By Stephen Granger
(The full race can be viewed here: https://spnafrica.com/programs/valencia-marathon-2021-0ea31a?categoryId=63480 )
Kenyan marathoner Lawrence Cherono atoned for his narrow defeat at last year’s Valencia Trinidad Alfonso Marathon by coming out on top in a thrilling finish which saw just 7 seconds separate the top three with the sixth-placed athlete just 12 seconds off the pace.
Ethiopian Chalu Deso trailed by four seconds at the finish to claim the silver medal with the second Kenyan, Philemon Kacheran, third, just four seconds ahead of former world half-marathon record holder, Geoffrey Kamroror, also from Kenya. Twice Cape Town Marathon champion, Ethiopian Abebe Negewo, joined the final mad-dash for the line to finish fifth, another four seconds adrift.
Nancy Jelagat made it a Kenyan double for the second successive year, winning relatively comfortably in 2:19:31 – 45 seconds ahead of marathon debutant, Ethiopian Etagegne Woldu and fast enough to secure the maximum time-based winner’s prize of €75 000. It also represented an extraordinary 17-minute improvement on her previous best marathon time.
The weather conditions were good for racing, but not perfect and world best times demand perfection. With a slight headwind slowing the athletes at times and a higher-than-ideal humidity, hopes to beat Evans Chebet’s 2:03:00 winning effort last year, or even the 2:04:30 top time incentive, were soon dashed, leaving the race to unfold as a tactical battle.
In the circumstances, Cherono’s 2:05:12 winning time – just over two minutes outside his 2:03:04 for second place last year – was an outstanding effort and represented an impressive combination of racing acumen and performance.
The headwind notwithstanding, the quality of the field, particularly in the men’s competition, placed Valencia as one of the world’s top three marathons of 2021. Only Amsterdam Marathon, with faster times up-front, shaded the times run in the Spanish port city whose Roman name “strength and valour” was certainly appropriate on the day.
Thirteen athletes clocked in at under 2:07:00 with no fewer than twenty flashing through the winning post in under 2:09:00.
And although the headwind may have cooled the frontrunners’ dream times and hopes for major cash incentives, there were many personal best performances on the day from athletes able to secure a modicum of shelter from the wind from other athletes.
Among those were Kacheran and Kamroror, whose respective times of 2:05:19 and 2:05:23 for 3rd and 4th elevated them into the top echelon of marathoners, as well as Jelagat and marathon debutant Woldu, 4th placed Ethiopian Rahma Tusa (2:23:20) and 5th placed Irish athlete Fionnuala McCormack, whose 2:23:58 was almost three minutes inside her previous best.
But the loudest cheer went to Spanish athlete Hamid Ben Daoud, who ran 28 seconds quicker than his previous best to stop the clock at 2:06:35, equalling Spain’s national record.
Ben Daoud gave everything in a final sprint for glory, collapsing just past the line, but thanks to the wording on the prize incentive list, it proved enough to secure him a substantial cash bonus. The wording “For the men’s or women’s Spanish record” rather than the usual requirement to beat the record, counted in Ben Daoud’s favour to the tune of €25 000.
In a ‘Ground Hog Day’ moment, the Moroccan-born Ben Daoud, who arrived in Spain at the age of 14 years, tucked onto the underside of a truck, placed 12th overall, repeating his compatriot Ayad Lamdassem’s run last year both in position and time.
Intriguingly, the race proved a contest between those athletes who chose to go out at record pace with the designated pacers, and others who opted to run more conservatively, recognizing the elements might not favour fast times. Cherono (unlike last year when he ran from behind), Deso, 2019 champion Kinde Atanaw and tall Tanzanian Gabriel Geay chose the former while several other elites, including Kacheron, Kamworwor and Negewo opted for the more cautious approach.
When the final pace-maker dropped out at 35km, it appeared to be a four-horse race with Cherono, Atanaw, Deso and Geay running side by side and well clear of the following pack. Geay dropped back at 38km with Atanaw joining him shortly after, leaving Cherono and Deso clear at the front, with the athletes exchanging the lead on several occasions.
Excitement mounted as the white and orange colours of the NM Marathon Club runners, including Kacheran and Kamroror, appeared behind the leaders, gradually closing the gap, with Kacheran catching the lead pair just 2km from the finish.
It was anyone’s race, but Kacheran’s effort to close the gap on the leaders had drained the last of his energy and it was Cherono who sped to a well-earned victory, leaving Deso in second and Kacheran third – the same position he attained in the 2018 Cape Town Marathon.
“The women’s race proved a triumph for marathon novices with Jelagat, whose 2 hr 36 min time in Italy in 2019 was her only prior completed marathon (although her 1:05:21 for the half marathon indicated a fast marathon was on the cards), coming in ahead of marathon debutant Etagegne, after the pair had kept pace with the more experienced Ethiopian, Rahma Tusa, for the first two-thirds of the race.
While Jelagat kept a constant pace, running almost identical splits for the two halves, her rivals fell behind, leaving her to make a giant leap from the ranks of the minor marathoners in her home country to one of the world’s best with her superb sub-2hr 20 min performance.
Men: 1 Lawrence Cherono (Ken) 2:05:12; 2 Chalu Deso (Eth) 2:05:16; 3 Philemon Kacheran (Ken) 2:05:19; 4 Geoffrey Kamroror (Ken) 2:05:23; 5 Abebe Negewo (eth) 2:05:27; 6 Goitom Kifle (Eri) 2:05:28; 7 Kinde Atanaw (Eth) 2:05:54; 8 Gabriel Geay (Tan) 2:06:10; 9 Daniel Do Nascimento (Bra) 2:06:11; 10 Herpasa Negasa (Eth) 2:06:20
Women: 1 Nancy Jelagat (Ken) 2:19:31; 2 Woldu Etagegne (Eth) 2:20:16; 3 Beyenu Degefa (Eth) 2:23:04; 4 Rahma Tusa (Eth) 2L23:20; 5 Fionnuala McCormack (Ire) 2:23:58; 6 Azmera Gebru (Eth) 2:24:01; 7 Adanech Andesa (Eth) 2:24:13; 8 Dorcas Tuitoek (Ken) 2:24:54; 9 Meseret Dinke (Eth) 2:25:12; 10 Giovanna Epis (Ita) 2:25:20