The RAK half marathon is two races in one. Elite men’s running and elite women’s racing are two different worlds.
This piece is about the men’s elite race. As I was fascinated in seeing how this very deep Kenyan field and a few Ethiopians battled on the fastest course that I have ever seen. There are so many half marathons around the world, and many of them with serious money, that many athletes are being seen on half marathons around the world.
As I observed with the women’s races, RAK half marathon also shows you that the depth of Kenyan and Ethiopian running is amazingly deep. A young runner who breaks through has set themself up for a nice life. With an annual income in Kenya of perhaps, after conversions, about $3700, a few race winning can make a big difference. But, as one can see from this race, is terribly difficult to get to the top of a race field as elite as RAK.
At the presser, a technical meeting followed. The pace making chores for women was set up pretty well. There was some discussion on the men’s race. I seem to recall a discussion of a 27:30 10k, and then, a deep breath was introduced and 27:50 was agreed upon.
A too fast pace making can destroy a race, much like a too slow pace can just put the race into a race walking. Pace making is an art, not a science. Good pacemakers are worth their weight in gold, depending on what a race director wants.
The men’s race took off at 7 am local time. About 22 men were in the top pack, as the field, with pace makers akimbo, hitting 13:53. Runners such as Bedan Karoki, Lelisa Desisa, Alex Kibet, Morris Gachaga and Winfried Kimutai, Bernard Kimeli and Vincent Rone, along with Ethiopian Jemal Yimer proceeded through 27:48, which was nearly perfect pace and put them on 59 minute half marathon pace.
As emcee Tim Hutchings reminded us, the top elites are running 61 minutes or better and the top, top elite are breaking 60 minutes. On that trivia vein, Augustine Choge, third in 2017, has run 1:44 for 800, 3:29 for 1,500 meters, 12:53 for 5000 meters and sub 60 minutes for half marathon, a feat only Augustine and Mo Farah have accomplished. In the 2018 race, Augustine Choge did not finish, having to drop out around 9 kilometers, citing a thigh injury.
The 10,000 meters hit in 27:48 was kind of the place that began to string out the field, as 22 were there at 13:53, and we were down to nine at 10k in 27:48. But, it was the 5k between 10k and 15k, that really decimated the field, as the 15k, passed in 41:43 had four left in the field.
Who would it be now? Jemal Yemir, Ethiopia’s young star, who has taken 4th in the 2017 World Cross country and fifth in the London World Championships 10,000 meters was looking amazing. Alex Kibet, a former steepler turned roadie, with a HM pb of 59:32 from Lille in 2017, had recently won the Doha Half Marathon in 61:53, and Jorum Lumbasi Okumbo, a 20 year old with a 58:48 PB in 2017.
Bedan Karoki has fought the athletics wars for many a year. His 10,000m PB is 27:04. 77, from his fourth in Beijing 2015 World Championships.
An athlete like Bedan smells weakness. He probes and probes, as he did over the 45 minute to 53 minute time frame. His surges took their toll and Okumbu, then, Kibet, then, finally the young Ethiopian, Jemal Kimer, faltered just a bit.
Bedan Karoki held on, and pushed his final kilometer at a honorable track speed of two minutes, thirty seconds , running a personal best and new course record of 58:42, breaking the course record of one Patrick Makau, from 2009.
I was then reminded of Bedans’ words at the presser. He had noted he wanted to defend and also run a Personal best. Bedan Karoki did both.
And some of the finest runners in the world followed Bedan Karoki across the finish line, with seven breaking 60 minutes and Jemal Kimer, in his debut over the distance, running new debut record of 59 minutes.
The depth was fierce as some of the top runners in the world ran in near perfect conditions, on a near perfect course, with race management that wanted them to run very fast.
Next year will be February 8, 2018, and we will be looking to see how much faster the elite can run on his crazy fast course!