Agnes Kiprop en route to her Hannover Marathon victory ( © Copyright

Weekend road preview: past winners return to Hengshui, Chirchir the favourite at Dam tot Damloop

Formers winners Agnes Kiprop of Kenya and Ethiopia’s Aberu Mekuria will both return to the Chinese city of Hengshui to compete for the women’s title at the Hengshui Lake International Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label road race, on Sunday (8).

The 36-year-old Mekuria clocked a course record of 2:26:07, her personal best time at that time, to win in 2013. Two years later Kiprop claimed the tile in 2:25:43, which has stood as the course record until now.

However, the 39-year-old Kenyan, whose PB of 2:23:54 was set in Frankfurt back in 2011, hasn’t come close to 2:26 since her 2015 Hengshui victory. She clocked 2:29:04 to finish fourth at the Dongying Yellow River Marathon in April, which was her fastest time in more than four years.

Mekuria, on the contrary, has been enjoying a second wind in her decade-long career, achieving a PB of 2:24:30 to break the course record at the 2019 Chongqing International Marathon. It will be her third race in Hengshui as she also clocked 2:32:53 to finish eighth in 2015.

The organisers have assembled the deepest women’s field in the eight-year history of the race, as other race favourites also include Marta Megra of Ethiopia, who set her PB of 2:22:35 last year in Toronto, as well as her compatriot Tirfi Tsegaye, the fastest woman toeing the line with a PB of 2:19:41 from her massive victory in Dubai in 2016.

The men’s field also contains a former champion. 24-year-old Ernest Ngeno of Kenya took the top honours in Hengshui four years ago with a winning mark of 2:07:57, which was his PB at the time and 12 seconds shy of the course record set by Markos Geneti in 2014.

Last year, he improved his PB to 2:06:41 when finishing third in Paris, which makes him the second-fastest entrant in the field.

Although Ngeno is keen to end a three-year title drought following his victory in Milan in 2016, he could face a serious threat from Aychew Bantie.

The rising Ethiopian, who turned 24 this month, trimmed more than two minutes off his career best to finish third at the Prague Marathon in 2:06:23 four months ago and is still pursuing his first title since debuting over the classic distance in 2017.

Bantie’s compatriot Fikadu Kebede, who turns 33 on Friday, also arrives in Hengshui in high spirits. He set a PB of 2:08:27 in Dubai in January and came close to that mark three months later with a second-place finish in Dongying in 2:09:38.

The men’s field also includes Kenyan duo Dominic Ruto and Ismael Boshendich Chemtan

Vincent Wu for the IAAF

Chirchir targets overall win at Dam tot Damloop

This year’s Dam tot Damloop on Sunday (22) could be one of the few races in the long history of the IAAF Silver Label road race in which a woman crosses the finish line first.

As has been tradition at this 10-mile race between Amsterdam and Zaandam, the women’s field sets off 6:04 – the difference between the men's and women's course records – ahead of the men’s field. The first athlete to finish, man or woman, will receive a €5000 bonus.

Following her 1:06:22 PB at the Copenhagen Half Marathon last week, Evaline Chirchir will start as the favourite. The Kenyan has also clocked some impressive times at 10km this year, including 30:43 in Valencia and 31:17 in Brunssum, and will be keen to improve on her fifth-place finish from last year.

Irene Cheptai, the 2017 world cross-country champion, recently clocked a season’s best of 31:27 over 10km, while Jip Vastenburg carries the Dutch hopes.

The women’s race record of 50:31 has been held by Ingrid Kristiansen since 1987, but last year’s winner Lonah Salpeter came close to it with 50:45.

Former 1500m specialist Chala Regasa of Ethiopia set a 10km PB of 27:23 earlier this year and will be making his Dam tot Damloop debut. Compatriot Solomon Berihu, aged 19, is another strong contender and has set PBs of 13:02.08 for 5000m and 27:02.26 for 10,000m this year.

Ethiopian Olympian Ayele Abshero, a 2:04:23 marathon runner, finished third in this race back in 2010 in a PB of 45:33, but doesn’t seem to be in that same kind of form this year. Kenya’s John Langat also returns to Amsterdam in a bid to do better than his 12th-place finish last year.

The weather forecast for Sunday morning seems ideal with temperatures between 16-18C and the wind on the runners’ backs.

Eric Roeske for the IAAF