Elvan Abeylegesse (1:07:07), Philes Ongori (1:07:38), Worknesh Degefa (1:07:49) and Wude Ayalew (1:07:58).
Although the organisers have not talked in terms of world records, it is worth noting that the current marks are 58:23 by Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadese at the 2010 Lisbon race while the women’s standard in a mixed race was reduced to 1:05:12 by Kenya’s Florence Kiplagat 12 months ago in Barcelona.
Organisers for the IAAF