When a race puts up $1 million in total prize money, it’s bound to attract some fast runners.
And that’s what the Dubai Marathon has banked on over the years. The 14th edition, held on Friday morning under foggy conditions, did not disappoint. For the first time in history, five runners dipped below 2:05.
The race was won by marathon debutant Lelisa Desisa in 2:04:45. But with just 200m to go, it was anyone’s race to win, as four Ethiopians and one Kenyan sprinted to the line.
Berhanu Shiferaw, who had led the race for large stretches, finished second in 2:04:48, with fellow countryman Tadese Tola just one second behind in third place.
The lead pack was an enormous 20 deep at the halfway mark, splitting at 1:02:39, revealing just how much talent was in the race.
But by 35K there were just six runners, with Shiferaw pushing the pace and Desisa, Tola, Ethiopian Endeshaw Negesse and Kenyan Bernard Koech keeping in the reduced group.
“I tried to push the pace at 38k,” Desisa said after the race. “But the others responded strongly so I decided to wait until the end. I have a good sprint and I was confident that it would win me the race.”
The 23-year-old had ambitious goals going into his first marathon. “I had aimed for 2:06 for my debut, but when I saw the time at the finish I was shocked. If I can find a similarly good course, and my coach agrees, maybe next time I can go for the world record.”
The women’s race unfolded less dramatically, with the heavy favourite winning the race, albeit in not nearly as fast a time as expected.
Ethiopian Tirfi Tsgaye won in 2:23:23, far off her expected finishing time of sub-2:20.
“I came with two aims,” Tsgaye told reporters, “to win, and to run under 2:20. I was determined to push in the second half of the race, but by that time, it had become very humid, and it was affecting me. So I’m happy to win, but unhappy I didn’t break 2:20. I’ll have to come back next year, and try again.”
Fellow Ethiopian Ehitu Kiros finished in second, cutting away at Tsgaye’s lead along with third place finisher Amane Gobena. But both ran out of track and could not reel in Tsgaye in the end. The top six female finishers were all Ethiopian.
Both Desisa and Tsgaye cashed in on a huge payday with their wins. Each winner of the Dubai Marathon takes home $250,000.