Deep Fields Set To Rock Philadelphia

Kim Smith leads a stacked women's field in Philadelphia this weekend. Photo:

Defending champion Matthew Kisorio leads a loaded lineup.

Can Matthew Kisorio break an hour this weekend in Philly? Photo:

Philadelphia, PA – The Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon has proudly become one of the world’s most prestigious road races, and rightfully so. Known as the Philadelphia Distance Run for 32 years, the rebranded event enters its second year as part of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series on Sunday, September 18, 2011.

“Philadelphia is the premier half-marathon in the world. It is an event that has grown tremendously from a local half-marathon into the great American road race,” said Tracy Sundlun, SVP of Competitor Group and organizer of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series, which will feature more than 26 events around the world in 2012. “The best athletes in the world compete. It is also perhaps the most beautiful half-marathon, running to City Hall, down Market Street, along the Schuylkill River and with a finish in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.”

Related: Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Elite Fields

Over the years the race has attracted such world-class talent as Lasse Viren, Rod Dixon, Khalid Khannouchi, Mark Curp, Michael Musyoki, Steve Jones and Dionicio Ceron. On the women’s side, Joan Benoit Samuelson, Catherine Ndereba, Derartu Tulu, Meseret Defar, Deena Kastor, Ingrid Kristiansen and Colleen De Reuck are just some of the outstanding runners who have competed. In the 33-year history of the event, five world records and three American records have gone down.

“It’s got a history of being one of the fastest races out there,” said Matt Turnbull, elite athlete coordinator for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series. “It has a rich history of attracting the best road racers in the world. It’s an easy sell.”

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Last year’s elite race was no exception. Both the men’s and women’s winners set course records. Twenty-one-year-old Matthew Kisorio of Kenya won the men’s race by more than a minute in 1 hour and 16 seconds–nine seconds under the previous course mark of 1:00:27 set by Khannouchi in 1997. In the women’s race, Defar, the sensational Ethiopian track champion, smashed the women’s mark with a 1:07:45 clocking—a U.S. all-comer’s record at the time and eight seconds under Kastor’s mark established in 2005. Second-place finisher Lineth Chepkirui of Kenya, who crossed the line only two seconds after Defar, was also under the old women’s record.

Kisorio, last year’s men’s champion, made his half-marathon debut at Philadelphia a year ago a stunning one. He is returning to defend his crown this year and will face formidable opposition once again. Kisorio, who set personal bests this year at 10,000 meters on the track and 10K and 25K on the roads, also improved his half-marathon best to 1:00:03 at Milan. He will get his most serious challenge from Deriba Merga of Ethiopia. Merga has a career best half marathon of 59:15, set in Delhi in 2008. Earlier this year he ran 59:24 in the United Arab Emirates. In 2009 he ran a world record of 41:29 for 15K during a half-marathon in the same year he won the Boston Marathon.

Other highly touted competitors are Sammy Kitwara of Kenya, Abderrahim Goumri of Morocco, along with Ethiopians Markos Geneti and Tilahun Regassa. Kitwara’s half-marathon best is 58:58 from Rotterdam in 2009. He has run 1:00:26 this year, and last year ran under 1:01 two times. Goumri, a 2:05:30 marathoner, set his half-marathon personal best in Philadelphia last year by finishing third in 1:01:33. Geneti won the Los Angeles Marathon earlier this year–his debut at the distance–in 2:06:35. The 21-year-old Regassa has a 59:19 best from last year when he won the world’s richest half marathon in Abu Dhabi.

“Philadelphia deserves to have world-class times,” said Turnbull. “It’s surprising no one has broken one hour in the past, although seven men have been under 61 minutes. This could be the year. That’s what we’re hoping for.”

Kim Smith leads a stacked women's field in Philadelphia this weekend. Photo:

In the women’s race, New Zealand’s Kim Smith, who broke Defar’s U.S. all-comers record with a 1:07:36 clocking at February’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Mardi Gras Half Marathon in New Orleans, is considered the favorite. Among those aligned against her will be Mizuho Nasukawa of Japan, Warknesh Kidane, Misiker Mekonnin and Bizunesh Deba of Ethiopia, and Benita Willis of Australia.

Nasukawa won the Tokyo Half Marathon in February. Kidane has a half-marathon best of 1:08:09, ran 2:26 at the Boston Marathon earlier this year and has won six medals at the World Cross Country Championships, including gold in 2003. Mekonnin won the 2010 P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon and this year finished second at the Dodge Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon running 2:25:21. Deba, who lives in New York, ran a stunning 2:23:31 in winning the Dodge Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon in June, and Willis, who has a half-marathon PR of 1:07:55, won the World Cross Country Championships in 2004.

The race course has undergone some minor changes to accommodate this year’s record field of more than 21,000 entrants, some 3,000 participants larger than a year ago. The race gets underway on Sunday at 8:00 am on the Ben Franklin Parkway in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum, where it will also finish.

Click here to see the elite fields for Sunday’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon.

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