Geoffrey Kirui in Boston (© Victah Sailer)
Fast times will be the obvious target of all the top runners at the 13th edition of the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon with 2017 world champions Geoffrey Kirui and Almaz Ayana both looking to make a big impact at the IAAF Gold Label road race on Sunday (19).
Both runners dodged diplomatically around the issue of whether they would beat the existing course records at the traditional pre-race press conference on Thursday, but the pair commented that they were in excellent shape and would not be on the start line in Delhi if they were not ready to run well.
The men’s course record is 59:06 and was set by Ethiopia’s Guye Adola in 2014 while the women’s course record has stood since 2009 and belongs to Kenya’s Mary Keitany at 1:06:54.
Kirui, who won the men’s marathon at the IAAF World Championships London 2017 this summer, told the gathered media: “If I compare myself to my last appearance here (in 2015), I’m in much better shape and my body has got stronger than before.”
The Kenyan runner was sixth in a high-quality affair two years ago, making a breakthrough with what remains his personal best of 59:38.
“Running the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon is not going to be easy for me because some of my friends and fellow runners here have been running half marathons all the time," added Kirui.
“This is my second time here and I’m ready, but it entirely depends on how I am feeling Sunday. Today I’m feeling good but Sunday may be a different day."
Despite his feats over the classic marathon distance this year, which also include a win at the Boston Marathon in April, Kirui has not actually run a competitive half marathon since his outing in Delhi two years ago.
Kirui is also not the fastest man in the field, which may explain his slight reticence on Thursday, as two of his compatriots have run quicker than the course record. The in-form Jorum Okumbo and Alex Korio ran 58:48 and 58:51 respectively in Copenhagen in September.
Ayana cautiously optimistic on eve of eagerly anticipated debut
Ethiopia’s world and Olympic 10,000m champion and world record-holder Ayana will be making her half marathon debut on Sunday, in her first race since the World Championships in August.
“After winning the World Championships, I have continued my training," said Ayana. "There aren’t many good competitions, so I trained hard for the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon. Even though it’s new territory, it’s running, so I will do my best.
“Having said that, while I will look to do well in the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon, my focus will remain on track events," she added. "I will see how my first half marathon goes and then decide if I want to do another."
Ayana will face her compatriot Worknesh Degefa, who is not only the defending champion but also the fastest woman in the field having clocked 1:06:14 in Prague last year.
“I’m happy to come to India to run because the weather is quite similar to back home, so I love it here," said Degefa. "The field is strong, Almaz is like my sister, she is my hero. I’ll be very happy for her if she wins. Almaz is very fast and strong. It will be quite difficult to keep up with her."
All the leading runners will also have in their sights first prize cheques of US$27,000 with a total prize money purse (combined men and women) of US$275,000.
Organisers for the IAAF