This Valentine’s day, as lovers everywhere nosh on chocolate and little candy hearts, runners in Ras al-Khalmah hope to taste something even sweeter: world half-marathon records.
On Friday, February 14, highly impressive men’s and women’s fields take to streets of the United Arab Emirates sheikdom for the annual RAK Half Marathon, “inarguably the world’s fastest half marathon,” according to a press release posted at LetsRun.com.
Both the men’s and women’s races are wide open, and the former brings together 11 runners with personal bests of faster than 60 minutes. Kenyan greats Bernard Koech and Stanley Biwott have broken 59 minutes, though neither has come particularly close to the world record of 58:23, set by Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadese in Lisbon in 2010.
Fellow Kenyan Dennis Kimetto is also a strong contender. Last year, he won the Tokyo and Chicago Marathons, and his 2:03.45 in the Windy City put him tantalizingly close to Wilson Kipsang’s record of 2:03.23.
As per the press release, it’s a “refined mix of half marathon specialists and full-blown marathon runners,” and world-record chatter aside, it’s a tough one to handicap.
A new global standard may be more likely on the women’s side, where last year’s RAK runner-up, Priscah Jeptoo of Kenya, may have “at least one eye on a world record attempt,” according to the event’s press release.
Then again, Jeptoo is getting ready to defend her London Marathon title, and she’ll face a strong challenge from countrywoman Rita Jeptoo (no relation), who last year took third at the RAK. She also won last year’s Boston Marathon and boasts a half-marathon personal best of 1:06:27, a mere 16 seconds behind Priscah Jeptoo’s top performance.
Joining the Jeptoos on the list of runners to watch is Mare Dibaba. The Ethiopian has seemingly recovered from the stomach troubles that kept her out of action throughout 2013, and earlier this year, she won the Xiamen International Marathon, finishing in 2:21:36 and setting a new course record.
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg