Kibiwott Kandie finishes the men’s 21km at the Valencia Marathon, smashing the world record, December 6, 2020. Photo: frame grab from Valencia Marathon live stream.

by Stephen Granger

While many city marathons around the world succumbed to COVID in 2020, the Valencia Marathon Trinidad Alfonso EDP used its late-in-the-year timing to seize an opportunity and attract the world’s best runners. The thriving Spanish sea-port not only delivered one of the world’s best marathons, it also established Valencia as one of the fastest on the planet. This year the city wants to do it again.

The impressive race organisers have attracted another strong line-up for Sunday’s race, which will see a return to mass participation on a significant scale. Despite the COVID travel curtailments which have been announced in the last week, the event has been largely unaffected. “The Valencia Marathon is like a Swiss Watch,” claimed Ivan Maestre Cortes of the race broadcast team, which will deliver live coverage of the event, including a live stream on spnafrica.com that will be delivered free across Africa for fans of the African runners likely to dominate the event.

However, Southern African athletes have not been able to reach Valencia, due to the COVID flight ban, with several athletes from South Africa and Namibia left stranded by the international flight ban. South African Olympian, Irvette van Zyl, who was to have raced in Spain on Sunday, will now take out her frustration on the PE Marathon in Gqeberha the day before.

While the 2020 event may never be equalled in terms of the depth of talent of both men and women participants, the race was limited to an elite field of just over two hundred athletes. This year, 16 000 will line up at the start (a 50% COVID-related reduction on the number which had been planned) together with some of the top names in marathon running, including 2019 winner, Ethiopian Kinde Atanaw, and last year’s runner-up, Kenyan Lawrence Cherono. Both are sub 2 hr 04 min marathoners.

Throw in 2:03:40 marathoner Herpasa Negasa and twice Cape Town Marathon champion, Abebe Negewo, both from Ethiopia, and you have quite a party! The quartet are just seconds away from joining an exclusive club of six athletes (headed by world record-holder Eliud Kipchoge with 2:01:39) who have run the marathon faster than 2 hr 03 min (three each from Kenya and Ethiopia) and will be going like the clappers to secure their ‘club membership’ on Sunday.

All four will be focused on standing on the top step of the podium come prize-giving, but Atanaw and Cherono, in particular, will have points to prove after last year’s race. Atanaw won in 2019 his personal best marathon time of 2:03:51, but failed to finish last year, whereas Cherono came within 4 seconds of victory after catching the leaders shortly before the finish but losing out to fellow-Kenyan, Evans Chebet, in the dash for the tape.

Several others in the field will also believe they have a sniff of victory, in particular former half-marathon world record holder, Kenyan Geoffrey Kamroror who, on the basis of his success over the half-distance, is certainly capable of running considerably faster than his 2:06:12 best, while his compatriot Philemon Kacheran, third in the 2018 Cape Town Marathon, believes he will drop below 2:06 this time around and possibly faster.

While the women’s field is not as strong this year, the battle to break the magical 2 hr 20 min barrier for the first time is likely to be intense, with a number of athletes knocking at the 2:20 door.

Ethiopian Guteni Shone Imana is the athlete knocking loudest, with her marathon PB of 2:20:11 set last year in the Dubai Marathon, where she placed second and was also close to the mark in May this year when she ran 2:21:46 in Prague to claim another runners-up medal.

Close behind her in the starting line-up is Imana’s 26 year-old compatriot, Azmeru Gebru, who raced to her marathon best time of 2:20:48 in finishing third in the Amsterdam Marathon in 2019m which she also clocked 2:22:52 in the Paris Marathon to finish second.

The other two in the field with marathon bests under 2:22 are Kenyan Bornes Chepkirui (2:21:26) and Ethiopian Bedatu Hirpa (2:21:32) and these four look a cut-above the rest of the field.

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