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Unique Clash Of The World Record Holders At RAK 2018 (8 February 2018)

The 12th RAK Half Marathon, staged early every February when the Arabian Peninsula climate is as lacking in ferocity as is ever possible, arrives this coming Friday morning, but with elite line-ups as hot as anything served up in the previous 11 editions.

It's hard to choose between the men's and women's contests as to which presents the most keenly anticipated clashes. Some might argue the women just shade it with respective half marathon and women-only marathon world record holders Joyciline Jepkosgei up against three-time RAK Champion and fellow Kenyan Mary Keitany. How refreshing it is to see the gung-ho "I'll race anyone" attitude of this heavyweight pair, along with over ten fast colleagues, when all too often the ducking and diving of big names means great clashes are seldom realised.

The men's field sees the return of 2017 Champion Bedan Karoki, who after so many near misses in a track career spanning a decade, including fourth in the last two world championship 10,000m races, seems to have found his surface, though at Thursday morning's Elite Press Conference, he was keen to point out he's not finished with the 400m oval just yet. His main rival might prove to be the somewhat mysterious youngster Jorum Lumbasi Okombo, 2017's world No.2 after a stunning 58:48 second place in Copenhagen last September, but who was unwilling to give much away when in the media spotlight. Augustine Choge by contrast, was keen to ensure those present that after the post-RAK injuries that restricted his competition in 2017 to just his third place here (59:26), he is back to full power and that with the aid of training partner and mentor Eliud Kipchoge, he could advance yet further towards that much anticipated marathon debut later in the year.

After her brace of world records at this distance in 2017, Joyciline Jepkosgei was keen to emphasise that "This is a new year", almost wanting to wipe the slate clean and look to new horizons, not easy when your astonishing campaign of the previous twelve months also included two world records at 10km, both in Prague. After improving almost three minutes here last year, the twinkle in her eye above a half smile however, was enough to convince most pundits gathered that she fully intends to go two places better than her third of twelve months ago. Keitany however, is the master of the wry smile, herself indicating that her preparations for both RAK and April's London Marathon, have gone "As well as usual". With the tiny Keitany a fearsome front runner and focused on her fourth RAK title, and with Jepkosgei in ebullient mood, it's no overstatement to suggest that this women's clash of the record holders, could be one of the greatest half marathon races ever, not forgetting that the likes of Fancy Jemutai, amongst others, second in Valencia last October behind Jepkosgei, could crash the party. 

Much depends in both contests of course, on the pacemaking and weather. With the men intending to reach 10km in 27:50, sub-59 minute tempo, and the women's pack behind the personal pacemakers of Keitany, Jepkosgei and Jemutai, tasked with moving at just outside 65 minute pace, the racing will be high-pressure and unforgiving for both the elite men and women – which to be honest, has become the norm in RAK. If the wind which occasionally sweeps down from the nearby Hajar Mountains can hold off till after 8am, then new standards could yet be set at the 12th RAK Half Marathon. One thing is sure however, the non-committal half-smiles of today's press conference will be replaced by steely resolve, with no quarter given when the final acts unfold.

Joining the elite field will be around 3,500 runners, most of whom will be coming from the neighbouring emirates or rom further afield. Haitham Mattar, CEO of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA) said: "Sports tourism is a major part of RAKTDA's 'Destination 2019' strategy and the RAK half marathon is a very important event in our sporting calendar, which attracts an increasing number of international visitors and UAE residents to make a weekend of it and experience our diverse offer across beaches, desert and mountains. Aside from lining up alongside world record holders on Friday, there is something for everyone, from relaxing on our 64km of pristine beaches to riding the world's longest zip line at Jebel Jais."




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