Nevertheless, the conditions couldn’t stop both of the pre-race favourites as Bernard Koech broke the one-hour barrier to win the men’s race, while Edna Kiplagat timed her race to perfection to take the women’s title, showing exactly why she is the World Marathon champion.
The women’s race, which started 15 minutes before the men’s race, was the main focus of the weekend. A dozen runners ran as a group through the first 5km, but after that Paskalia Kipkoech took the lead and whittled the group down one by one until just two other athletes were left – fellow Kenyans Kiplagat and Eunice Jepkirui.
Kiplagat was never in the lead, strategically running just behind the other two women to protect her from the strong winds in the second half of the race. Jepkirui briefly took the lead after 15km before Kipkoech edged ahead again until the last mile when Kiplagat – who hasn’t won a Half-marathon race since 2007 – hit the front to win in 1:08:48, four seconds faster than last year’s winner, Shalane Flannagan.
In second place, Jepkirui maintained her impressive record of finishing in the top two of every Half-marathon race she has ever contested (12 to date, including Lisbon), clocking 1:08:59, 22 seconds ahead of Kipkoech.
“This was my fastest race in Lisbon, but I expected to do better,” said Kiplagat. “The wind didn’t help us despite the excellent course and the good temperature. I’m glad with my performance but I expected more.”
Further down the field there was a spectacular finish between two-time World 5000m silver medallist Sylvia Kibet and European 10,000m champion Ana Dulce Felix. Kibet didn’t follow the early pace but worked her way up the field into fourth place. Felix, who was down in eight place at the 10km mark, chased hard and almost caught the Kenyan, but Kibet’s superior foot speed saw her finish three seconds ahead of Felix.
The rest of the field seemed to struggle with the strong winds. Morocco’s Malika Asahssah was sixth with Ethiopia’s Tadelech Bekele 23 seconds behind. The vastly experienced Jelena Prokopcuka, who was out of the race early on, finished eighth, while 3000m Steeplechase World record-holder Gulnara Galkina was only 13th on her debut at 13.1 miles with 1:15:50.
Lonely Koech takes men’s victory
It didn’t take long for Kenya’s Bernard Koech to build up a lead over the rest of the field in the men’s race. Titus Masai, one of the expected challengers, suffered from hamstring problems and faded early as one by one the lead group was reduced.
At half way only Kenya’s Peter Some and Ethiopia’s Abera Kuma was in contention for a podium finish behind Koech, and by 15km the leader was 26 seconds ahead of his pursuers.
Koech crossed the finish line in 59:54, winning by 28 seconds. Some took more than a minute off his PB to finish second in 1:00:21, while Kuma was third (1:01:09). Kenyans Benard Kitur (1:01.48) and Richard Mengich (1:01.48) dipped under 62 minutes in fourth and fifth place.
“This was a hard race,” explained Koech. “I won but it was very windy and the performance wasn’t what I wanted.”
World 10,000m champion Ibrahim Jeilan, who was expected to make his Half-marathon debut in Lisbon, was a late withdrawal.
António Manuel Fernandes for the IAAF
1 Bernard Koech (KEN) 59:54
2 Peter Some (KEN) 1:00:21
3 Abera Kuma (ETH) 1:01:09
4 Bernard Kitur (KEN) 1:01:48
5 Richard Mengich (KEN) 1:01:56
6 Samuel Tsegay (ERI) 1:02:34
7 Milton Rotich (KEN) 1:02:46
8 Tsegaye Mekonnen (ETH) 1:03:41
9 Cutbert Nyasango (ZIM) 1:04:30
10 Andre Pollmacher (GER) 1:04:35
1 Edna Kiplagat (KEN) 1:08:48
2 Eunice Jepkirui (KEN) 1:08:59
3 Paskalia Kipkoech (KEN) 1:09:21
4 Sylvia Kibet (KEN) 1:10:41
5 Ana Dulce Felix (POR) 1:10:44
6 Malika Asahssah (MAR) 1:11:36
7 Tadeleche Bekele (ETH) 1:11:59
8 Jelena Prokopcuka (LAT) 1:12:55
9 Cruz Nonata (BRA) 1:13:52
10 Irvette Van Blerk (RSA) 1:14:25