Sisay Lemma wins the Valencia Marathon (© Getty Images)
Sisay Lemma set a course record of 2:01:48 to move to fourth on the men’s world all-time list, while Worknesh Degefa ran a PB of 2:15:51 to win the women’s race and complete an Ethiopian double at the Valencia Marathon Trinidad Alfonso – a World Athletics Elite Platinum Label event – on Sunday (3).
As scheduled, the men's race kicked off at a brisk rhythm as the pacemakers went through the opening five kilometres in 14:28. They maintained that pace through to 10km (28:56), with Lemma always nearest to the pacemakers and other favourites – including Uganda's debutant Joshua Cheptegei and Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele – in close attendance.
Shortly after reaching the 13th kilometre, the pace of the lead pack picked up and only Lemma, Tanzania's Gabriel Geay and the Kenyan duo of Kibiwott Kandie and Alexander Mutiso managed to maintain it as that quartet clocked 14:08 for that 5km split. But Ethiopia’s Dawit Wolde and Chalu Deso plus Cheptegei re-joined them at the helm and seven men blazed through the half marathon checkpoint together in 1:00:35. By then, the experienced Bekele had decided to set his own cadence and travelled alone behind them, clocking 1:00:58 for half way.
With the clock reading 1:08, a quartet of Lemma, Geay, Deso and Wolde broke away from Kandie, Mutiso and Cheptegei. A short while later only Lemma travelled at the shoulder of the remaining pacemaker, with Kandie and Wolde a couple of seconds in arrears and the rest of the contenders some way back as that 10km section was covered in 28:38, the quickest of the race to that point. The leaders passed the 30km mark in 1:26:04, 27 seconds faster than the previous best 30km split.
The last pacemaker dropped out at 30.5km and Kandie, who had caught Lemma, ruled the race for a while with Lemma and Wolde chasing him in crocodile file. The pace dropped slightly without the pacemaker's help and the trio covered the following kilometres in the 2:55/2:57 range, running 14:36 for the 30-35km section. The key moment came some 1:42 into the race, when Lemma made his move to gradually open a sizeable margin on Wolde and Kandie, with the rest of the field far away.
Over the closing stages only Lemma was able to tick off each kilometre well under 3:00 pace to reach 40km in 1:55:12, almost a full minute ahead of Wolde, while Mutiso ran in third another half a minute adrift but ahead of a faltering Kandie.
Lemma reached the finish line unopposed in 2:01:48, just seven seconds shy of Bekele's national record. Mutiso overtook Wolde in the closing stages to take second place in a career best of 2:03:11, with Wolde completing the podium in 2:03:48, also a PB.
Bekele passed Geay and Kandie over the closing kilometres to finish a fine fourth in 2:04:19, improving his own masters record (M40). In a race of great depth, a record 13 athletes ran under 2:06 and a series of national records were set, while world 10,000m record-holder Cheptegei had to settle for 37th place in 2:08:59 on his debut over the classic distance.
“It's incredible to win here with such a fast time, I'm over the moon,” said Lemma.
Degefa signs successful return to lead Ethiopian 1-2-3
The women's event started at an even early pace of 3:12/km as the leaders clocked 16:00 for the opening 5km and 32:02 for 10km. Shortly afterwards, only four women – Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana, Degefa and Hiwot Gebrekiden, plus Germany's Melat Kejeta – remained at the helm.
Worknesh Degefa celebrates her Valencia Marathon victory (© Organisers)
The steady pace continued over the following kilometres and that quartet reached the halfway point in 1:07:29, running with a large group of male athletes and right on schedule to give last year's women's course record of 2:14:58 a scare. By that point, Kenya's Celestine Chepchirchir was a lonesome fifth in 1:08:20.
Ethiopia's Genzebe Dibaba was one of the pre-race favourites but the 32-year-old former middle-distance star only stayed in the leading group for six kilometres; she reached the halfway point some two minutes behind the leaders (1:09:20) and eventually dropped out of the race at the 27th kilometre.
It was always Ayana who ran closest to the pacemakers, the tempo dropping slightly between 20-30km as the leaders passed 30km in 1:36:22, running 32:24 for the previous 10km. Degefa, returning to the marathon after almost four years following a double maternity leave, moved to the front for the first time around the 33th kilometre and broke away from the 2016 Olympic 10,000m champion Ayana.
Ayana initially managed to reel in her compatriot but then she struggled to stay with Degefa as the latter went through 35km in 1:52:34 to open a four-second advantage. Gebrekidan was another 51 seconds in arrears.
Degefa extended her lead over the next few kilometres and became a virtual winner by 40km as her margin had grown to 21 seconds.
She crossed the finish line well inside the 2:16 barrier thanks to a 2:15:51 performance that improved her previous career best of 2:17:41 from 2019 and moved her to seventh on the women's world all-time list.
Ayana, claiming the runner-up spot, also improved her previous PB by almost a minute with her 2:16:22 effort, while Gebrekidan completed an Ethiopian podium sweep in 2:17:59, 1:11 faster than her previous best.
Chepchirchir finished fourth in 2:20:46.
Local fans had plenty to cheer as Tariku Novales (2:05:48) and Majida Maayouf (2:21:27) both set Spanish records, while Turkey's Sultan Haydar (2:21:27) and Italy's Sofiia Yaremchuk (2:23:16) also broke national records.
Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics
1 Worknesh Degefa (ETH) 2:15:51
2 Almaz Ayana (ETH) 2:16:22
3 Hiwot Gebrekidan (ETH) 2:17:59
4 Celestine Chepchirchir (KEN) 2:20:46
5 Majida Maayouf (ESP) 2:21:27
6 Sultan Haydar (TUR) 2:21:27
7 Desi Mokonin (BRN) 2:22:29
8 Genevieve Gregson (AUS) 2:23:08
9 Sofiia Yaremchuk (ITA) 2:23:16
10 Isobel Batt-Doyle (AUS) 2:23:27
1 Sisay Lemma (ETH) 2:01:48
2 Alexander Mutiso (KEN) 2:03:11
3 Dawit Wolde (ETH) 2:03:48
4 Kenenisa Bekele (ETH) 2:04:19
5 Gabriel Geay (TAN) 2:04:33
6 Kibiwott Kandie (KEN) 2:04:48
7 Chalu Deso (ETH) 2:05:14
8 Mohamed Esa (ETH) 2:05:40
9 Mehdi Frere (FRA) 2:05:43
10 Gashau Ayale (ISR) 2:05:46