NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 10 – Reigning world champion Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya broke the World Half Marathon record by running a sensational 65:06 (1:05:06) at the 2017 Ras Al Khaimah 21km race on Friday morning.
Jepchirchir defeated a strong field that included compatriots, three-time New York Marathon champion Mary Keitany and Florence Kiplagat who was holding the world record.
The 23-year-old waged an epic duel in a race that featured arguably the greatest women’s half marathon field ever assembled.
Jepchirchir ran a negative split to break Kiplagat’s 65:09 world record from 2015.
Each of Jepchirchir’s 5k splits in the 21.1 km race were faster than the previous as she ran 15:37 for the first 5km segment, then 15:27, 15:24 and 15:10 from 15k to 20k to finally drop Keitany. At that point, Jepchirchir was chasing history.
Jepchirchir dug extremely deep for the world record. Her form was completely falling apart as she neared the finish line (she slowed the final 1.0975km, running 15:43 pace for that stretch of the race), her face sporting an intense grimace as her torso swayed from side to side.
Jepchirchir managed to hang on before collapsing immediately after the finish line, where she had to be carried away from the finish area.
Screenshot 2017-02-09 at 22.12.332015 World Cross Country and 2016 World Half Marathon silver medallist Bedan Karoki of Kenya won the men’s race in a new Personal Best of 59:10 as 1:44 800 man Augustine Choge ran 59:26.
The race was not just historic for the time, but whom Jepchirchir beat. Keitany finished as runner-up in 65:13 (putting her third on the all-time list), and this was the first time she had lost a half marathon since 2007.
Olympic marathon champion Jemima Sumgong was fourth in 65:43, with three-time Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba, arguably the greatest female distance runner of all time, fifth in a Personal Best of 66:50 (previous PB 66:56), a whopping 1:45 behind Jepchirchir.
Jepchirchir took home nearly Sh13.4 million ($130,000) for the world record as there was basically a Sh10.3 million ($100,000) world record bonus.
“I was not thinking that I can run world record but it’s God’s plan. I’m so happy. I’m not even believing myself that I ran a world record,” Jepchirchir said after the race.
Jepchirchir said that her future plans are up in the air.
“My plans now, maybe I’m going to go home, find my manager, he will tell me what to follow. I can’t choose for myself, he’s the one choosing for me.”
However, she did hint that those plans may involve a marathon debut.
“Now I’ve started preparation for [the] marathon,” Jepchirchir said.
Jepchirchir had battled pneumonia in the fall, and said she was sick again earlier this week. But any doubts about her fitness were quickly put to rest as she, Keitany, a male rabbit and Joyciline Jepkosgei, who entered with a HM best of 69:07 and only started racing competitively in 2015, dropped everyone else just after five miles.
For a while, Dibaba, Sumgong and 2015 World marathon silver medallist hung a few seconds behind in a second lead pack, but the top three were too good and stretched their lead after passing 10k in 31:05.
After 15k, Jepchirchir pulled up alongside the rabbit and launched an attack that dropped Jepkosgei and left Keitany struggling to hold on.
Though Keitany would hang a few steps behind Jepchirchir through 17k, the pace would eventually prove too hot for her as Jepchirchir split a phenomenal 30:33 from 10k to 20k.
She was steadily gaining on world record pace, and at 19k was projected to run 65:05, four seconds under the old mark.
Jepchirchir, who ran directly behind the male pacer during much of the final stage of the race, slowed dramatically over the final kilometer, saying that she was having trouble breathing from 800 meters to the finish line, but she had banked enough time by that point and after collapsing at the finish line seemed full of energy at the awards ceremony half an hour later.
Keitany was close to the old record as well, clocking a remarkable 65:13 to set a 37-second PR at age 35, while Jepkosgei provided the biggest shock of all, taking third in 66:08, putting her #7 all-time.
Women’s Top 10 Results
- Peres Jepchirchir 1:05:06
2. Mary Keitany 1:05:13
3. Joyciline Jepkosgei 1:06:08
4. Jemima Sumgong 1:06:43
5. Tirunesh Dibaba 1:06:50
6. Helah Kiprop 1:07:48
7. Rose Chelimo 1:08:37
8. Veronicah Nyaruai 1:09:33
9. Anne-Mari Hyrylainen 1:12:39
10. Etagegn Woldu 1:14:46