It will be the women marathon runners who are first to experience unique circumstances for a championship race in Doha.
At midnight on day one, a field of about 70 runners will set off under floodlighting on a looped course along the waterfront of Doha’s famous Corniche connecting Doha Bay and Doha City Centre, set against the capital city’s towering skyline.
The temperature by that time is expected to have dropped from the predicted daytime range of 35C and above.
Many of the runners will be used to running in hot conditions, but none will have run a championship marathon at such a time, finishing in the early hours of the morning. Mentally, physically, physiologically it is going to be a new test for all.
What can be predicted with some reasoning, however, is that, similarly to the men’s race, the women’s contest at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 is most likely to be won by an African or Asian runner in a time that will not be near the top of the year’s world list. Tactics, not times, are the key on these occasions.
In the past decade, the fastest time in which a women’s world marathon title has been won is 2:25:15, recorded by China’s Bai Xue in Berlin 10 years ago.
Kenya’s Edna Kiplagat approached that speed in taking the 2013 title in Moscow in 2:25:44, having won the previous version in Daegu in 2:28:43. The last two winning times in this race have been only marginally swifter – Ethiopia’s Mare Dibaba ran 2:27.35 in Beijing and Bahrain’s Rose Chelimo won in London two years ago in 2:27:11.
Chelimo is back to defend her title, and looks one of the favourites, although it will be worth watching all three of her teammates, two of whom have run faster than her personal best of 2:24:27.
Desi Mokonin has a best of 2:23:39, and perhaps significantly has run 2:23:44 this season. Shitaye Eshete has run 2:22:39 this year, and Eunice Chumba’s best of 2:24:27 is only marginally slower than the defending champion’s.
Given their greater experience of weather conditions in the region, you have to say that Bahrain’s runners have very strong credentials for making the podium. That said, two familiar groups head up this year’s world list—the Kenyans, and the Ethiopians.
Kenya’s 25-year-old Ruth Chepngetich won this year’s Dubai Marathon in 2:17:08—the third-fastest time ever recorded behind Paula Radcliffe’s world record of 2:15:25 and the 2:17:01 recorded by Kenya’s Mary Keitany in winning the 2017 London Marathon.
Her teammates can also shift. Visiline Jepkesho has run 2:21:37, and 2:22.58, while Kiplagat, who has a best of 2:19:50, is back to seek a third world title at the age of 39.
Ethiopia is represented by the runners who stand third and fourth on the entry list behind Chepngetich – Ruti Aga, who has run 2:20:40 this year and has a best of 2:18:34, and Roza Dereje, who has run 2:20:51 this year and has a best of 2:19:17.
And the third Ethiopian selected, Shure Demise, has run 2:21:05 this season. Israel’s sole entrant is also a runner to be noted – 30-year-old Lonah Salpeter, who won the European 10,000m title in Berlin last summer and has a best of 2:19:46.
Namibia’s Helalia Johannes is also one to watch. She has set road PB’s this year of 30:59 for 10km, 1:10:30 for the half marathon and 2:22:25 for the marathon. More importantly, though, she has experience of running a championship race in searing heat: she won the Commonwealth title on Gold Coast last year in 27C heat.
Japan and China should never be ruled out of any women’s championship marathon race. Japan’s selected runners have all run personal bests this season—Madoka Nakano has clocked 2:27:39, Ayano Ikemitsu 2:26:07 and Mizuko Tanimoto 2:25:28. China’s trio of Ciren Cuomo, Li Dan and Ma Yugui also produced their best ever times this year.