Jelagat and Cherono victorious in Valencia marathon

December 5, 2021 Kenya's Nancy Jelagat reacts after winning the women's race REUTERS

Nancy Jelagat and Lawrence Cherono achieved a Kenyan double at the Valencia Marathon Trinidad Alfonso EDP, a World Athletics Elite Platinum Label event, on a windy Sunday, which hampered the athletes’ performances.

Fully aware there would be bursts of wind of up to 60km/h throughout the race, the organisers readjusted the scheduled pace for both races and the women’s contest opened at a steady rhythm.

The pacemakers led the field through 5km in 16:26 and 10km in 32:55, setting up the lead group for a sub-2:20 finish, which none of the competitors had done before.

During the early stages, Jelagat, fellow Kenyan Born Chepkirui and Ethiopia’s Rahma Tusa ran closest to the pacemakers, also using them as shelter from the wind. The nine-woman lead group went through halfway in a promising 1:09:41, well inside their 2:20 target.

Over the second half, the lead pack whittled down progressively and by 30km only Jelagat and Etagegne Woldu remained in contention. Although Woldu was making her marathon debut, and Jelagat started the race with a modest 2:33:56 best, the duo broke away easily from the rest of the more experienced field.

Shortly after 33km, Jelagat – who set a half marathon PB of 1:05:21 in Berlin in August – became the sole leader as 25-year-old Woldu could no longer match the pacemaker’s tempo. With incredibly even halves of 1:09:41 and 1:09:50, Jelagat crossed the line in 2:19:31, making a breakthrough in what was her 11th attempt at the distance.

“It was my first time here in Valencia but I promise to come back,” said an elated Jelagat. “I’ve improved my PB by 14 minutes, so I can’t ask for more.”

Woldu finished runner-up in 2:20:16, while fellow debutante Degefa completed the podium in 2:23:04. Tusa was fourth in 2:23:20 and Ireland’s two-time European cross-country champion Fionnuala McCormack was fifth with a big PB of 2:23:58.

As was the case in the women’s race, the men’s contest begun conservatively at a 2:57/km speed, headed by pacemakers Alexander Mutiso, Bernard Ngeno and Victor Chumo.

December 5, 2021 Kenya's Lawrence Cherono celebrates winning the men's race on the podium REUTERS

After splits of 14:44 and 29:27 for the 5km and 10km, Kenya’s multiple world half-marathon champion Geoffrey Kamworor lost contact with the large lead group which included Cherono, fellow Kenyan Norbert Kigen, Tanzania’s Gabriel Geay and Ethiopians Kinde Atanaw, Chalu Deso, Herpasa Negasa.

Those seven athletes compounded the leading group by halfway, reached in 1:02:18, erasing any hopes of breaking the 2:03:00 course record. By then, Kamworor was 44 seconds adrift of the leaders, running in a chase pack that included his training partner Philemon Kacheran as well as Norway’s Sondre Moen, Germany’s Amanal Petros and Spain’s Hamid Ben Daoud and Abdelaziz Merzougui.

The cadence slowed down a bit in the third 10km section, which was covered in 30:03, with Mutiso and Ngeno still in charge of pacing duties while 2019 Valencia victor Atanaw ran closest to them.

Meanwhile, Kamworor and Kacheran’s group reduced the gap to the leaders, though were still some way behind.

Once the pacemakers dropped out with about eight kilometres remaining, the contest became a four-man fight between Cherono, Atanaw, Deso and Geay. Shortly after the 38th km, Deso opened a slight gap over the rest but the trio managed to regain contact with the Ethiopian.

Meanwhile Kacheran and Kamworor continued to close in on the leading quartet. In a thrilling final effort, Cherono unleashed a strong kick to break away from Kacheran.

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