WHILE NARROWLY MISSING a World Record, the 2023 Valencia Half-Marathon hit the record books as the fastest competitive race in event history, yielding 4 of the 8 fastest times ever run over the 21.0975K distance.
Veteran Kenyan road racer Kibiwott Kandie sprinted to a 57:40 victory, 8 seconds shy of his former WR and Valencia course record run in 2020, and 9 seconds off Jacob Kiplimo’s current 57:31 standard run in Lisbon in 2021.
Kandie managed to outsprint an accomplished trio of Ethiopian tracks stars, with Yomif Kejelcha finishing 2nd in 57:41, Hagos Gebrhiwet 3rd in 57:41 and Selemon Barega 4th in 57:50.
All three bettered Kejelcha’s Ethiopian Record of 58:32 run last year in Valencia, significantly elevating the nation’s presence on the all-time list dominated by Kiplimo and a dozen Kenyans.
Sabastian Sawe finished 5th in 58:29, with 15 runners bettering an hour including a Spanish Record 59:39 by Carlos Mayo, Samuel Barata’s Portuguese Record 59:40, and Italian Pietro Riva running 59:41.
The women also lit up the ATL with Margaret Kipkemboi of Kenya continuing a nice transition to the roads. She finished strong to clock 64:46. Irene Cheptai became the thirteenth woman in the sub-65 club running 64:53 with Janeth Chepngetich 3rd in 65:15.
Kandie said, “I was happy to come back to Valencia and win the race for the third time and run under 58. It was a big race with the top guys so we could not think of the World Record.”
The men’s victor was also quick to recognize the magic of the Valencia course which is now home to 18 of the world’s fastest 25 clockings: “I wish to say thank you to the organization and the race director [Juan Botella] who designed a really good course that I can say it was perfect and we really enjoyed it. In the future we will come back to run a World Record.”
With perfect weather, a 10-man front pack zipped through the opening 3K in 8:16, before a 2:47 fourth K slowed the pace to a 58:14 clip. Kandie took note and took off, immediately leaving the pacers behind with only Kejelcha and Gebrhiwet able to latch onto the explosive surge.
“I pushed because my tactic was to run 57,” Kandie said. “At 4K I checked my time so I say let me push.”
Kandie is a rather unique talent among the plethora of Kenyan distance stars. The 27-year-old Iten-based athlete is known for his three-a-day training sessions and his aggressive racing, running in a chest forward stride, launching his body down the road with a push, push, push mentality.
Barega tapped his track speed to rejoin the lead trio, then Kandie leaned into the pace again, ripping off a string of fast kilometers to cross 5K in 13:44 and split 13:28 between 4K and 9K.
Passing 10K in 27:15, it looked as if Kandie had punched himself out as he drifted to the back while Barega carried the pace. Of his tactic, Kandie later recalled, “I realized that I was the pacemaker and I had three guys in back of me, and I could be exhausted going to the finish line.”
Kandie’s respite only lasted 5 minutes before he was back at the front hammering away, flanked by Kejelcha and Barega who both looked exceedingly comfortable on the roads. Gebrhiwet, 3 weeks removed from his World Road Champs 5K win, did well to stick with the pace and admitted, “I did not have rest and recovery after Riga so I could only follow.”
Kandie saved his hardest attacks for the final 2K, striking in the 19th kilometer and sprinting ahead, leaving Barega behind. Kejelcha gave chase and a minute into the surge caught his rival, then with Gebrhiwet on his heels pulled 5 meters clear of Kandie.
But after 20K of breakneck racing, the pace grew tentative as the trio ran side-by-side taking a tactical pause that almost let Barega rejoin the race.
Kandie started his final push 400 meters out, then with 300 to go, accelerated sharply into a vigorous sprint, getting a 5m jump on Kejelcha that he was able to maintain all the way home closing the final 400 in 54 seconds.
Kandie said, “When there were 400 meters to go, I knew that the first person that makes a move from there will win it. I changed my movements because I was acquiring the power from my hands and it gives me the best confidence in my sprint.”
The 30-year-old Kipkemboi won a track World Champs silver medal in the Doha 5000 (2019), bronze in the Eugene 10,000 (’22) and this past summer finished 4th in the Budapest 5000 — while also effectively taking to the roads running 65:26 in her half-marathon debut last year in Barcelona.
“It was an amazing race for me,” Kipkemboi said. “The pacers did a good job, we had a group through 10K, and three strong athletes at 15 kilometers. In the last 3 kilometers we started picking up the pace and I said I think I can do it and I was able to push to the finish line without a challenge.”
The winner has more on his docket for the year. “I will not rest, I will go back to training as I will come for the marathon in December, and I will try to do my best,” he said. A sizeable improvement on his 2:12:43 PR from New York City ’21 looks likely on the route where Kelvin Kiptum debuted in 2:01:53 last year.
VALENCIA HALF-MARATHON RESULTS
1. Kibiwott Kandie (Ken) 57:40 (WL) (x, 4 W) (13:44, 13:31 [27:15], 13:46 [41:01], 13:37 [54:38], 3:02); 2. Yomif Kejelcha (Eth) 57:41 NR (=3, =5 W); 3. Hagos Gebrhiwet (Eth) 57:41 =NR (=3, =5 W); 4. Selemon Barega (Eth) 57:50 PR (6, 8 W);
5. Sabastian Sawe (Ken) 58:29; 6. Hillary Chepkwony (Ken) 58:53 PR; 7. Mathew Kimeli (Ken) 59:00; 8. Nicholas Keter (Ken) 59:06 PR; 10. Weldon Kipkirui (Ken) 59:22 PR; 11. Stephen Kiprop (Ken) 59:32; 12. Tadese Worku (Eth) 59:33; 13. Carlos Mayo (Spa) 59:39 NR; 14. Samuel Barata (Por) 59:40 NR; 15. Pietro Riva (Ita) 59:41 PR; 16. Félix Bour (Fra) 60:39 PR; 17. Brian Kwemoi (Ken) 60:40; 18. Hamid Ben Daoud (Spa) 60:41 PR;
19. Biya Simbassa (US) 60:42 (AL) (6, 8 A);
20. Kelvin Kibiwott (Ken) 60:52.
(best-ever mark-for-place: 3–4, 10–15)
1. Margaret Kipkemboi (Ken) 64:46 PR (=9, =10 W) (15:28, 15:33 [31:01], 15:16 [46:17], 15:12 [61:29], 3:17);
2. Irene Cheptai (Ken) 64:53 PR; 3. Janeth Chepngetich (Ken) 65:15 PR; 4. Goytatom Gebreselassie (Eth) 66:12; 5. Tigist Gezahagn (Eth) 66:20 PR; 6. Melat Kejeta (Ger) 66:25; 7. Samantha Harrison (GB) 67:10 PR; 8. Tesfaye Nigsti (Eth) 68:42; 9. Carolina Wikström (Swe) 69:39 PR;
10. Lauren Paquette (US) 69:41 PR; 11. Laura Luengo (Spa) 69:41 NR; 12. Esther Navarrete (Spa) 69:58 PR; 13. Fionnuala McCormack (Ire) 70:13; 14. Marta Galimany (Spa) 70:45 PR; 15. Amy Davis (US) 70:46 PR; 16. Emily Kearney (GB) 70:47 PR; 17. Susana Godinho (Por) 70:53 PR; 18. Anne-Marie Blaney (US) 70:57 PR; 19. Marie Perrier (Mri) 71:13 NR; 20. Jacelyn Gruppen (Neth) 71:35.