The 12th edition of the RAK Half Marathon on Friday 9 February will serve up a mouth-watering clash over the flat northern UAE circuit which has consistently proven over the past decade to be one of the quickest half marathon courses in the world.
World record-holder Joyciline Jepkosgei headlines a field that contains four of the seven fastest women in history, including three-time RAK winner Mary Keitany.
Jepkosgei broke the world record in Prague last year with 1:04:52 and then improved it by one second in Valencia later in the year. She set world records at 10km and 15km and 20km en route to her triumph in Prague. She returned to the Czech capital in September to smash her own world record for 10km, clocking 29:43.
Keitany will be making her fifth appearance at the RAK Half Marathon and will follow a familiar and proven plan, as three times her RAK run has preceded one of her three titles in London. In 2011, she set a 1:05:50 world record in RAK, and then ran a marathon PB of 2:19:19 in London, while in 2012 and last year, her RAK performance was the precursor to a top spot in the British capital.
Even last year, although she finished second in RAK, the racing formula worked as 10 weeks later she stormed to her historic 2:17:01 women-only marathon world record in London.
Her PB of 1:07:44 ranks her outside the top 10 entrants for the RAK Half Marathon, but Olympic 5000m champion Vivian Cheruiyot will be one of the most accomplished athletes on the start line for next month’s race. Having won four world titles on the track, the 34-year-old is now forging a career on the roads.
Fancy Chemutai, from relative obscurity, burst in to the spotlight in 2017 with a trio of stunning half marathons, culminating in her staggering 1:05:36 second place last September in Valencia, behind Jepkosgei’s world record. She is herself bullish of challenging the world mark in RAK and, like Jepkosgei and Keitany, will arrive in the progressive Emirate with her own pacemaker.
In contrast to the precocious and relatively inexperienced 23-year-old Chemutai, Edith Chelimo is a seasoned campaigner, but rocked the road racing world at age 31 last October in Cardiff when winning the city’s half marathon by almost five minutes in 1:05:53, taking more than three minutes off her PB.
Others to benefit from the likely perfect conditions of RAK include 2014 world half marathon champion Gladys Cherono, still in fine fettle at 34 after her Berlin Marathon win last September. Third in RAK in 2012 and runner-up in 2016 with her best of 1:06:07, her track-to-marathon pedigree still demands enormous respect.
Bahrain’s Eunice Chumba is another in-form athlete, who arrives after an impressive brace of half marathon wins in 2017, including her 1:06:11 winning time in Copenhagen last September.
Others in the field include Joan Chelimo Melly, second in Copenhagen in 1:06:25, London-bound Brigid Kosgei, third in the Danish capital last September, along with Caroline Kipkirui, fresh from her best ever time of 1:06:48 for second in Houston earlier this month.
Many competing in the race have medium-term plans carefully mapped out. Keitany, Cherono, Kosgei and Cheruiyot are all targeting the London Marathon 10 weeks after RAK, while Jepkosgei and Chemutai will be teammates in Kenya’s squad at the IAAF/Trinidad Alfonso World Half Marathon Championships Valencia 2018.
The men’s field, announced earlier this month, has been adjusted and strengthened. While last year’s fourth-place finisher Solomon Yego has pulled out with injury, both London-bound Stanley Biwott and Ghirmay Ghebreslassie have been added to the field.
Biwott was runner-up in RAK in both 2013 and 2016, the earlier of those two runs producing his best of 58:56, making him the 10th fastest in history. His London record is similar with a pair of second places in 2014 and 2016.
Eritrea’s Ghebreslassie is the 2015 world marathon champion and Olympic fourth-place finisher. Although he has never bettered 60 minutes for the half marathon, the combination of his aggressive racing style and the quick RAK circuit could well make his UAE debut a sub-one-hour experience.
Organisers for the IAAF
Joyciline Jepkosgei (KEN) 1:04:51
Mary Keitany (KEN) 1:05:13
Fancy Chemutai (KEN) 1:05:36
Edith Chelimo (KEN) 1:05:52
Gladys Cherono (KEN) 1:06:07
Eunice Chumba (BRN) 1:06:11
Joan Chelimo Melly (KEN) 1:06:25
Brigid Kosgei (KEN) 1:06:35
Caroline Kipkirui (KEN) 1:06:48
Lucy Cheruiyot (KEN) 1:07:23
Vivian Cheruiyot (KEN) 1:07:44
Naomi Jebet (KEN) 1:08:44
Helen Bekele Tola (ETH) 1:09:48
Degitu Azimeraw (ETH) debut