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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Paris Marathon Report and splits

Tsegaye Kebede - a name for the future, as the spring marathon season starts with a bang

The spring marathon season has begun! As Jonathan wrote earlier this week, the next month throws up a number of big European marathons, as well the famed Boston Marathon (April 21st).

That will be a big focus for us over the next while, starting today, which saw the first of those races – the Paris Marathon. Paris has always been something of a “poor cousin” to the London Marathon, by virtue of its proximity to that race – London is next week and bagged most of the world’s marathon superstars.

Paris Marathon – victory for Kebede, sending notice to the world

However, Paris did still attract a quality, competitive field, demonstrated by the final performances.

1. Tsegaye Kebede (ETH) - 2:06:40

2. Moses Arusei (KEN) - 2:06:50

3. Hosea Rotich (KEN) - 2:07:24

The winning time was 2:06:40, and the table below shows how that time was put together (based on splits as reported by race broadcaster).

How the race unfolded

The early pace was consistent, just outside 3:00/km, which was exactly as requested by race organizers. A very large group developed, led by the pacemakers, and halfway was reached in 63:41 by a group of between 15 and 20 runners. Between 21 and 25km, athletes began peeling off the back, and the group was stretched out despite the pace actually slowing. However, it's worth noting that many were in territory they’d never been in before, running at a pace that was, for some, up to four minutes faster than their previous bests!

The next five kilometres, from 30 to 35km, is where marathon races are often won or lost, but the pace remained consistent at just outside 3:00 min/km. It was enough to cut the lead group from about twelve to eight men. It was therefore a race of attrition, more a case of last man standing at one pace than a race with attacks, at least up to this point.

At 35km, Moses Arusei of Kenya, a man who came into the race with a PB outside 2:10, threw in a surge and the group was stretched out, and then broken. Only three men were able to follow this pace, including Hosea Rotich and Tsegaye Kebede, the Ethiopian. Arusei was the slowest of the men in that lead group of three, but he continued to drive the pace at the front. He surged again a few minutes later, and Rotich was put into difficulty at the back.

The race finish - speed wins the day for Kebede

Arusei and Kebede of Ethiopia then ran through the final 5km alone. An odd couple – about 20 cm difference in height, with the diminutive Kebede reminiscent of Ethiopia's Miruts Yifter, and at only 45kg, one of the lightest men on the circuit – they reached 40km in 2:00:20, which means the last 5km had been covered in 14:37 – that was the split that did the damage to the lead group, 2:55/km over the last 5km.

Kebede, aged only 21, has a speed pedigree that would frighten many marathon runners – a 59:35 half marathon earlier this year, and as regular readers of our site will know, that speed is perhaps the biggest predictor of success over the longer distance.

Just before 41km, Kebede kicked on and soon opened a gap of about 10m over the brave, but by now somewhat outpaced, Arusei. It was the race’s decisive move. With about 500m to go, there was a noticeable jump in pace as Kebede surged again. As the table above shows, the final 2km were covered at an average pace of 2:53.1/km. The finish time? 2:06:40. It was fast, but not quite fast enough to break the course record, which was missed by a mere 7 seconds! You'll see from the table above that until the move of Arusei at 35km, they were never on for a sub-2:07 clocking, and it took a 2:55/km average pace from 35km onwards to gave us the mid-2:06 finish! So a remarkable, but ultimately insufficient ramp in pace in the final 5km.

That meant Kebede missed out on a course record bonus, but he did still bag a 50,000 Euro purse, and perhaps more importantly, is now a name to notice on the global marathon scence. 21 years old, a sub-60 minute half marathon and a 2:06 marathon in a tactical race! Remember the name – Tsegaye Kebede.

Women’s race - gutsy racing and a win for Martha Komu of Kenya

Unfortunately, we didn’t get too many splits from the women’s race, particularly early on. The halfway split was however given and it was 72:03, which projected a finish time in the low 2:24’s.

Given that most of today’s major marathons are being won in the low 2:20’s, that’s not a bad pace, especially considering that there were no pace-makers for the women’s field (officially organized pacemakers – there was the presence of a number of men who provided “pacing” suport) and that the five women in the lead group were not low 2:20-caliber athletes – most had never broken 2:30 before this race.

30 km was reached in 1:43:13, projecting a finish time of 2:25:10. The pace had therefore slowed to 3:30 min/km, which was not all that surprising given that the athletes were running many minutes faster than they’d ever run before.

A small group of five became two, when Martha Komu of Kenya and Tola Workness of Ethiopia moved clear.

Komu wins the award for bravery on the day - a 2:33 runner, she did most of the work to create this break of two athletes, and in the final 5 km, her face was a picture of pain as she ran into unchartered marathon territory. Her arms were flying in every direction, her style had fallen to pieces, but she hung in there. Tola moved clear with about 500m to race, looking completely comfortable, but Komu fought back and coming into the final straight, actually moved passed the more favoured Tola!

Tola was unable to respond, and in the end, the race was won by Martha Komu in 2:25:29, beating the more favoured Tola and the clock. Her previous best was 2:32:45, and so she set a PB by an astonishing 7 minutes, 16 seconds! Extra-ordinary, and probably the run of the day, though the "breakthrough" of Kebede probably has longer-lasting implications for the marathon world!

Looking ahead – a “taster” for London

Paris, for all its qualities (the city and race), is a taster of what we can expect come next Sunday, when the very best runners in the world line up on the other side of the Channel in London. It’s the deepest, highest quality marathon field put together anywhere in the world, and the racing should be incredible. It includes Martin Lel, who is the great marathon racer of the last four years. We’ll preview the race this week, followed by full coverage next Sunday.