With some big names competing on race day, we break down who we think will win, and why
Welcome to the TEMPO Race Preview for the Melbourne Marathon Festival. We know tens of thousands of running fans are glued to live streams and apps on Marathon Sunday but sometimes it’s hard to know who the big names are and who is worth following in the race, so we’ve taken the guesswork out of it for you.
While we don't think we'll see any individual performance as remarkable as Sinead Diver's incredible course record in 2018, the men's and women's fields are full of quality, and that should produce some great racing.
One thing to note - fields are subject to change right up until race day.
This is an extremely open race in 2019 with 4 or 5 genuine chances. The race is headlined by an East African contingent with quick PB’s, but it’s worth noting some of those times are years old. William Chebor comes into the race with a PB of 2:08:21 - a fantastic time but one that was achieved back in 2011, while Isaac Birir achieved his PR of 2:14:08 when he won here two years ago. Neither have raced much in 2019 which adds a level of intrigue.
Beyond them, Reece Edwards from New South Wales looks the best hope. Edwards ran a 2:16:43 on debut in Chicago 2018, and more recently ran a 66:26 in Sydney in mid September - more than a minute slower than his PB at the half marathon distance but assuming he ran it deep in marathon training, it’s a time that shows he’s fit and ready to race.
After Edwards is another New South Welshmen, Matthew Cox. Cox has raced Melbourne before and has a PB of 2:18:42. His training volume peaked several weeks ago with a 200km week. New Zealand’s Dave Ridley won’t be far behind the leaders; he’s one of several elites looking to go under 2:20 for the first time.
Among the debutants, local Ryan Geard has the most potential to surprise. Geard recently won the Athletics Victoria Burnley Half in 64:59, upsetting Liam Adams in 2nd and Dave Ridley in 3rd. Publically he has set his goal as dipping under 2:20, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see him go even quicker if conditions are favourable.
It’s simply too hard to have any read on the form of the Kenyan athletes given their lack of racing in 2019, but assuming Birir is in good shape he should be capable of a time in the 2:14’s. Edwards, Cox, and Geard to follow - Geard to come through well under 2:20.
On times, the winner looks to be Naomi Jepkosgei Maiyo, a Kenyan with a PB of 2:31:30 (2017), and a 2:34:08 earlier this year. There is however talk that Maiyo has asked for pacemakers to take her under 2:30, which would see her a clear winner if she can do it, but also carries the risk of a blow up. In mid September she ran a 73:50 half marathon - presumably under heavy marathon training load. It’s worth noting that as of October 1st, Maiyo’s visa status was still unknown - this is not completely uncommmon, but there is a chance she doesn't make the start line.
Beyond Maiyo, there are a number of local hopes in the 2:37-2:41 range, making this another wide open race, particularly if Maiyo does go out too hard. Look for West Australian Nera Jareb to be a leading contender - Jareb ran a PB of 2:37:30 on the Gold Coast at the start of July. The only question over her is whether she’s fully recovered from that effort; it’s a shorter turnaround than many athletes would attempt.
Also one to make mention of is Ellie Pashley. Pashley of course is tackling the New York City Marathon in early November, but does plan to line up in Melbourne as a training run. Don't expect her to run the full distance, despite how easy she makes it look.
TEMPO columnist Lydia O’Donnell must give herself a chance to stand on the podium - her 2:39:01 PB was set here on debut in 2015. O’Donnell recently ran a 72:44 half marathon - almost two minutes quicker than her previous PB, which suggests she’s in form to lower her marathon PB here.
There are also whispers that Marnie Ponton will be out to shave minutes off her PB (2:40:32). If Ponton can indeed dip inside 2:35-2:36 she would likely get on the podium.
If Maiyo doesn’t go out too hard, she wins. With no additional incentive to break 2:30, we see Maiyo backing off before any blow up and winning in 2:32-2:33. Jareb, O’Donnell, and Ponton to fight for the other 2 spots on the podium, all three crossing the line with big PB’s.
Men's Half Marathon
There’s a big disclaimer on the men’s half marathon - Harry Summers has an entry to the race but recently pulled out of the 10,000m at the IAAF World Championships, so we're unsure if he will be racing - it goes without saying that if he starts in Melbourne he will be nearly impossible to beat. With that said - the below preview is based on Summers not running.
Simply, if Dejen Gebreselassie runs a smart race, he wins. The 2018 Australian rep at the Cardiff Half Marathon has a PB of 62:35, but is prone to abstract decision making in races - he raced the World XC Trials in Canberra earlier this year without shoes on, after forgetting his spikes and preferring not to wear his road racing shoes.
Gebreselassie needs this to be a race - if he tries to time trial off the front he’s at risk of going out too hard, but if he can sit in and run with other people, he’s a strong chance to win.
The other big name to watch is West Australian Nic Harman. Harman has had a busy year, running the Gold Coast Marathon (2:22:17) in July, before backing up for the Perth City to Surf Half Marathon at the end of August. Harman ran a 1:04:44 on a not typically fast course, and boasts a half marathon PB of 1:03:46. Harman will put pressure on Gebreselassie right from the jump which should lead to fast running.
If you’re looking for a hero in this one, look no further than Melbourne local James Coleman. He’s a genuine threat after finishing 3rd at the recent Australian Half Marathon Champs in 64:20, but we’re fans for two other reasons. Running needs more personalities, and Coleman not only has the best hair in the field, he’s as courageous as they come - going sockless at the Half Marathon Champs and finishing with pools of blood in his shoes.
Brady Threlfall will also have plenty of fans out on course and rightly so, and also look for Josh Maisey to be aggressive early.
Again, assuming Harry Summers doesn’t run, we’re going to go with Nic Harman to come through in mid 63 and take the win. The only caveat on Harman's fitness will be how much top end speed he has right now; he's currently in another round of marathon training which no doubt is seeing him put plenty of miles in.
Women’s Half Marathon
South Australian veteran Tara Palm deserves to the be the warm favourite here. Palm has hit a purple patch lately, winning Sydney’s City2Surf in early August and following up with a second place (behind Lisa Weightman) at the 12 kilometre City-Bay in Adelaide.
Palm has the quickest 10km PB of the field (33:06) and would probably win this race with anything under 72:00 - a time that should be achievable on a mostly flat course. Melbourne’s fickle weather might be the only thing that slows her down.
Beyond Palm, Casey Wood seems the best contender. Wood ran a 72:53 on the Sunshine Coast in August and is likely targeting a new PB in Melbourne. Wood won this race in 73:29 back in 2014 (in her debut at the distance), so will carry fond memories with her on the start line.
Queenslander Tennille Ellis will be racing this as a lead in to the Kobe Marathon in Japan in November; with a PB of 74:11 Ellis has to be respected.
It's impossible to tip against Tara Palm, possibly in a mid-71, from Casey Wood.
Also worth noting are some of the names in the 10k fields - the men’s field sees Jordy Williamsz and Matt Clarke line up, while Olympian Madeline Hills will be the favourite in the women’s.