Inaugural race features strong fields.
Written By: Sean McKeon
The Inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll Mardi Gras Marathon and Half Marathon, taking place February 28th in New Orleans, has attracted some of the world’s top distance runners. The men’s half marathon will feature a battle between Kenyan world record holder Sammy Wanjiru and fellow Kenyan Martin Lel, a three-time London Marathon champion. In the women’s race, Ethiopian legend Berhane Adere will square off against New Zealand record holder Kim Smith.
Let’s take a closer look at the runners to watch and what to expect in Sunday’s big half marathon.
Men’s Half Marathon:
The clear favorite in New Orleans will be Kenyan world record holder Sammy Wanjiru. In 2008 he captured his first Olympic gold medal, battling the Beijing heat to an Olympic marathon record of 2:06:32. He followed up his Olympic victory by setting course records in 2009 at the London (2:05:10, PR) and Chicago (2:05:41) marathons. Wanjiru set the standing half-marathon world record of 58:33 in 2007 in the City-Pier-City Loop in The Hague, The Netherlands. Looking to take down the world record holder is fellow Kenyan Martin Lel. Considered one of the greatest road racers of all time, Lel’s resume includes three London Marathon titles, two New York City Marathon titles, and additional podium finishes at London and Boston. Although his half-marathon PR of 59:56 is well shy of Wanjiru’s record, he undoubtedly presents a serious threat to Wanjiru in New Orleans.
The strongest challenge to a Kenyan 1-2 finish will come from a young runner from Ireland. Irish Olympian Martin Fagan, a product of Providence College, has a personal best of 1:00:57 and is known as a runner willing to take a chance with a fast pace. Considering that the Kenyans are approaching this race as a tune-up for later marathons, Fagan has a legitimate shot at hanging around deep into the race. However, Fagan will have two other serious Kenyan threats to deal with in the Big Easy.
Also in the mix on the men’s side will be former Oregon Duck, and 13:36 5000m runner Shadrack Biwott of Kenya. Biwott will make his half-marathon debut in New Orleans. Also in the hunt will be 2007 Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose Half Marathon champion McDonald Ondara of Kenya. Ondara set his personal best of 1:01:11 in route to his win in San Jose.
Women’s Half Marathon:
Berhane Adere of Ethiopia has had a long and illustrious career, including world records on the track and marathon wins on the road. Adere won her first of two Chicago Marathon titles in a still personal best 2:20:42. Her half-marathon personal best of 1:08:17 was set in 2001 at the world championships. Although she had top-five finishes at both Chicago and London in 2009, she had a poor showing earlier this year with a 14th-place finish at the Zayed Half Marathon (1:12:50). Adere certainly hopes to show better form in New Orleans.
Adere will have to battle with New Zealand record holder Kim Smith. Smith, another Providence alum, holds the Kiwi records for 3000m (8:35.31), 5000m (14:39.98i), 10,000m (30:35.54) and the half-marathon (1:09:35). With top-10 finishes in the 10,000m at the 2008 Olympics and 2009 World Championships, Smith is used to pushing the pace with the Africans. Her personal best for the half marathon came in the 2009 world half marathon championships, where she placed a strong seventh.
Ehiopian Azalech Maresha will toe the line with confidence, having set a personal best of 2:32:12 at the Mumbai Marathon in January. American marathon champion Ilsa Paulson has a personal best of 2:31:49 for the marathon. Paulson will look to improve upon her time of 1:17:04 from the P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Half Marathon this January.
RunNow.com will have coverage all week, including live coverage on race day, from New Orleans.