The BUPA Great Edinburgh Cross Country Invitational Challenge celebrated its twenty-fifth year, and did so in style! With a team competiton between Great Britain & Norther Ireland, USA and Europe, plus an invitational 4k as well. The junior men and women's races were over 6k for the men and 4k for the women. On the senior side, the distances were 6k for the women and 8k for the men.
The elite 4k invitational pitted the greatest cross country runner of all times, Kenenisa Bekele, who has won 22 World Championship golds, including and three Olympic gold medals (and an Olympic silver). Bekele, who owns the world records for 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters, has spent the last three years, returning to his fitness of old, and surprised some with his brilliant win over Mo Farah in the Great North Run half marathon this past September.
Now, focused on his debut marathon, which will be the Paris Marathon on April 6, Kenenisa Bekele told the assembled media on Friday, January 10: " I am training for the marathon, and the 4k race on Saturday will be my shortest work of this training season." It should be noted that Kenenisa Bekele won his first international, as a junior, in Edinburgh. And Bekele is not the only one.
This morning, before the races, meet founder Brendan Foster showed me the long and hallowed list of cross country champions at the Bupa Great Cross Country Challenge. Paula Radcliffe won her first international at this event, as did Peter Elliott, who was celebrating his twenty-fifth anniversary of his first win at Bupa Cross Country.
For Kenenisa Bekele, and for his manager, Jos Hermans, this 4 kilometer distance is speed work, and a chance to check the training and fitness. From some keen observers, we have been told that Bekele is moving into the marathon training regimen with style and comfort.
"The four kilometer will be a test for me. I have done no short speed work." noted a relaxed Bekele on Friday afternoon. Relaxed should be noted. Kenenisa Bekele has run 26:17.53 and 12:37.35, and in 2008, ran the last mile of the 5,000 meters in 3:58.7!
For April, though, manager Jos Hermans reminded me, " The goal is to win and challenge the course record of 2:05.12." That would be an amazing debut, but within realistic goals for Bekele.
Part of the decision on choosing Paris is the fanfare surrounding London and Mo Farah's debut. Understand that Mo Farah AND Kenenisa Bekele have both won Oly golds at 5,000m and 10,000m and World Champ golds at 5,000m and 10,000m. Watching Kenenisa Bekele's win and determination at the Great North Run, it was clear that the suggestion that Kenenisa is finishing his career was a misstatement.
In fact, Kenenisa Bekele and his entourage suggest that, by running Paris, Kenenisa is taking much pressure and hype off his shoulders, and giving him some time to get familiar with the marathon distance.
You understand! The silliness in global press about a two hour marathon has made a the elite marathon into a circus side show. The marathon is about real racing, and no one cares about a two hour marathon when you hit 61 minutes for the half and still have thirteen miles to go! London will be a barn burner. There will be many in the field who want to teach Mo Farah a lesson to fiddle with their distance and the best track tactician in the world will have to dodge many mine fields to win in London. For myself, I believe if Mo Farah makes the top three, and a 2:06 time, in London, he has done fantastic debut. I feel the same for Kenenisa Bekele.
The marathon is a whole different piece of cake. And Jos Hermans, the manager of Kenenisa Bekele knows that. He has been successful with Eliud Kipchoge's conversion from the track to the roads. Remember Kipchoge? He debuted at 2:05.30 in Hamburg, then runs 2:04.05 in Berlin. It should be noted, that when Haile Gebrselassie moved to the marathon, he purchased a treadmill and ran in front of a mirror, to work on shortening his stride and make himself more of a marathon runner.
But for today, Kenenisa Bekele, the marathon runner, ran a four kilometer race over two muddy laps of the Edinburgh course, and stayed with the front pack for the first lap, and battled hard, to take fifth today in 12:02 for the 4km course. Not bad at all for someone running two hundred kilometers a week (120 miles) and looking, in the future to challenging the world record for the marathon. But, not for that first marathon, that is about having a strong experience and learning about 42.2 kilometers.
Garrett Heath of the USA took on Asbel Kiprop and Merese Kahsay, and with one kilometer to go, charged to the lead, making a huge move with 400 meters to go and winning the 4 kilometer race in 11:51. Merese Kahsay took second in 11:52 and Asbel Kiprop, the defending champion over the 4k here, was relegated to third in 11:58.
And, in fifth place, focused on the sixth of April for 42.2 kilometers in Paris, is one Kenenisa Bekele, who ran 12:02 this afternoon. For a man who owns 22 world championship gold medals, the 5,000m and 10,000m world records, the marathon is a proper new focus.
But, as manager Jos Hermans (former world record holder in the one hour run) would say, all in good time....