Zersenay Tadese will fight the temperatures as much as his competitors.
(c) 2013 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
PRAGUE — The big question ahead of Saturday’s Hervis Prague Half-Marathon here is whether the world record at the distance will fall.
The answer might lie in the thermometer.
Temperatures here have dipped to bitter-cold levels for this time of year, raising some doubt about the feasibility of attacking the world record of 58 minutes, 23 seconds which was set in 2010 by Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea at the Lisbon Half-Marathon.
Tadese will race here for the first time in his career and headlines a field that features four men with sub-60 PBs for the half and another five who have broken 61 minutes.
“The weather is cold, but it will not be cold just for me. It will be cold for everybody,” Tadese said at a press conference. “We will all do our best.”
According to Radio Prague, 96 out of 143 weather monitoring stations across the Czech Republic recently reported record low temperatures. The unseasonably cold start to spring in Moravia has kept locals bundled up later than normal, has sent power prices soaring, and has even forced Prague City Hall to take special measures to protect the homeless in the area.
The average temperature at the start of the 14 previous editions of this race is 12C/56F. The forecast for Saturday’s noon start calls for temperatures around 2C/35F. For a point of comparison, the start temperature for Tadese’s world-record run in Lisbon three years ago was 15C/59F.
“We have some of the finest athletes currently in the world so we are going to have a very fast race,” said Sean Wallace-Jones, the IAAF senior manager of road running. “Whether we will have a world-record race, I don’t know.”
Race officials are certainly hopeful that the cold will not hinder the runners.
Dr. Libor Varhanik, president of the Czech Athletics Federation, joked that since Carlo Capalbo, the chairman of the race organizing committee, is of Italian descent that his, “exclusive relationship with the new Pope Francis will guarantee us favorable weather.”
Race director Vaclav Skrivanek said that local runners, who will comprise the majority of the anticipated field of 12,500, are encouraged to layer themselves with old clothing they may no longer need or want. As their body temperatures rise and those articles are tossed to the side of the road, they will be collected by volunteers and donated to charity.
Skrivanek, however, remained optimistic that the elite runners will be treated to a positive weather swing, saying, “Last year, it was 8C/46F and we achieved 58:47 (course-record and world-leading winning time by Ethiopia’s Atsedu Tsegay). This year I believe the weather forecast is wrong again and like in previous years we might reach some ideal temperatures like 10 or 11 degrees Celsius and we’ll see great results after all.”
If the world record is indeed to fall, it is likely to come at the hands of Tadese who is arguably the greatest runner ever at the distance. The five-time IAAF World Half-Marathon/Road Running champion, who was actually a cyclist in school before a teacher turned him on to running in 2000, has contested 17 half-marathons since 2002, finishing nine of them in under one hour. He has averaged 59:18 over his 10 fastest performances.
Tadese said that he has been training well for this race, beginning in Madrid, the city in which he resides most of the year, and then moving to Eritrea for the last five weeks, where he has been running in Asmara at 2300-meters altitude.
“My training has been good,” Tadese said. “But there are many other good runners here as well.”
Tadese’s stiffest challenge is likely to come from Kenya’s Philemon Limo, the 2011 Prague Half-Marathon champion in 59:30, the first-ever finish under on hour here. Although the time is no longer the course record here, it remains Limo’s personal-best.
Limo, who alternated his training between Iten and Eldoret to avoid inclement weather during the rainy season in the Rift Valley, said he is excited but not intimidated to toe the start line alongside Tadese.
“I am inspired, but I don’t fear anybody,” Limo said. “We competed together in Kavarna at the World Half-Marathon Championships so I know him very well. There is no problem. I am okay.”
As for the anticipated cold weather, Limo shrugged that off too, saying, “I am a universal runner: hot, cold, it doesn’t matter.”
Other sub-60 runners in the field include Kenya’s Pius Kiprop, who last year finished fourth at the World Half-Marathon Championships and ran a personal-best 59:25 at the Berlin Half-Marathon, and Daniel Chebii, a 10-K specialist who clocked 59:49 to win the Ceske Budejovice Half Marathon last year.