Dubai: World record holder and reigning champion Ababel Yeshaneh will be back to defend her title at the 2021 Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) Half Marathon as the emirate builds up towards staging the 2023 World Half Marathon Championships.
Scheduled to be held on February 19, the RAK Half Marathon — termed as the world’s fastest half marathon — has also enticed a tantalising field of top road runners, including 2020 London Marathon champion Brigid Kosgei.
Battling in the men’s section will be reigning champion Kibiwott Kandie as he takes on world half marathon champion Jacob Kiplimo, among others.
Yeshaneh had made the RAK Half Marathon shine on the global stage while setting a women’s world half marathon record of 64.31 mins while winning the race last year.
And though she had prepped up well with a silver at the 2019 Chicago Marathon, Yeshaneh slipped into a disappointing fifth at the World Half Marathon last month while running out of gas in the closing stages in Gdynia.
So far, Kosgei has played second fiddle to Yeshaneh. The Kenyan finished 18 seconds behind the champion from Uganda at the 2020 RAK Half Marathon. But with the world marathon record of 2:14.04 at the 2019 Chicago race along with wins at the last two London Marathons, Kosgei will know what to do as she tackles Yeshaneh in Ras Al Khaimah next year.
Kandie has been the fastest man in the world over the half marathon this year with a time of 58.38 mins in Prague, in September. The Kenyan had won the RAK race in February with a time of 58.58 mins. He was also runner-up in the World Half Marathon Championships in a time of 58:54, making him the first man to run sub-59 minutes three times in one year.
And then, Uganda’s young sensation Kiplimo came along taking the world half-marathon title ahead of Kandie in Gdynia last month. Only 20, Kiplimo had announced himself with a wonderful track season that saw him run 7:26.64 mins for 3,000 mts and 12:48.63 for 5,000 mts. In 2019, the Ugandan runner had taken silver at the world cross-country championships behind Joshua Cheptegei in Aarhus.
“This is the fastest half-marathon course in the world and we are working to maintain its fame. It is with this reason that we have stuck to the same course as so that athletes can go fast on an already familiar course,” Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon Race Director Andrea Trabuio said at the race announcement, late on Wednesday.
“The course is flat and fast, and this can assist the runners in reaching their best performances. At the same time, we’ve got to pay attention to the various social distancing measures,” he stressed.
Accordingly, the elite racers and the non-elite events will be run separately on February 19 in order to maintain all social distancing measures. The non-elite event will have seven waves comprising of around 400 runners in each wave with prior temperature checks and masks worn for the first few hundred metres.
“We have learnt a lot from what London Marathon did in October. The most important thing is to put in place a protocol from the beginning and we’re creating a bubble for the elite athletes and the mass race,” he added.
Fast and flat, the course for the RAK Half Marathon stretches along the scenic shores of Al Marjan Island with the non-elite athletes having a separate start and finish, while the elite runners will go along the same route as 2020. The non-elite field has already been filling up quickly with organisers claiming to have more than 1,000 registered runners already.
With the pandemic situation around the world, athletes have been restricted to their homes, leave alone finding time and space for regular training sessions. This has brought in a sense of despondency from the runners who are all too eager to get out and compete.
Athletes’ representative Federico Rosa has done well to assemble a competitive line-up of specialist runners. “It has been a difficult year and everyone is aware of this. And yet, we have managed to get one of the toughest fields, if not the best-ever set of professional runners for this race next year,” Rosa remarked.
“There are not many road races happening at the moment. Most of the runners have done just one or two races during 2020. And with not much changes happening in 2021, the athletes will find more appeal in attending the RAK Half Marathon,” he added.
Organisers have also planned virtual training runs as part of the build-up for the main race in less than three months’ time. The first of these virtual runs over 10km will be held on December 11-12 followed by a 15km run on January 15-16.
Due to its continuing success, the Ras Al Khaimah event — backed by Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA) — is also bidding to stage the 2023 World Half Marathon Championships.
All further details about the race can be found at therakhalfmarathon.com