Rotterdam has always been a fast course, and since its inception in 1981 it has produced two WRs and the winning time is always around 2:07-2:08. However due to its place on the racing calendar—very close to London—and also due to London’s seemingly bottomless budget and insistence on attracting the most incredible fields, Rotterdam has always been that “other” marathon, and instead of being a premier event where the big guns of road running come out to play, it has instead served more as a proving ground for those wanting to show they can challenge the already established stars of the road. That was definitely the case this year as two up-and-coming marathon stars hammered each other after the pacers dropped out to produce an amazing race and the third fastest time ever.
Last year the organizers splurged and forked out to bring in the best of the rest (the “rest” were all running London on the same weekend!). The result was nothing too earth-shattering, but nevertheless William Kipsang ran 2:05:49 (a new course record) and Daniel Rono jogged in about one minute later (2:06:58) as both men ran sub-2:07. The organizers, ever hopeful, were holding out for a new WR because both of those men had good credentials and might just have had a miracle race in them. In the end all they got was a new course record, but that did not stop them from bringing in fresh (and fast) new talent for this year.
The life of Kwambai: Part I
Some of you may (or may not) recall Kwambai from last year in Berlin. He tried heroically to challenge Gebreselassie. . .until Geb made the final move with five km to go on his way to a 2:03:59 and kind of overshadowed what was a significant run by Kwambai. Kwambai tanked the last five km and although he finished over 90 s back from Geb, he still crossed the line in a very fast 2:05:36—nearly seven minutes faster than his previous best time! So this year in Rotterdam he proved that he is not a one-hit wonder as he clearly has moved from being a 2:10 runner down to a serious contendor when he nearly won yesterday in 2:04:27.
The life of Kibet: Part I
Kibet debuted in Milano at the end of last year without much fanfare, winning that race in 2:07:53. That is fast, to be sure, especially given the condition which were apparently pretty cold, but plenty of runners on the circuit are running 2:08. Even more, Kibet has run five half-marathons with a best time of “only” 60:22, so he is fast to be sure, but several runners out there have sub-59s to their credit. So for Kibet to eke out a 2:04:27 in Rotterdam yesterday means he really ran out of his skin. Needless to say he also shattered his PB, taking nearly 3.5 min off his debut time in Milano.
Part II: The duel of Kibet vs. Kwambai
On paper it was half-marathon speedster Patrick Makau who was meant to steal the show as he has a 58:56 half to his credit. However it was his debut, and although impressive at 2:06:14 he was off the back when the racing started after 30 km. Before that there was a field of at least eight runners. The last pacer dropped out at 32 km, and that is when you started to see significant surges by Kwambai who really looked like he had the legs to systematically drop the others one by one. Makau was already seven seconds back at 35 km, but eventual third placer Abel Kirui was hanging in there and stayed with Kwambai’s attacks until he was 20 s off the pace at 40 km.
Kwambai put in what he must have hoped would be his final attack after 40 km, and dropped Kibet with less than two km to go. He had a gap of maybe 20 m or so and Kibet was not looking like he could reel Kwambai back in. In fact down the finishing stretch Kwambai looked confident about the move he just made and was zeroing in on the tape when Kibet came storming back:
It was not quite as close as Ramaala and Tergat in NYC 2005, or Ivuti and Gharib in Chicago 2007, but it was fantastic racing by these two runners who now have clearly arrived on the scene. Having produced the third fastest time ever—and only by one second as Gebreselassie’s 2nd fastest time stands at 2:04:26—they have let everyone know they have the legs to contend on a flat course.
Their time was the result of a quick pace right from the start, and their split at halfway was 62:35—compared to 62:03 for Geb when he set his record last year in Berlin—although it was not a pure time trial as Kwambai really dropped the hammer and attacked the remaining bunch and the Kibet when he was the only one left running with him. In fact their pacing and splits deserves a further analysis to see exactly what the difference was between their 2:04:27 and Geb’s 2:03:59. But in any case both Kibet and Kwambai have increased their worth in a major way. If they can maintain their training without injury we should expect to see them in a big city race at the end of this year or next spring. Is London calling yet guys?