A strong international line-up will headline this weekend’s Bournemouth Marathon Festival, with last year’s inaugural course records set to come under threat. Returning to defend his title is Ebisa Merga, who has been training hard in his native Ethiopia, hoping to improve on 2013’s winning time of 2:16.41.
Merga said: “I think I can run faster than last year. But it will depend on the strength of my opposition who can push me harder. I was attracted to run the race again this year because the race is so well organised, the crowd are so welcoming and last year, the weather was also very good in Bournemouth.”
Last year’s inaugural Bournemouth Marathon Festival was held in unseasonably warm conditions. This weekend’s edition is expected to be a more favourable cooler occasion with cloudy, but dry weather forecast for Sunday morning’s half marathon and marathon.
A possible challenger to Merga is Kenyan Andrew Lesuuda. The 23 year old will be making his marathon debut, but has a great race pedigree, having won the 2012 Reading Half Marathon and 2013 Cardiff Half Marathon. With a half marathon personal best of 1:02.21, he has the speed to give Merga problems, but can he carry it the full 26.2miles? Last year’s leading Brit was local runner Ian Habgood, who finished fifth in 2:31.14. The Bournemouth athlete is returning again for another tilt at his hometown marathon.
In the elite women’s field, Joan Kigen will be looking to go one better than last year when she finished second in 2:31.27. The Kenyan led at halfway, but was overtaken by Olha Kotovska in the latter miles. The Ukrainian’s inaugural course record was 2:30.04. Kotovska is absent this year, instead the Ukraine challenge will come from Kateryna Stetsenko, who won in Edinburgh this year in 2:36.07. On paper, she is the fastest in the field with a lifetime best of 2:27.51 from the 2010 Dublin Marathon. Leading the home charge is Valeria Sesto. The Hampshire-based Anglo-Argentine runner was the leading home athlete in 2013 in 3:00.05. She will be hoping to breach the three hour barrier after a solid 21st place finish in April’s London Marathon in 2:51.43.
The marathons will start at 10am on Sunday, preceded by the half marathon at 8am which will see hometown hero Steve Way toe the line. He is set to race the 13.1 race before dashing back to be the official starter for the marathon.
Way said: “A lot of people in the area have shown me a lot of support and it will be nice to show my appreciation. I get recognised a lot where I live. At one time I was just that guy who ran around the village a lot and no-one knew why. People now do know me and I get lots of waves and people saying ‘well done’. My back story of being a smoker and overweight not so long ago strikes a chord with people. I am also very transparent and honest with the training I do. You can read it all on my blog. People know where I have come from and what I have achieved and it touches them in some way.
“Last year was the first year of the Bournemouth Marathon Festival and it was a really great family and community occasion. It’s great to have an event like this in Bournemouth. With Saturday’s 10K and Speed of Light 5K and junior races, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved. Sometimes people who wouldn’t normally consider running might think about giving it a go and that’s great!”
Way is building towards his final challenge of the year, representing Great Britain at the World 100K Championships of the year in Doha, Qatar in November and he says the half marathon will be a key part of his preparation. The half marathon will be the crossing point when I go back into ultra-training. It will be my last speed work before I go into some ridiculously long back to back runs.”
Over 10,500 people have signed up to take part in the Bournemouth Marathon Festival. For more information about the event, including spectator information, visit the BMF website.