|Bernard Ngeno and Hiwot Ayalew|
Here is another press release from the organizers of the Safi International half marathon:
The pair will toe the line high on confidence in Sunday morning’s Safi International Half Marathon, boasting world-class credentials of a very different nature.
All eyes will be on Ayalew in the women’s race, with many keen to see if the two-time Olympic steeplechaser can convert her track pedigree to the roads. So far it has proven a difficult task for the 28-year-old Ethiopian, who clocked 71:56 in her half marathon debut last year.
A silver medallist in the senior women’s race at the World Cross Country Championships back in 2013, Ayalew made her name at the shorter distances on the track, clocking a PB of 9:09.61 for the 3000m steeplechase in 2012. She finished fourth in the Olympic final in London that year, and again missed the podium by a single spot at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow.
In 2015 Ayalew finished sixth in the world final of the steeplechase, but after a poor showing at the 2016 Olympics – Ayalew was eliminated in the heats after struggling with chronic injuries, which she believes stemmed from clearing barriers – she had to bid farewell to her first love and shift her focus to the roads.
“It was a few years ago I stepped away from steeplechase – I had pain, but now my health is good,” says Ayalew, who trains in Sululta near Addis Ababa. “I run about 100 kilometers or more a week in training.”
Her long-term plan is to continue moving up the distances. “I will run a marathon, I think so,” she says. “Not this year but in 2020.”
Ayalew admits she’s entering the unknown in Safi on Sunday, which will be her first race of the year, but she is confident of a strong showing: “I don’t know exactly what I will run, but my training has been good.”
With chief rival Diane Nukuri a late withdrawal due to travel issues, Ayalew will have to fend off the challenge of Tanzania’s Failuna Abdi Matanga and fellow Ethiopians Zenebu Fikadu Jebesa and Asnakesh Awoke Mengesha to take glory and the first prize of 30,000 Moroccan Dirham.
Also in the line-up is Kenya’s Vicoty Chepngeno, who clocked her PB of 70:18 to take victory in Philadelphia last November.
In the men’s race, the headline attraction will be Bernard Ngeno, a man with the half marathon credentials to challenge the best in the world. Last year he smashed his personal best to clock 59:22 in Valencia, all achieved at the tender age of 21. “I didn’t expect 59, I was expecting 60,” he says. “It was my first time racing in Europe so it was good to run that fast.”
Ngeno has continued that momentum in 2019, finishing fifth in tough conditions at the Houston Half Marathon in January in 61:20. “It was not normal weather – cold and windy – so I think here will be better,” he says, basking in the warm Moroccan sunshine. “This year I can run 58, but I don’t know where it will be. Maybe it will be on Sunday – you never know.”
His chief rivals include Kenyan compatriot Edwin Koech, a 60:24 performer, along with Ethiopia’s Ashenafi Moses, the 22-year-old who has run 61:22 this year at the Barcelona Half Marathon.
Back in Kenya, Ngeno trains alongside steeplechase great Paul Kipsiele Koech and Geoffrey Rono, a 3:32 1500m man, so he will bring no shortage of speed into Sunday’s race, which will be run over an amended course to last year's route. “Those guys are faster on the track, but I am faster on the roads,” he says.
And while the Safi International Half Marathon will prove a pivotal step on his path, Ngeno’s eventual goal is to conquer the world over the 26.2-mile distance, to emulate the man from his country who has sent the marathon times into the stratosphere in recent years.
“My long-term dream is to be like Eliud Kipchoge,” he says. “To be the world record holder.”