World record-holder for 5000m and 10,000m – Joshua Cheptegei will on Sunday [December 3] tackles 26.2 miles for the first time as Spanish road race looks set to host some sizzling performances.
The Ugandan is making his debut at the distance after a track career that has seen him win three world 10,000m titles, the Olympic 5000m gold and break world records at 5000m and 10,000m.
He has a fine history in Valencia, too, with his world 10km road record being set in the Spanish city in 2019 followed by his still-standing world 10,000m mark of 26:11.00 there in 2020.
Cheptegei was first drawn to the marathon as a 15-year-old boy when he saw fellow Ugandan Stephen Kiprotich race to Olympic gold over 26.2 miles in London. Since then Cheptegei has sought advice from Kiprotich – and also fellow NN Running athlete Eliud Kipchoge.
Cheptegei says: “I’m not actually looking at running fast times because it is still a new distance for me and I’m still learning also in training. I want to learn… and the best for me would be seeing myself being on the podium.”
The 27-year-old, who has been training at altitude in Kapchorwa in the build-up to the race, added: “The track has taught me to be patient when chasing my goals. I will approach the marathon in the same regards. If you are not patient in the marathon, it means you will not be able to reach your destination and goals.
“I want to approach this marathon with a lot of respect as it is something new for me. I want to approach it in a new dimension. All of us are built differently, what is important for me is to just enjoy the race and see what happens after 35 kilometres.”
Valencia is renonwed for producing fast times and last year’s races were won by Kelvin Kiptum in 2:01:53 and Amane Beriso in 2:14:58 with Kiptum going on to break the world record this year in Chicago.
Cheptegei won’t have it all his own way on Sunday either. Rivals include Kenenisa Bekele (PB 2:01:41), Gabriel Geay of Tanzania (2:03:00), Alexander Mutiso of Kenya (2:03:29), Getaneh Molla of Ethiopia (2:03:34), Sisay Lemma of Ethiopia (2:03:36), Leul Gebresilase of Ethiopia (2:04:02), Chalu Deso of Ethiopia (2:04:53), Dawit Wolde of Ethiopia (2:04:27), Daniel do Nascimento of Brazil (2:04:51), Chalu Deso of Ethiopia (2:04:53) and Titus Kipruto of Kenya (2:04:54).
Like Cheptegei, Bekele has held world records at 5000m and 10,000m and his marathon best is 2:01:41 from 2019. But can the Ethiopian legend still be a force at the age of 41?
Lema, meanwhile, won the London Marathon in 2021 and will be a threat if he can return to that kind of form. Watch out too for Kibiwott Kandie, who set a world half-marathon record of 57:32 in Valencia three years ago and then beat a top-class field in the same race in 57:40 in October this year. Kandie has run a marathon in the past but it was an underpar 2:13:43 in New York City in 2021.
The women’s line-up is no less impressive and led by Tsegay Gemechu of Ethiopia (PB 2:16:56), Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia (2:17:20), Worknesh Degefa of Ethiopia (2:17:41), Joan Chelimo Melly of Romania (2:18:04) Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia (2:18:05) and Hiwot Gebrekidan of Ethiopia (2:19:10). Bosena Mulatie of Ethiopia, meanwhile, makes her marathon debut after a 65:46 half-marathon in 2022.