In near perfect conditions, on a fast, but not overly fast course, a top notch field, competing to run fast times and for strong price purse (reduced from 2018), but with no appearance fees, added extra lustre to the 20th anniversary of the 2019 Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon. The race, which had humble beginnings, first woke a few people up with Haile Gebrselassies’s back to back wins in 2008, 2009 and 2010. The 2:04:53, shocked people, but Haile Gebrselassie, one of our greatest athletes of times, also showed runners that Dubai was a) fast, and b)modest weather in January.
Peter Connerton is, the race director. Mr. Connerton is, well a character. That is how an American from the Midwest kindly describes a man who is both mercurial and eccentric. In the spirit of the late Fred Lebow and Chicago’s Bob Bright, Peter Connerton believes in his race, wearing his emotions on his sleeves, and in a profession that demands one must be charming and patience in dealing with sponsors, local governments and local cultures, Mr. Connerton tends to listen to his own drummer. Connerton believes that one brings the best athletes to the line, and with them battling to the end for the prize purse. To say he has strong opinions on appearance money is an understatement. In the SC Dubai Marathon, his approach works, but it is, a small part of the success that has been built over two decades.
In 2018, my first visit to Dubai, UAE, there were seven men under 2 hours, five minutes, and and four women under 2 hours, nineteen minutes. How does one improve then? Mr. Connerton, showing self control that surprised a few people, noted in the Wednesday press conference, that the 2018 performances could stand for years.
Au contraire mes amis.
In 2019, both men’s and women’s CR were rewritten. This is the column on the men’s race.
The course of the Dubai Marathon is fast, but not like Berlin. In Berlin, the last 12 kilometers drops so that fatigued runners can keep themselves together and run a fast finish.
The marathon distance is 26.2 miles or 42.2 kilometers. The apocraphal story of its beginnings date back thousands of years. Phiddipedees, a Greek military messanger, ran the distance between Marathon and Athens, noting that the Greeks had been victorious. The story goes that he died after those fateful words. Much has been said about this story. Some say that Mr. Phiddipedees may have run as much as 150 miles in the previous days, some say he never existed, however, I choose to believe the first story.
Anyone who has finished a marathon knows it is a difficult pursuit. This writer completed 18, and each one was a challenge.
In Dubai, nearly 26,500 runners and walkers of all abilities ran the 10k, 4k and marathon.
To race a marathon at under 3 minutes a kilometer for men and 3 minutes, 15 seconds for women is something only a few hundred of the nealry 6.5 billion humans on this planet Earth can do.
The men went out hard. 14:40 for the 5k, 29:10 for 10k, 43:37 for 15k and 58:11 for 20k. Nine men were together at the half way mark, 13.1 miles/22.1 kilometers, in 1:01:44 to 1:01.45.
Behind pacemakers, who managd the brisk pace, Guye Adole, 2:03.46 pB was the fastest guy, on paper. Getaneh Molla, Herpassa Negessa, Asefa Mengstu, Emmanuel Saina, Kelkile Gezhegn, Fikadu Kebede were all there.
The big pack stayed there until 25k, hit in 1:13:10. Then, the pretenders left. The pack went from 15 to nine, to six, and around 27k, Guye Adole left the pack, and he disappeared from the race.
The final pacemaker left the race at 30k, hit in 1:27:43. By then, Molla, Negassa, Mengstu, Saina were there. Saina was actually back a bit, and Tamru, Gezahegn, winner of Frankfurt (October 29, 2018) was off the back.
Herpassa Negassa took the lead at 30k, with the final pacemaker’s departure.
At 30k, the lead men were battling at sub 2:04 pace, a possible new course record.
When one bonks, or crashes in a marathon, it is sudden and brutal. Your heart might want to go fast, but your body says, “sorry, sport fan, the party is over”.
Negassa, Molla and Mengstu stayed close together, as Saina, Tamru, Gezahegn all found their own personal marathon hells.
Getaneh Molla played his fitness pretty close to his vest, as he did not make eye contact, running steady as Negassa was leading, then, next to him. Around 40k, Asefa Mengstu fell back, and while he would run a brilliant 2:04:24, the battle in this epic race was to come.
Negasa pushed into the lead just before 41 kilometers, but Molla had something left, and with Ethiopian fans screaming at the large finish line screens, Getaneh Molla lead a sweep of Ethiopians, taking the final lead with 600 meters to go, and putting six seconds on an exhausted Negassa in the final 300 meters.
Getaneh Molla won, running a new CR and PB in 2:03:34, only a six seconds difference in between Molla’s first half (1:01:44 and 1:01:50).Negassa ad 14 seconds between his 1:01.43 and 1:01.57 second half.
Nine Ethiopians lead the procession of excellence in Dubai.
Afterwards, I interviewed Peter Connerton. Mr. Connerton was philosophical. He spoke about the competition, that had been oh so close the past two years. He credited Haile Gebrselassie with opening the race up to the world and reminding Ethiopians that speed can be used in Dubai. Connerton was hard at work analyzing his success this year.
But, there are the intagables. In 2019, Standard Chartered celebrated its fifteenth year as the title sponsor. Last year, Julian Wynter, then CEO of Standard Chartered told me about how much supporting this event helped in the local community. His succesor, Rola Abu Manneh, expressed similar thoughts in a pre event interview.
26,500 people of all nationalities (200 different nationalities live in peace in U.A.E.)run and walk in this event. The event has support of businesses, the royal family and many sponsors, and local groups and charities support the event.
But, from the very front, 2 course records and exciting battles kept the interest of fans while their family members competed.
And Peter Connerton smiled, from ear to ear.
How will he surpass 2019 in 2020?
Well, he can start thinking about that tomorrow.