Ethiopians And Kenyans Lead Elite Field at Historic 50th Honolulu Marathon

Athletes from Ethiopia and Kenya lead the elite field for the historic 50th edition of the Honolulu Marathon, scheduled for Sunday, December 11. Founded in 1973, and historically one of the five largest marathons in the United States based on finishers, this year's race will have its first full elite athletes program since 2019, paying prize money three-deep for both men and women: $25,000-10,000-5,000. The race will be run on its traditional course starting at Ala Moana Beach Park, making a loop through Downtown, wrapping around Diamond Head, going out along the Kalanianaole Highway to Hawaii Kai, then returning to Waikiki to finish in Kapiolani Park just after sunrise.

The race was held virtually in 2020 because of the pandemic, and had only a limited elite athlete program in 2021. Organizers are excited to have athletes this year who are strong enough to challenge the course records which were both set by Kenyans: 2:08:00 (2:07:59.02) by Titus Ekiru in 2019 and 2:22:15 by now world record holder Brigid Kosgei in 2017.

"We are excited to welcome top professional athletes to attack our incredible course records for the 50th anniversary race," said Honolulu Marathon Association President Dr. Jim Barahal. "At its core the Honolulu Marathon is an athletic competition, whether against others or against oneself, and we are excited to see what transpires on December 11."

Shifera Tamru is the leading entrant from Ethiopia. The 24 year-old has a personal best of 2:05:18 (Dubai, 2019) and has three marathon wins and five podium finishes in eight starts. He won the 2022 Daegu Marathon in Korea last April in 2:06:31, and was most recently fifth at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon in October in 2:07:53. He'll be running the Honolulu Marathon for the first time.

His top rival is likely to be the Kenyan veteran Stanley Biwott, the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon champion who has a personal best of 2:03:51 (London 2016). Biwott, 36, has not completed a marathon since 2018 when he was fourth at the Abu Dhabi Marathon. He returned to racing after a long layoff earlier this year, clocking a 1:01:57 half-marathon in Padova, Italy. He has completed a total of 13 career marathons with four wins and eight podium finishes. Like Tamru, this will be his first run in Honolulu.

The other top contenders on the men's side are Asefa Mengstu of Ethiopia (2:04:06 personal best, Dubai, 2018) and Barnabas Kiptum of Kenya (2:04:17, Milano, 2021). Both men are veterans. Mengstu has completed 13 career marathons with 4 wins and 7 podium finishes. Kiptum has completed 18 marathons in 20 starts with 3 wins and 13 podium finishes. Neither man has ever run the Honolulu Marathon.

Two strong Ethiopian athletes lead the women's field. Abebech Afework (2:23:33 personal best, Dubai, 2015) and Bere Ayalew (2:22:52, Eindhoven, 2022) will both be making their Honolulu Marathon debuts. Afework, 31, is the more experienced athlete. She has completed 20 marathons in 21 starts, and has racked up three wins and seven podium finishes. She is coming back from a DNF at the Lisbon Marathon in October. Ayalew, 23, has only run four marathons. However, she's made the podium at all four including a second place finish at the Eindhoven Marathon in October of this year where she ran her personal best. Both athletes will be making their Honolulu Marathon debuts.

Reigning Honolulu Marathon champion, Lanni Marchant of Canada, is also in the field. The 38 year-old, who ran both the 10,000m and the marathon at the 2016 Rio Olympics, won last year's race in 2:41:25 on very limited training after finishing 11th at the TCS New York City Marathon a month before In her long marathon career, which began in 2011, Marchant has completed 15 marathons and made the podium three times. A criminal appeal lawyer based in Denver, she is the former Canadian record holder with a 2:28:00 personal best.

"It was a struggle out there," Marchant said after last year's race. "I dehydrated quick. Those last few miles I really had to find my purpose for running. I just got myself across the finish line."

Rounding out the elite field is Mai Ito of Japan. The 38 year-old --who competed in the 2016 Olympic Marathon and both the 2011 and 2015 World Championships Marathons-- has completed all 15 marathons she has started. Her personal best of 2:24:42 was set in Nagoya in 2015. This will be her first run ever at the Honolulu Marathon.

posted Friday December 2nd
by David Monti