Michael Njenga Kunyuga wins the Hengshui Lake International Marathon (© Organisers)
Kenya’s Michael Njenga Kunyuga and Betty Wilson Lempus won the men’s and women’s races respectively at the sixth edition of Hengshui Lake International Marathon, an IAAF Bronze Label road race, on Saturday (30).
Competing in just his second ever international road race, 30-year-old Kunyuga came from behind to win in 2:12:31, taking his second marathon title in five months after winning in Padua in 2:10:43.
With the thermometer reading 14C as the gun went, a group of 12 men led the race in the early stages. The leading pack hit the five-kilometre mark in 15:54 and covered the first 10 kilometres on a straight flat highway in 31:20.
The leaders ran patiently together for another 12 kilometres, passing 15km in 47:06 and 20km in 1:02:54, before two men were first left behind. Then, after 25km, the leading group was whittled down to eight men, with Kenya’s Benard Kiprotich Too – the only sub-2:10 runner on the entry list – limping off the course due to a muscle injury in his right thigh.
When the leaders arrived at the water station at 35km, Morocco’s Hicham Laqouahi pulled away and soon built up a sole lead of 15 seconds. However, the 35km split of 1:50:21 suggested that the course record of 2:07:38 set by 2014 winner Markos Geneti of Ethiopia would not be broken.
Kunyuga, Tsegay Tuemay of Eritrea, as well as Ethiopian duo Shumet Akalnew and Regasa Mndaye formed the chasing group. After Laqouahi led for two kilometres, Kunyuga came out and gradually narrowed the gap between him and the Moroccan. He only needed some 1500 metres to catch Laqouahi.
Kunyuga kept his pace, got rid of Laqouahi with ease and went on extending the advantage, breaking the tape in 2:12:31 with Laqouahi lagging 39 seconds behind to finish second.
It’s the 28-year-old’s second runner-up finish this year. He also finished second behind Ethiopia’s Adhiana Gebretsadik at the Marrakech Marathon in January.
The 37-year-old Mndaye emerged triumphant from a three-man battle after out-sprinting Akalnew in the final 100 metres to finish third in 2:13:18.
The women’s race was a much closer contest as Lempus held off a strong challenge from Ethiopia’s Abeba Tekulu in the final 200 metres to take the victory.
It was also the second win wrapped up by Lempus in 2017 after the 26-year-old took a comfortable victory in 2:29:31 in the Dutch city of Enschede five month ago. But her winning mark of 2:30:47 this time was more than five minutes short of the 2:25:43 course record set by Kenya’s Agnes Jepkemboi Kiprop in 2015.
A leading pact of eight paced the race to 15 kilometres before the group started to shrink. At the 35-kilometres mark, with the clock reading 2:03:13, only three runners were left including Lempus, Tekulu, who holds a lifetime best of 2:30:18, and pre-race favourite Peninah Arusei of Kenya, who led the field with a PB of 2:27:17 set back in 2011.
After the trio led for another six-and-a-half kilometres, the 38-year-old Arusei was the first to slow down. The duel between Lempus, Tekulu continued until the last 200 metres before the larger stride of Lempus, who is much taller than Tekulu, gave her the edge at the finish, winning in 2:30:47.
Tekulu finished second in 2:30:50 while the third place went to Arusei, who crossed the line in 2:30:58.
Vincent Wu for the IAAF