Photos by Giancarlo Columbo

In its seventeenth year, the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon was a huge success today.

The race began at 7 AM, local time, with a cool temperature of 61 degrees and 63 degrees at 8.48 AM local time. Fog on the Al Marjan Island, kept the conditions unusually cool.

This is the seventeenth year of the fastest half marathon in the world.

The prize purse, the envy of many major marathons worldwide, is $326,000, which is 1.2 million AED.

This year is the first year of management by Pace Events, which is the company that manages the Dubai Marathon, the largest marathon in the U.A.E.

The United Arab Emirates, founded in 1971, is seven states or Emirates in this region. In its seventeenth year, the Emirates, including The Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon, was a huge success today.

The race began at 7 AM, local time, with a cool temperature of 61 degrees and 63 degrees at 8.48 AM local time. Fog on the Al Marjan Island kept the conditions unusually cool.

This year is the first year of management by Pace Events, which is the company that manages the Dubai Marathon, the largest marathon in the U.A.E.

The United Arab Emirates, founded in 1971, is seven states or Emirates in this region. The Emirates include Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain. The U.A.E. has the sixth most significant oil and natural gas resources in the world and had 509 billion in GDP (estimate) in 2023.

The U.A.E. is focused on building tourism in the Emirates, knowing that someday, natural resources like oil and natural gas will not provide the sustenance for the nation’s growth.

While staying in the RIXOS hotel, I met families from Poland, Romania, England, Italy, and pretty much all over, as this is the perfect time to leave dreary Europe for some sun and relaxation.

That is what the Ras Al Khaimah Tourist Development Authority hopes as well.

The RAK half marathon is part of a year-long calendar in Ras Al Khaimah, destined to build a reputation for RAK to be known as the sports and adventure capital of the Emirates.

As of today, the United Arab Emirates has 3 world-class running events. In January, the Dubai Marathon happens, with 20,000 in the 4k, 10k and marathon. The Dubai Marathon pays a hefty prize purse. Still, no appearance money, and it caters to many emerging athletes in East Africa (Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Djibouti) each year who come to Dubai to let the world know that they are here. In December, the Abu Dhabi Marathon ends the running year in the United Arab Emirates.

The Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon is fast and has a wonderful prize purse, a great course, an excellent host hotel, an engaging presser, and great food.

This year, the host hotel, courtesy of the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Agency, is the RIXOS Bab Al Bahr. An all-inclusive vacation spot, the RIXOS has great food, great booze, great sporting activities, and a wonderful beach, catering to families, friends, and group vacations, all for a remarkedly reasonable price (including flying into one of the most modern and largest airports in the world, the Dubai International).

13.1 miles is one of the most popular distances for racing in the world. Many runners use that distance to test their fitness prior to a marathon. Some combine 5k races, 10k races, and a half marathon to build up to the marathon. Well, the RAK half marathon, run in late February, is a near-perfect time to race in the United Arab Emirates, with cool weather (the 60s) and a flat, flat (did I mention the course is pancake flat?) and competition at all levels, from elite to citizen runners to beginners.

Part of the benefit of staying at the RIXOS, the official hotel of the Ras Al Khaimah half marathon, is that guests get free entry into the RAK races (2k, 5k, 10k, half marathon).

The elite fields featured 40 of the finest athletes in the world, namely, runners from Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, and, this year, Germany.

As he always does, this writer built up his fantasy race before the race. The Men’s race would have a wide cast of characters in this fantasy. However, in the end, Tamirat Tola, the man who tamed Central Park with his 2:04.58 win in the Big Apple on his fourth try, would battle Bernard Kibet Koech, the champion from 2023. Tola is well known in Ethiopia (bronze, Rio 2016, 10,000m, 2022 Tokyo Marathon champ, 2023 NYC Marathon champ, plus gold, Eugene 2022 WC marathon, and silver 2017 London WC marathon. On top of that, Tamirat won this little marathon in Dubia in 2017), and many wondered where his shape was at this time of the year. Tamirat told this writer that he was quite fit and hoped to improve his PB in the half marathon, which is 59.37. Bernard Kibet Koech, the winner of the RAK half marathon last year, has PBs at 5,000m on the track, 13:00.37 from November 2023, and 26:55 for the 10,000m from 2022. When I grabbed Benard for five minutes on Friday, Mr. Kibet Koech told me that he was fit and he wanted a new half marathon PB, but his primary focus in 2024 was fast 5,000m and 10,000m on the track so he could be selected by the Kenyan Federation for Paris 2024.

The problem was that they did not tell Daniel Kibet Mateiko about their plans.

Daniel Kibet Mateiko is part of the NN Running team juggernaut.

Coached by the iconic Patrick Sang (who knows a bit about global medals, possessing two in the steeplechase), Daniel Kibet Mateiko is, well, a bit of a half marathon aficionado. Remember, Mr. Mateiko has some great 25-lap speed, having taken 8th in the Eugene 2022 World Champs 10,000m.

Daniel has been sixth in RAK in 2022, with 58.45. In 2023, Daniel was second in RAK at 58.49. His PB is 58.26 from the fast Valencia half in 2021.

Daniel said, “ My coach told me I was in good shape. I wanted to win here, as I was second last year and sixth the year before.”

And that is exactly what he did. A pack of 18 hit the 5k in 14:02, then twelve at the 10k in 28:01 (13:59), and by 15k (42:03), another 14:02 for 43:03, the race was on!

The pack had dropped to three, as Tamirat Tola was having a tough day, having fallen off prior to 10k, and then fought back, eventually finishing seventh in 59.46.

Chasing Daniel Mateiko was John Korir, who was not giving up. Isaia Kipkoech Lasoi was also full of resolve.

It was these three that would take the race under 59 minutes.

Daniel Mateiko, KEN, got his wish, winning the RAK half marathon in 58:45. In second, John Kipkosgei Korir, KEN, will open many eyes around the world, as his PB (60:27) improved by an impressive 1:37!) with his 58:50.

In a post-race conversation with Daniel Mateiko, Daniel told us that he felt the wind but was determined to win the race and run a PB. “ My next race is in London, and I want to run well so I can run in Paris.” That is a big goal for a debut marathoner, but Daniel Mateiko has some serious wheels and showed that speed in Ras Al Khaimah today. In London in two months, Daniel will have to listen very closely to Coach Patrick Sang and show much patience.

Isaia Kipkoech Lasoi ran 58:55 for 3rd in a strong PB by 32 seconds. Lasoi was getting beat up a bit, but he held on and was rewarded for his determination.

In 4th was Gerba Dibaba, ETH in 59:38, who eeked out a PB by one second in the cool and windy conditions. Benard Kibet Koech, the defending champion, ran 59:42 in an off-race for the Kenyan star.

Berhanu Legese finished 6th in 59:43. Tamirat Tola had a tough day in the office, finishing 7th in 59:46. Amos Kibiwott was 8th in 59:51, with Boki Diriba, ETH in 60:10, a PB by 24 seconds, taking ninth. The tenth place, Alphonse Felix Simbu, TAN, ran 60:28.

The world of elite road racing is not a gentle place. There are many carcasses left along the road, so to speak. And this is just the half marathon distance.

Success at the half marathon distance does not guarantee success at the marathon. Even super shoes do not even the playing field; some can handle the pace, and some can not. We will find out more about the success of the RAK top ten this spring, as many run in spring races, hoping against hope to be selected for teams in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda, among others.

The women’s elite race was a curious race, to say the least.

The media focus was Peres Jepchirchir and Konstanze Klosterholfen. Both athletes were recovering from injuries, and while both spoke with confidence, anyone with some experience in our fickle sport knows that one must be careful coming back from the injury cycle.

Peres Jepchirchir is the 2021 Tokyo Olympic champion, 2021 NYC Marathon champion, and 2022 Boston Marathon champion. Her marathon PB goes back to 2020 and the Valencia Marathon, where she ran 2:17.01. Her PB in the half marathon goes back to 65.06, and the 2017 RAK. This was her first return visit. Oh, and last October, Peres has won the World Champs half marathon in Riga, Latvia, in 67.25. And last April, Peres Jepchirchir had won London in 2:18.38. She was a good bet by anyone’s standards.

Konstanze Klosterholfen is also coming back from injury. A PB at the half marathon is 65:41, the number two time in Europe. Koko, as she is called, is the National record holder at the 5,000m (14:26.71) and 10,000m (31:01.07).

Konstanze had taken the bronze in the hot and humid Doha 2019 World Champs. In Tokyo 2021, Konstanze took 8th in the 10,000m, but her big win was the 5,000m at the 2022 European Champs, where, in front of a boisterous German crowd, Konstanze Klosterholfen took the gold in the 12.5 lapper, 5,000 meters of pure guts.

Konstanze has had considerable changes in the last two years. Changing shoe brands, from NIKE to PUMA, and changing coaching situations, from Peter Julian to Gary Lough. Gary has been working with Konstanze for several months, with the two just returning from Addis Abbaba, with seven weeks of high altitude training, where Gary noted that Konstanze had moved into his training regimen well, but also noting that it was quite early.

This writer kept that in the back of his brain.

The women’s race went out pretty well, running consistent 3:07 to 3:10 kilometer splits, a bit saner than the men. A pack, including a who’s who of women’s elite running in East Africa, got the race off well.

Gete Alemayhu, Peres Jepchirchir, Catherine AMango’Ole, Evaline chrichir, Jackline Sakilu, Arabel Yeshaneh, Margearet Chelimo Chelimo and Konstanze Klosterholfen.

The pack maintained a closeness, hitting 3:08, 30:07, 3:05, 3:07, 3:05 thru 5k (15:32) and 3:10, 3:09, 3:09, 3:04, 3:05, 3:10 (15:42) for a 31:04 at 10k.

Konstanze Klosterholfen pushed the pace, leading the front pack much of the first 8k, but had some difficulties after that, and Coach Gary Lough had her withdraw from the competition.

Peres Jepchirchir was having some difficulty, but she fought the good fight.

The athletes who was impressive were Tsigie Gebreselama, who had recently won the Ethiopian Olympic Trials for 10,000m, (she was silver in the World XC in Bathurst, Australia last year and 4th in the half marathon in Riga, Latvia in the World Road Racing Champs.

From 14k to the finish, this was the Tsigie Gebreselama show. The 23-year-old, with her long stride, showed poise and focus as she busted open the race and put 30 seconds on the athlete that I believed would spoil the race, Ababel Yeshaneh.

Tsigie Gebreselama, ETH won in PB of 65.14. Ababel Yeshaneh, ETH, was the only other athlete under 66 minutes, in 65:44. Jackline Juma Sakilu, TAN, took third in 66:04. In 4th, Margaret Chelimo Chelimo ran 66:31.
Fifth was Evaline Chirchir, KEN, in 66:36, with Catherine Amanag’Ole taking sixth in 66:49.

Peres Jepchirchir held onto seventh in 67:19, with Gete Alemayehu, ETH, in 67:25.

This writer’s observations are that the cold and the fog may have slowed the race down today, as well as the 90 percent humidity.

In speaking with the citizen runners, I was told of overwhelming satisfaction with the race, volunteers, race management, and course.

In speaking with Tsigie Gebreselama, I had an articulate, quite spoken athletic warrior. Tsigie has some real leg speed, having just won the 10,000 National Champs in Nairobi, Kenya, in altitude influenced 32:59.1.

When I asked her about her desires in Paris, she said she was not attempting to run in Paris as “it was too early.”

Perhaps we are seeing the beginning of the next generation of Ethiopian superstars, as Tsigie Gebreselama has foreshadowed with this confident win in Ras Al Khaimah.

Special thanks to Alan Ewans, Comms director, and Peter Connorton, Race Director at Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon, for inviting me. And as Daniel Mateiko noted, this goes for me as well: “I want to be back at the RAK Half marathon next year.”

Watch the broadcast at:

Results – Men
1 Daniel Mateiko KEN 58:45
2 John Korir KEN 58:50
3 Isaia Lasoi KEN 58:55
4 Gerba Dibaba ETH 59:38
5 Benard Koech KEN 59:42
6 Birhanu Legese ETH 59:43
7 Tamirat Tola ETH 59:46
8 Amos Kibiwot KEN 59:51
9 Boki Diriba ETH 60:10
10 Alphonce Simbu TAN 60:28

Results – Women
1 Tsigie Gebreselama ETH 65:14
2 Ababel Yeshaneh ETH 65:44
3 Jackline Sakilu TAN 66:05
4 Margaret Chelimo KEN 66:31
5 Evaline Chirchir KEN 66:36
6 Catherine Amanang’ole KEN 66:49
7 Peres Jepchirchir KEN 67:19
8 Gete Alemayehu ETH 67:25
9 Megertu Alemu ETH 69:23
10 Ashete Bekere ETH 70:03