Road runners in action (© Getty Images)
Since the inaugural Edinburgh Marathon in 2003, all but four of the 20 individual winners have been either Kenyan or British. But that trend could be broken at the IAAF Bronze Label Road Race this Sunday (26).
Ukrainian Olympian Ivan Babaryka is the fastest in the field with his 2:11:48 PB, set last year at the Barcelona Marathon. The 2011 national champion, Babaryka has twice won the Moscow Marathon, but he will be keen to run faster than he did the last time he competed on British soil, clocking 2:21:52 at the London Olympics.
Although the 30-year-old boasts a quicker PB, the favourite is Wondimnew Melkamu of Ethiopia, who beat Babaryka last month at the Lodz Marathon, 2:12:14 to 2:14:28. Melkamu’s time was just 21 seconds shy of his personal best set at the same race in 2012. If either athlete can reproduce that same form, the course record of 2:15:26 will be rewritten.
Ethiopia’s Tola Lema and Morocco’s Nourdine Jalal could be very closely matched. Not only do they have identical personal bests of 2:14:23, they were both set when finishing fifth at the Marathon de La Rochelle just one year apart – Lema in 2012 and Jalal in 2011.
There will also be two Marathon debutants capable of springing a surprise. Kenya’s John Kales boasts the fastest Half-marathon PB of the field with his 60:47, while Morocco’s Youssef Kamali enters the race fresh from setting a 10km PB of 28:44 in March. The domestic challenge will be led by Andi Jones and Peter Tucker.
Koech set to realise his dream
Edinburgh Marathon organisers are also proud to support up-and-coming Kenyan athlete Japhet Koech. The 26-year-old has a PB of 2:21:35, only two minutes slower than John Mutai’s winning time in Edinburgh last year. But Koech has not yet had an opportunity to prove himself in competition.
Koech’s remarkable story is captured in Adharanand Finn’s best-selling book, Running With The Kenyans. After years of watching Kenyan athletes win the world’s biggest races, from the Olympics to big city Marathons, Finn set out to discover just what it was that made them so fast and to see if he could keep up.
Packing up his family and his running shoes, Finn moved from Devon to the small town of Iten in Kenya, home to hundreds of the country’s best athletes. Once there he laced up his shoes and ventured out on to the dirt tracks, running side by side with Olympic champions, young hopefuls and barefoot schoolchildren. He ate their food, slept in their training camps, interviewed their coaches, and his children went to their schools. And at the end of it all, he ran alongside the best of the Kenyan athletes in his first Marathon across the Kenyan plains.
“Japhet was a good friend to me when I was in Kenya,” said Finn. “He never once asked for money, even though he had so little, but I promised him I'd do what I could to get him a race abroad, to give him his chance to shine.”
Thanks to a campaign to raise £1500 to cover the cost of his trip, Koech will join the elite field in Edinburgh.
Kenyan duel expected in women’s race
While the men’s race has been won four times by Kenyan athletes, the women’s race in Edinburgh is yet to be won by a Kenyan athlete, or anyone from Africa for that matter. But that looks set to change this year.
Risper Kimaiyo represented Kenya at the 2009 IAAF World Championships. Winner in Salzburg two years ago, the 33-year-old has a personal best of 2:29:16 set at the 2009 Rome Marathon where she finished fourth.
Compatriot Emily Chepkorir should provide tough opposition. Between 2010 and 2012, Chepkorir has finished in the top three in all six Marathons she has contested during that time, winning four of them. Her PB of 2:32:31 was set at altitude, indicating that she’s capable of running much quicker at sea level, and perhaps even challenging the course record of 2:33:36.
Winner in Porto last year, Ethiopia’s Abeba Gebremeskel is still a relative newcomer and 2013 is just her second year of Marathon running. Her PB of 2:36:25 was set in Marrakech last year, and she came within 22 seconds of that mark at the Paris Marathon last month.
Rounding out the women’s elite field is Polish veteran Wioletta Kryza, whose personal best of 2:33:44 was set in Edinburgh 14 years ago, and Britain’s Hayley Kuter, who will be looking to break her 2:47:09 PB.
“This year’s elite Marathon field represents the best line up in Scotland outside of a major championship,” said race director Neil Kilgour.
Organisers and Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF