Recent performances had hinted that Valary Aiyabei was due a big breakthrough over 26.2 miles, and the Kenyan confirmed it at the Volkswagen Prague Marathon on Sunday (7) as she smashed the course record at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race to win in 2:21:57.
Meanwhile, Gebretsadik Abraha went past fellow Ethiopian Bazu Worku with just two minutes to go to take the men’s title in 2:08:47.
Just five weeks ago, Aiyabei had finished fourth at the Prague Half Marathon in 1:07:50 behind compatriot Joyciline Jepkosgei, who broke the world record in that race.
But, perhaps inspired by Jepkosgei’s front-running heroics in the Czech capital, Aiyabei shot to the front in the early stages and had just a couple of male pacemakers for company as she passed through five kilometres in 16:12 and 10 kilometres in 32:18.
She maintained that brutal pace for another 10 kilometres or so. As she reached half way in 1:08:24 – a split which suggested a finishing time of 2:16:48 – Aiyabei had a lead of two minutes and 23 seconds over Ethiopian trio Amane Berison, Tadelech Bekele and Hirut Tibebu.
Aiyabei added another six seconds to her leading margin at 25km, which she reached in 1:21:23, but her pace soon dropped and her opponents began to close.
Over the course of the next 10 kilometres, which Aiyabei covered in 34:29, Beriso and Bekele – now running as a duo after Tibebu dropped behind – made up more than a minute on Aiyabei. Another five kilometres later, and with just a couple of kilometres left to run, Beriso and Bekele trailed Aiyabei by just 21 seconds.
But, sensing that her rivals were getting near, Aiyabei managed to hold on to her advantage during the closing stages. Her chances of a sub-2:20 finishing time had long disappeared, but she was still delighted to cross the line in 2:21:57, taking 37 seconds off the course record set in 2011 by Kenya’s Lydia Cheromei.
Beriso and Bekele placed second and third in 2:22:15 and 2:22:23 respectively, both finishing well inside the previous course record.
“I feel good because I prepared well,” said Aiyabei, who set her third successive PB following victories in Barcelona last year in 2:25:26 and Valencia last November in 2:24:48. “I started the race very fast and I could not keep up with the pace. The bridges and the wind made it difficult, but I am happy.”
ABRAHA OVERTAKES WORKU
The men’s race played out quite differently and was only decided in the closing stages.
Led by pacemaker Geoffrey Ronoh, a large group of about 15 men passed through 10 kilometres in 30:25. 13 of those remained in close contact as half way was reached in 1:04:05.
After pacing the field to 30km in 1:31:35, Ronoh stepped aside to leave Ethiopia’s Abraha, Bazu Worku and Mekuant Ayenew at the front of an eight-man pack.
About 10 minutes later, Japan’s Yuki Kawauchi fell and lost about 20 seconds on the lead group. The Ethiopian trio had just Kenya’s Benson Kipruto for company as they reached 35km in 1:46:55.
After about two hours of running, Worku put in a surge and broke up the lead group. He looked to be making a long run for home, but with 2:06:30 on the clock, Abraha went past Worku and opened up a 20-metre gap in the course of half a minute.
With the finish line in sight, Worku tried one final kick to regain the lead, but Abraha held on to pole position and crossed the line in 2:08:47, one second ahead of Worku. Ayenew was third in 2:09:00, completing the first ever Ethiopian sweep in Prague.
“I’m very happy to win my second marathon of the year,” said Abraha, whose first career marathon victory came in Marrakech earlier this year with 2:08:55. “The course is good but it was a tough race.”