After six men ran under 60 minutes last year, the world’s fastest half marathon returns in Ras Al Khaimah in February.

The 13th edition of the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon once again promises fierce racing and quick times, with breath-taking men’s and women’s fields lining up for the race on February 8.

The race which statistically can claim to be the world’s fastest half marathon, is this year to be staged partially on the brand-new man-made Al Marjan Island complex, possibly an even faster circuit than in previous years.

The bar has been set incredibly high in the last two editions of the Ras Al Khaimah event, as last year Bedan Karoki of Kenya retained his title from 2017 (59:10), storming to a 58:42 clocking and leading six others under sixty minutes, while fellow Kenyan Fancy Chemutai missed the three-month-old women’s world record by one second with her 64:52 clocking in a memorable clash with legendary Mary Keitany.

The men’s lineup

Topping this year’s men’s line-up is Ethiopia’s Abadi Hadis, who at just 20 last October, was third at the Valencia Half in 58:44, in only his second outing over 21.1km. His fabulous track times at 5,000m and 10,000m plus his Cross Country pedigree, single him out as a genuine all-round racer, and if his 2018 form on road and track is maintained, he will be the one to beat.

Behind the young Ethiopian however, on times at least, is a host of top Kenyans and fellow Ethiopians, covering between them an enticing mix of youth and experience. Jorum Okombo is one of the former, placing fourth last year (59:36) when just 20, but with a 58:48 best when runner-up in Copenhagen 2017. Despite a string of fast times over the last two years, he has yet to win a half marathon, so perhaps arrives a little hungrier than most.

The experienced Alex Korio has been consistently under the magical 60-minute barrier in recent years, while fellow Kenyan Daniel Kipchumba, after winning his debut half in Italy last April, went on to win the Copenhagen Half last September in 59:06, and was again under the hour in New Delhi in October.

While not yet a sub-60 minute performer, much attention will be focused upon Switzerland’s latest road sensation Julien Wanders. Spending much of the year training in Kenya, the 22 year old set a 27:25 European 10km record in Paris on December 30th, and with his 60:09 half marathon best last February, is perfectly poised to become just the fifth European ever to break the one hour mark.

The women’s race

The Women’s race, so sensational last year, promises equal drama. The 2017 champion Peres Jepchirchir, in a then world record of 65:06, returns from becoming a mother, and while she may struggle to match the dramatic consistency of her 2016 racing year and the subsequent world record in Ras Al Khaimah, there is justifiable excitement about her return to the big time.

Equally keenly anticipated, is the appearance of reigning world half marathon champion Netsanet Gudeta of Ethiopia, who’s win in Valencia last March not only gave her global gold but was a Women’s Only World Record. The yawning winning margin behind her and the fact that she won all three of her half marathon contests in 2018, and furthermore can boast remarkable consistency over the last four years, suggests there is more to come.

A first home win is possible through the UAE’s own Alia Mohammed Saeed, who’s best time of 66:13 came in her debut and so far only outing over 21.1km, in Valencia last October; she was a close runner-up there and her three wins out of three in road 10km races last year, suggest her competitive instincts are finely honed.

Trying to stop her, will be a brace of former youngsters from her former home in Ethiopia. Although only 20 last June, Zeineba Yimer ran five half marathons in 2018, each of them of high quality, and they included a fine fifth place at the world championships in March (68:07), followed by a brace of much quicker runs in September’s Copenhagen race (66:21 pb) and New Delhi (66:59). Not having raced since that latter outing in October, should see her in fresh and ready-to-race mood.

Throw in Degitu Azimeraw who also has just one half marathon to her name, and the challenge is clear. The winner of her first international race in Kolkata, a 25km just over a year ago, she was sixth in Ras Al Khaimah last year, her one and only half marathon ever, in a fine 66:47, to place just outside the world top ten for the year.

With larger mass entry numbers than ever before, the thirteenth edition of the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon, promises the usual comprehensive mix of supreme elite racing, a joyous running experience for the thousands behind them, and quick times for all on the new circuit which has very negligible rise throughout its entire length.

RELATED: 2018 Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon report

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