Kenenisa Bekele wins Schneider Electric Marathon de Paris in 2:05:04, on his debut, sets course record, by Larry Eder

Kenenisa Bekele wins his debut in 2:05:04, a new course record! 
photo from Schneider Electric

It took Kenenisa Bekele just over two hours, five minutes and four seconds to win his first marathon. Despite warm weather, hamstring cramps and some unfortunate pacemaking, Mr. Bekele was, thirty minutes after his race, considering his next marathon. More importantly, he was considering his next race! 
Jos Hermans is a man from another time. The manager of both Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele, Hermans knows that, in the marathon especially, one must manage expectations. When you manage the two best distance runners in the last three decades, one might say, that the issue gets a bit more complex. 

Jos Hermans was a fine distance runner in his own right. He was the World record holder for the hour run in 1976, making him a huge favorite of his countrymen. The hour run, perhaps a bit longer, was the perfect distance for a man who excelled in cross country, track and long distances. 

Kenenisa Bekele, interviewed after his Paris victory, 
photo courtesy of [email protected]

Over the next three decades, Jos Hermans developed a global management company for athletics. Hermans manages athletes, events and sponsors. Juggling sponsors is about as tough as juggling events, and athletes. Hermans has a strong team, and manages events such as FBK Hengelo and the Shanghai Diamond League Meeting. 

At this time, Hermans has Haile Gebrselassie, who took six marathons before he set a World record, and then on his second WR, became the man who first broke 2 hours, four minutes. Haile has held 29 world records at one time or another, from two miles to the marathon distance. I was there to watch Haile set WRS at 15k, 20k and 25k in Phoenix, Arizona in 2006. Haile is relaxed, and that comes from years of competing and learning about oneself. 

Jos Hermans, in recent interviews was quoted as saying that Kenenisa needs to focus on racing for the next five or six years. Kenenisa, who has eleven medals in World Cross Country, and five gold medals in World Championships, plus three gold and one silver Olympic medals. But, there was always this impression that Kenenisa Bekele felt he had to compare himself to Haile Gebrselassie. Hermans, always the manager of expectations, has spent much time and energy encouraging Kenenisa Bekele to take his own journey. Business ventures in Ethiopia have taken Bekele off the focus of what is really important: his career and his legacy. 

I wrote a piece recently about how pride brought Kenenisa Bekele to the line in Paris. Bekele was offered lots of money to run London, when he was at the heights of his track powers. He declined. In the past few years, Kenenisa Bekele has faltered and the rumors started. Was he over? Would he run a marathon and, heck, not even finish? 

Then, came the BUPA Great North Run. In a finish that should be replayed over and over, Mo Farah, who had just dupicated Kenenisa Bekele's double double (World Champs 10,000m/5,000m and Olympic 5,000m/10,000m), just barely missed getting Kenenisa Bekele at the finish. The face of Kenenisa Bekele at that finish is one to behold. 

Bekele knew he was on the way back. However, when he approached the London marathon, through Jos Hermans, the buckets of money offered three years before in London was reduced dramatically. It was different times, and Mo Farah was debuting. Heck, Farah's half marathon training run in 2013, a combination of Barnum and Bailey and an Alberto Salazar training run, showed David Bedford and Hugh Brasher, if they had any concerns, that bringing in Mo Farah over two years was a brilliant marketing move! 

So, Jos Hermans went looking a bit, and Kenenisa Bekele went back to Ethiopia and he trained. And did he train. Per a fantastic article in L'Equipe over the weekend and confirmed by Kenenisa Bekele on his Friday afternoon press conference: " I ran runs of 40-45 kilometers. I did 25 kilometer runs starting a 3:12 a kilometer and dropping to three minutes and better." This was in training weeks, at 2700 meters of altitude, that covered 150-160 miles a week (250 kilometers). 

"Kenenisa Bekele has trained for this event. He is the most confident I have seen him in a very long time." noted a smiling Jos Hermans on Friday afternoon. Hermans had seen it all. The management at Paris had made a strong offer, and, in the end, running in Paris was the best thing to happen to the race, and to Kenenisa Bekele. 

The weather was great, at the start. Kenenisa Bekele was surrounded by pacemakers and a crew of experienced distance runners, six of whom had personal bests under two hours, eight minutes: these were not jogggers.

" I have asked to run at 61:45 for the half marathon," noted a confident Bekele on Friday. The race was built around Bekele, but just note the following: Mark Kiptoo (pb of 2:06.16, BMW Frankfurt 2013), with bib #2, Tamirat Tola, (pb of 2:06:17, Dubai, 2014, fourth), bib #3, Azamerew Molalign, Ethiopia, (pb of 2:07.12, Duba, fifth, 2014), bib #4, Augustine Ronoh, Kenya, 2:07.33 (pb from Hamburg in 2012, third), bib#5 and Getachew Terfa, winner of Xianin, China, 2013, in 2:07:32, bib #6. Eight under 2:08, Twelve with pbs under 2:12.30, with ten under 2:10. Such is the state of global marathoning that some runners in 2:07-2:10 range are not making big paydays. In Kenya, it is estimated that the 500th best marathoner has a pb of about 2:15. 

And of course, Mr. Bekele got the bib numero uno. 

In Paris, it was made quite apparent by the new race director that " Paris also is interested in the 49,999 runners besides Kenenisa. However, when the opportunity came for Kenenisa's debut, that was a once in a lifetime chance." 

The Schneider Electric Marathon de Paris has had good fields upfront, but not London, Berlin or such. With that said, Paris had, before this race, a course record of 2:05.12. Not bad by any standards! 

Kenenisa Bekele and his pacemakers made quick work of the early kilometers. They hit the 5k in 14:43, 10k in 29:36, and then, things began to happen. At the 15k point, hit in 44:13, they were running 2:57 a kilometer. " They were instructed to run 2:56 a kilometer, it is slow." noted Alberto Stretti, a seasoned athletic broadcaster. 

Watching the coverage, Kenenisa Bekele was getty, well, antsy. When the half marathon was hit in 62:09, even with the heat, many in the media room noted something was up. 

And that was not the end of it. Over the next five kilometers, the pace was up and down, going up to 3:04-3:05 a kilometers. When 25 kilometers was hit, a last 5k of 14:57 had Jos Hermans concerned. " I told Kenenisa to go, as the pace had slowed down." noted Hermans after the race.

And go, Kenenisa Bekele did. Perhaps it was the heat, perhaps it was his first marathon. " Kenenisa has trained well, he has eaten well and hydrated well, perhaps he just went too fast then." noted Jos Hermans in retrospect. 

By 27 kilometers, Kenenisa Bekele was in complete control. He dropped a kilometer then about 2:49-2:50, and that was that. 

But, it was not. 

Bekele hit the 30k in 1:28:29 and was headed to a high 2:04 time. Pace charts suggested 2:04.44. Well, his hamstrings did not think so. 

About thirty-one kilometers, Kenenisa Bekele experienced excruciating hamstring cramps. " He had to maintain, he could not race. We did not want him to have to stop." noted a concerned Hermans. " It was a lot of pain. I had pain for five kilometers, and then, it stopped." noted Kenenisa after the race.

Bekele hit the 35k, still watching for cramps in 1:43:36. He was looking at a 2:04 or 2:05 finish time, if he could hold on. 

" His training had been great. Perhaps he needs a few more long runs. Perhaps it was the speed, but we thought a 2:04 time without the heat and cramps." noted Hermans. 

" I started to race again, and then, at the finish, I sprinted." smiled Bekele. " I wanted to see if I could run under two hours, five minutes." 

Kenenisa Bekele hit the finish line with over a minute and thirteen seconds to spare on second place, running a new course record in 2:05:04, and silencing critics that his career was over. 

Thumbnail image for 5d56a752-5c90-485f-b524-0bb117362a81_500.png
Moment of truth: Bekele delivers, runs 2:05:04, 
photo courtesy of Schneider Electric

" I will take this week off, and then I want to run some track races, " noted Kenenisa Bekele after the race. When asked if the focus of his next training block was the Prefontaine Classic 10,000 meters, on May 31, Bekele smiled. " Yes, I want to run the 10k at the Pre Classic." 

"Kenenisa will focus on a marathon in the second part of the season." noted Hermans. To the suggestions that it would be Berlin or Chicago, Hermans noted that it would be somewhere  Kenenisa can run fast.

Kenenisa gave a series of interviews after the race. He was the most relaxed that I have seen  him ever. He had delivered, and in truth, survived what could have been a catastrophe, meaning the hamstring cramps. 

Bekele is, a sports warrior. He has put himself through workouts that most could not conceive. Just think for a moment, how close he came to the edge in Beijing in the 10,000 meters, as Tadesse and he battled. 

The marathon is a different type of pain. Frank Shorter, the 1972 Olympic gold medalist and 1976 silver medalist at the marathon once told Kenny Moore that running a marathon was like, " cutting one self with a sharp knife. At first the pain is slight, then, it is excruciating." 

Today, Kenenisa Bekele experienced the challenges of the marathon, like the other 39,114 finishers of the race, after him, experienced. Perhaps he became a bit more human after his experience in Paris. 

On the women's race, Flomena Cheyech improved over two minutes for her win in Paris, running 2:22:42. Letting her feet do the speaking, Flomena told media afterwards that " The race was wonderful and I had a good day." 

More than likely, the next time Mr. Bekele runs a marathon, he will be seeking an other worldly time. 

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