Ethiopia’s Abera Kuma just might be the most talented athlete to race the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon this year. Indeed, organisers of the IAAF Gold Label event are confident they have the man who can threaten the current course record on 26 May.
The 28-year-old has twice bettered 2:06 in his career, most recently when finishing second at the 2018 Rotterdam Marathon in a PB of 2:05:50. The other occasion was at the 2014 Berlin Marathon where Kuma finished third in 2:05:56 in the race in which Kenya’s Dennis Kimetto set a world record of 2:02:57, which has since been broken by Eliud Kipchoge.
In between those two races, Kuma has made his mark across the globe. Now he sets his sights on racing in the Canadian capital.
“I want to win and I want to run fast,” he said. “I hope the conditions will be kind to me. Yes, (the course record is a target) though it all depends on the conditions.”
Compatriot Yemane Tsegay set that record (2:06:54) in 2014.
Kuma’s performance in Rotterdam was all the more startling since he had run, and finished, Japan’s Lake Biwa Marathon (2:09:31) just 35 days earlier – hardly the ideal preparation for a world-class marathon.
“At Lake Biwa I did not feel well and had a bad day at the office,” he explains. “I felt like I ran at 95% without being able to give more than that. After finishing I still felt strong and very disappointed about the race. I needed to take revenge quickly and the gamble paid off.”
Kuma has a level of confidence matching his ability. Unlike many of today’s marathon runners, he took up road racing after a successful career on the track. Twice he represented Ethiopia at the IAAF World Championships, finishing fifth in the 5000m in 2011 and fifth in the 10,000m in 2013. With 5000m and 10,000m personal bests of 13:00.15 and 26:52.85, he has basic speed matched by very few road racers.
“I had a short track career but always wanted to go to the road fairly quickly,” he says. “Track has helped me to be a stronger road runner, though.
“I like the endurance that belongs to road running and marathons. Running is fun to do and I enjoy it, but it is also my job. In marathon running the financial aspect is important.”
The lucrative prize money in road racing, coupled with the fact there is a limited number of track races with decent prize money, has seen many young East African athletes go straight to the roads. First place in Ottawa is worth CDN$30,000 with another CDN$10,000 on offer for a course record.
As Kuma says, running is his job. And, he is happy to share his experience with younger up-and-coming Ethiopian runners, many of whom are part of the training group under coach Tessema Abshero, who himself was a 2:08 marathon runner.
“I would advise others to run track but I also know that it is not easy to do that as the track races are scarce these days,” Kuma says.
Training is going well currently he says, despite a mediocre performance at the Mumbai Marathon in January when he finished seventh in 2:13:10.
“I am preparing really well and my last test (a half marathon in Spain where he ran 1:00:41) was good,” he says. “Now I am finalising the endurance part to bounce back strongly after a disappointing race in Mumbai. The conditions in Mumbai were very difficult (heat, air quality) and the course was tough. I was with the lead group for a long part of the way but suffered a lot in the last seven kilometres.
Kuma has a marathon personal best of 2:04:24. There are others of similar quality among Kuma’s training partners. Most significantly, all of this training is done at altitudes of at least 2600m. It’s hard work but with a group sharing the load and the drudgery it is normal. Down time is used to relax and recover and wait for the next workout.
Kuma knows the Ottawa race will include other strong performers and welcomes the competition. It is, after all, what will help bring him closer to that coveted course record.
Paul Gains (organisers) for the IAAF