The world of distance running is buzzing with anticipation as athletes gear up for two major events in the United Arab Emirates, both serving as early opportunities to qualify for the Paris Olympics in midsummer next year. The athletics calendar kicks off with the Dubai Marathon on January 7, closely followed by the Ras Al Khaimah half-marathon on February 24. Remarkably, both events are now managed by PACE Events, marking a new era in their organization.
In the women's competition at Dubai, all eyes are on Haven Hailu Desse from Ethiopia and Kenya's Betty Chepkwony. Hailu Desse has been in formidable form, clinching the Rotterdam title in 2022 with a time of 2:22:01, and more recently, winning the Osaka Women’s Marathon in 2:21:13. Her personal best, an impressive 2:20:19, was set in Amsterdam in 2019. Chepkwony, on the other hand, has been a rising star, securing her place in the international marathon scene with a win in Rome nine months ago, clocking a personal best of 2:23:02.
The men’s race is equally thrilling, led by Ethiopians Workineh Tadese Mandefro and Kebede Tulu Wami. Mandefro boasts a personal best of 2:05:07 from Hamburg in 2022, while Tulu Wami, only slightly behind, achieved his best time of 2:05:19 in Seville nine months ago, where he finished second.
Last year, traffic restrictions in downtown Dubai led to the marathon being held around Expo City, coinciding with the recently concluded COP 28 climate conference. However, the upcoming race marks a return to the popular, fast course along the coast, including stretches around Umm Suqeim, the Burj Al Arab, and the Jumeirah Beach Road. Peter Connerton, the race director, expressed excitement about the event's return to this renowned course, anticipating fast times from a strong elite field, with more names to be announced soon.
The Dubai Marathon, first held in 1998, and the Ras Al Khaimah half-marathon, inaugurated about six years later, are known for their fast times, with the latter often seeing results under 59 minutes. For the first time, both races fall under the PACE Events banner, with an added international 10k race in Ras Al Khaimah. Connerton highlighted the prestige of the Ras Al Khaimah Half-Marathon, known for its fast times and world-class winners. With the 2024 Olympics on the horizon, expectations are high for an outstanding field, and the addition of the 10k race aims to enhance the event's stature further.