In the 19th running of the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon, nearly 30,000 people enjoyed the marathon, 10k and 4k.
Two of the happiest people here, besides Race Director Peter Connerton and Media Director Alan Ewens were the men's winner, Mosinet Geremew and the women's winner, Roza Dereje.
This short piece will highlight both races, but we will come back and discuss them in detail!
Fog, a bit of wind and cool weather greated the elite runners as the media, and elites left the Westin Dubai Habtoor City hotel at 5 am sharp. This was not 5:01, and three runners learned the lesson, having taken a bit longer for morning prayers, and they procured a taxi to get to the race.
There was one pace group for the men's race, and they were to hit the half marathon in 61:30. A fine crew of Ethiopian marathoners, many experienced, and some not so experienced. The field got out well, hitting 5k in 14:15, 10k in 29:08, and 15k in 43:39. A pack of twelve followed the three pacemakers, In the pack, Tamirat Tola, 2017 winner, who had said he was in better shape than last year, was there, Aleme Gebrselassie, in his debut, Mosinet Geremenw, Gurmesa Legese and Kasaye Lemma, along with the very focused Negewo Mengstu were there.
The half marathon was hit in 61:36, as the pack was reluctant for some reason to stay with the hard running pace makers.
The first hour of running included fog and darkness, as the sun did not come up until just after the 7 AM mark.
On the women's side, there were two pace groups, focused on 70 minutes and 71:30 for the half marathon. The women hit 16:46 for 5k, 33:11 for 10k and 49:49 for 15k. Before 15k, we had the first casualty, as Asefelech Mergia, three time winner, did not make it until the 15k mark.
Following the pace makers were Worknesh Degefa, 2017 victor, Bekele Dereje, who had run 2:26:57 in Dubai in 2017 but added a 2:22 in Shanghai just 11 weeks ago, Gelete Burka, silver medalist over 10,000m in Beijing, Haylu Tesfay.
The men hit the halfway in 61:36, and there were twelve men in the pack. The women hit the half marathon in 1:10:07. There were at least ten women in the pack.
I remember noting, ten men under 2:04 pace and ten women at 2:20 pace.
The 25k for men was passed in 1:12:56 and for the women, the 25k was passed in 1:23:09.
The 5k between 25k and 30k was tough, as the men hit the 30k in 1:27:33 and the women hit the 30k in 1:39:41.
This is where it gets tough. This five kilometers between 30k and 35k really takes it out of the athletes, as the sun, heat and pace all added up. As fast as the men were, some 30 seconds head of World Record pace, I remember thinking, there are going to be some very tired marathoners.
But, while it slowed, both races were amazing!
The men started running 3:00 minute kilometers for the next four kilometers, and it looked very tactical. By 35k, hit in 1:42:35, Tola was leading with Negewo Mengstu, Aleme Gebrselassie, Gurmssa Lagesse and Mosinet Geremew all up there.
The women were running at at strong 2:20 pace, with 1:56:03 being the time that they hit for 35k. Roza Bekele, who had run a 2:22 marathon a mere 11 weeks ago, with Worknesh Degefa and Feyse Tadese and Yebrugal Melesse, just back from a bout of injuries, running well.
What makes one runner fold and another hold on at the end of the marathon? Is it desire, spirit, that last hard run in the mountains, some final words from a coach?
For each, it might be different.
But one thing was clear, there were two battles over the last 7 kilometers for both men and women.
The men hit the 40k in 1:57:40. And it was down to seven men, within three seconds. Tamirat Tola, who had nearly fallen at 35k water stop, tried to lead, but he was just not all there. Asefa Mengstu took the lead, and he pushed the pace, with Birhanu Legese, Tamirat Tola pushing too, and Mosinet Geremew and Leul Gebrselassie lurking. Lurking? Just think of, like the 5,000m in Stockholm or Oslo with 500 meters to go, and how someone in the race will just watch until the final moment to kick. That was what was going on.
On the women's side, the 40k was hit in 2:12:53. Roza Dereje and Worknesh Degefa were not going to leave the win to chance. Dereje knew that they were going fast and Degefa realized it too, but both were running about three minutes faster than they had ever run.
Who would hold on?
On the men's side, the pace increased dramatically, and the lead changed at least four times over the last two kilometers. Mosinet Geremew held his final sprint until 200 meters to go, and boom! he was off. Geremew held off debut marathoner Leul Gebrselassie, who had tried to move up several times, by two seconds, 2:04:00 to 2:04:02! Geremew picked up his knees and used a near sprinting motion with his hands, determined to hold off the charging marathoners. Mosinet Geremew lead seven men under 2:05! Geremew ran 2:04:00, Gebrlselassie ran 2:04:02 for second. Tamirat Tola, the 2017 winner, ran a PB, taking third in 2:04:06, telling the media afterwards he was very happy with his race. Asefa Mengstu, who had covered all the moves, ran fourth in 2:04:06! In fifth, Sisay Lemma ran 2:04:08! Birhanu Legesse ran 2:04:15 in sixth. In seventh, yes, seventh, Seifu Tura ran a fine 2:04:44.
Seven men under 2 hours, five minutes and a men's course record!
But, wait, the women's race had two more kilometers.
Roza Dereje made a move with one kilometer to go, and that was all she wrote. Running a fine 2:19:17, Roza ran another PB and a course record. Feyse Tadese ran 2:19:30, tying the former course record. Yebregunal Araga went by a faltering Worknesh Degefa, with Araga taking third in 2:19:36 and the 2017 winner, Degefa taking fourth in 2:19:55. Haftammesh Tesfay Haylu ran 2:20:13 for fifth. In sixth, Gelete Burka, the 2015 silver medalist over 10,000 meters, ran 2:20:45, perhaps having found her real event.
Smiling from ear to ear, Peter Connerton came by as I was writing. The race director had so much to be happy with today. Peter noted that, when the world record comes next, it may be in a race such as we saw today, where a group of fine runners, in wonderful conditions, are inspired to run their hearts out, as the fields had today.
I thought to myself, how will Dubai Marathon improve on this one?