BERLIN, GERMANY, September 26 — The Abbott World Marathon Majors got back to racing in the streets kicking off a 5-race fall bonanza with Kenenisa Bekele hoping to take another shot at Eliud Kipchoge’s World Record of 2:01:39 after falling a scant 2 seconds short in ’19.
WR gambits are almost expected on the hyper-fast loop course around the German capital; what wasn’t expected was a little heat and a lot of humidity that scuttled any hopes for fast running.
Guye Adola claimed his first career victory in 2:05:45, the fastest survivor after clocking most extreme halves of 60:48 and 64:57. Bekele faded to 3rd in 2:06:47, while Bethwel Yegon rallied from more than a minute off the pace to take 2nd in 2:06:14.
Four years ago Adola made a stunning 2:03:45 debut in Berlin, giving Kipchoge a stiff challenge until the final two kilometers. This time the 30-year-old Ethiopian had his eyes on the prize, admitting, “I tried to win and today I did it.”
The race began in typical Berlin fashion, a trio of pacers leading an ambitious group of racers at record pace. The opening 5K was covered in 14:22 and a subsequent 14:25 had the pack on 2:01:27 pace at 10K. Adola and Bekele latched onto the rapid pace, but so did the unexpected quartet of Tesfaye Lencho, Abraham Kipyatich, Philemon Kacheran and Olika Adugna, all racing far above their pedigree.
No surprise that Olika fell off the pace before 15K (43:12), but it was a bit of a shock when Bekele slipped 10m back in the 17th K. As was his way in both previous Berlins, Bekele preferred to run his own pace. Sensing the tempo was too hot, Bekele was 11 seconds back at 20K, and 12 seconds arrears of the pack’s 60:48 at halfway, but spot-on the targeted 61:00.
Almost immediately the pace began to slow. After stringing together four 5K segments between 14:22 and 14:27, the 20-25K interval was covered in 15:04, with Bekele closing within 4 seconds as the final pacer retired after moving 30m ahead of the pack.
Half a kilometer later Bekele caught the lead group and moved to the front. Adola and Kacheran latched onto the pace, while Kipyatich and Lencho were left behind.
Adola and Bekele traded off the lead but the pace slowed to a 15:07 split, reaching 30K in 1:27:48 (2:03:29 pace). Whatever the splits, the operative number was the 60-degree dew point.
For perspective, a 40-degree dew point is ripe for PRs, anything above 50 presents a challenge to performance, and at 60 degrees a lot of energy is diverted from running fast to regulating body temperature and in the later stages of the race the pace slows exponentially.
Adola said, “In the first half the weather did not affect us. After 22K it was too hot and we could not push and could not run like before.”
The lead trio pressed on, cloaked in fatigue, and Kacheran was finally dropped in the 33rd K. The pace slowed further with a 15:21 split reaching 35K in 1:43:09 (2:04:21 pace).
Bekele grabbed a fluid bottle and almost immediately dropped 10m off the pace, and quickly slipped 50 back. He was soon passed by the hard-charging Yegon, who started to close on Adola who while breaking away had slowed further with a pair 3:10 and 3:11 kilometers. Yegon surged into the lead at 37.5 K but Adola rallied and clung to the 28-year-old Kenyan who had a PR of only 2:08:18.
After slowing to a 15:59 5K segment, Adola surged to the front just after 40K and quickly opened up a 10m lead that seemed to grow with every stride. Tapping his experience in racing Kipchoge over the finishing stretch 4 years ago, Adola accelerated off every turn breaking clear to claim a well-earned victory.
Bekele, who had been stricken with COVID at the beginning of the year, admitted, “it was a tough race,” adding that it was“great to be back racing; the marathon distance is always a challenge and I struggled midway. I kept fighting to come back and I gave it all today. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough, but I will be back stronger.”
After a two-year pause in racing, the 39-year old looks ahead with renewed commitment. “I need more time to prepare. Even two years ago I prepared for three months and that is not enough time. I have to learn to train longer. Before my retirement, I want to do better training. I am really confident that I have capacity to do that because I know my problems and this is affecting my performance.”
1. Idemo Adola Guye (Eth) 2:05:45 PR; 2. Bethwel Yegon (Ken) 2:06:14 PR; 3. Kenenisa Bekele (Eth) 2:06:47; 4. Tadu Abate (Eth) 2:08:24; 5. Muteti Matolo Cosmas (Ken) 2:08:45 PR; 6. Philemon Kacheran (Ken) 2:09:29; 7. Okbay Tsegay (Eri) 2:10:37; 8. Benard Kimeli (Ken) 2:10:50 PR; 9. Hidekazu Hijikata (Jpn) 2:11:47; 10. Hosea Kipkemboi (Ken) 2:12:25; 11. Damiso Gudeta (Eth) 2:12:35 PR; 12. Yimer Getahun (Isr) 2:13:23; 13. Haftom Welday (Eri) 2:13:47 PR; 14. Kazuki Muramoto (Jpn) 2:14:11; 15. Takuya Fujimoto (Jpn) 2:14:18; 16. Philipp Pflieger (Ger) 2:15:01; 17. Melkam Jamber (Isr) 2:16:13; 18. Ebrahim Abdulaziz (Nor) 2:17:17; 19. Gantulga Dambadarjaa (Mgl) 2:18:28; 20. Adrian Lehmann (Swi) 2:18:50.