Running in unseasonably warm conditions, Kenya’s Marius Kimutai and Meskerem Assefa of Ethiopia were the winners at the NN Rotterdam Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, on Sunday (9). Kimutai won the men’s title in 2:06:04 while Assefa improved her personal best by almost a minute with her winning time of 2:24:17.
In the men’s race, three pacemakers lead the way for a group of 14 runners who were targeting performances in 2:05 territory. The first passage of the Erasmus Bridge was rather fast, with the initial five-kilometre stretch covered in 14:39. At that point race organisers asked the pacemakers to slow their tempo. That resulted in a split of 29:35 at ten kilometres and 44:41 after 15, which still kept the target times in view.
The pre-race plan called for 1:03 at 21 kilometres, a target that was missed by just nine seconds after the 20-kilometre point was reached in 59:20.
While the race unfolded according to schedule, the pace was still too much for Paul Koech, one of history’s fastest 3000m steeplechase specialists, who was making his marathon debut. Before the second passage across the Erasmus Bridge, he lost contact with the leaders and eventually finished 15th clocking 2:12:02.
The intermediate time at 25 kilometres was 1:14:56, with the pace-making trio of Geoffrey Kipyego, Edwin Kiptoo and Mike Kiprotich guiding the field. The latter was the first to drop while the former two took the leaders through 30 kilometres in 1:29:51.
Laban Korir was the first to make a move, pushing the pace to reach 35 kilometres in 1:44:54. A few kilometres later there were only three runners left in this first group: Korir, Lawrence Cherono and Kimutai.
Just before the 40th kilometre, Kimutai injected a 2:55 kilometre split to make his break. Carving out a quick gap, the move proved decisive.
“I’m very happy with this performance,” Kimutai said. “Winning here makes it a big day for me. The race was good. Looking back I must only admit that I started pushing a bit too late to run under 2:06.”
Cherono was second in 2:06:21 and Korir third in 2:06:25.
Kimutai has a PB of 2:05:47 which he set in Amsterdam in October last year, when he finished third. In previous years he won marathons in Danzhou and Rennes.
For Cherono his time in Rotterdam was a hefty improvement on his previous best of 2:07:24, set when winning the Prague Marathon last year.
Last year Korir finished fourth in Amsterdam in 2:05:54, a time he couldn’t improve in today’s warm and sunny Rotterdam run.
Dutchman Abdi Nageeye finished ninth in 2:09:34, the fastest time by a Dutch athlete on this course. “I did hope to run a bit faster, but I’m glad with my new PB,” said the 28-year-old, who arrived with a 2:10:24 best. “Unfortunately it was a bit too hot and I was on my own during the last part of the race.”
In the women’s race a group of six passed five kilometres in 17:06 and 10 in 33:56, an early pace that proved too much for debutante Hellen Chepkorir, who faded and eventually finished seventh in 2:35:55.
By 15 kilometres (50:47) there were just four women left at the front: Lucy Karimi, Eunice Chumba, Jane Jelegat Seurey and Assefa. The quartet reached the midway point in 1:11:35 and were still together at 30 kilometres where the clock read 1:42:11.
Seuray was next to give in, dropping back with after 30 kilometres, and eventually finished fourth in 2:26:29. The remaining three reached 35 kilometres in 1:59:36. The final move didn’t come until the final 500 metres on the Coolsinger where Assefa broke away from Chumba en route to her 2:24:18 performance.
Assefa, a former middle distance runner, who won this year’s Houston Marathon, arrived in Rotterdam with a 2:25:12 lifetime best set in Chicago in 2015.
“I’m very happy with this time,” she said. “It gives me the confidence that I can run 2:22 in the future.”
Chumba was second in 2:24:27, also a personal best. She finished third in Amsterdam last year with her former PB of 2:25:00. Karimi was third clocking 2:25:17.
With a temperature of 12C at the start and almost no wind conditions in Rotterdam were warm. The “real feel” reading at the finish was around 18C. But the humidity of 65 to 70 percent was almost perfect.