Edwin Koech battled a strong field, and a strong wind. Celestine Chepchirchir, while hardly lacking for competition herself, was ultimately fighting the clock.
The two Kenyans nonetheless found success en route to winning their respective divisions in the Cape Town Marathon on Sept. 15, Koech running 2:09.20 to outlast fellow countryman Daniel Muteti and take the overall title by five seconds, and Chepchirchir traversing the course in 2:26.44 to obliterate the women’s record.
A total of 9,588 runners finished the race, the only one in Africa to earn Gold Label status from the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF). It also served as a qualifier for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
According to the race’s official website, Koech was one of 20 runners in the lead pack at the six-mile (i.e., 10-kilometer) mark. Six of those had fallen off the pace by the halfway point, and by the 18-mile (30-kilometer) mark, seven runners remained in contention.
Koech ultimately pulled away from Muteti in the final mile. Morocco’s Mohamed Ziani (2:09.29) was third, and Elroy Galant, who finished fourth (2:10.31), was the first South African to cross the finish line.
Koech, who was aiming to run 2:08, told Sport 24 that the conditions were “perfect,” as was his fitness.
“I expected to win because I train well in Kenya,” he told the Cape Times, “so I came here to win.”
But when the runners turned for home, they were faced with a stiff headwind.
“The race was very windy,” he acknowledged to Newsflare, “I still tried to push a lot, but the time’s not coming the way I think. But I appreciate what I get.”
Chepchirchir called the wind “challenging” in an interview with the Cape Times, and said the race overall was “very tough.”
“But,” she said, “I did it.”
Her time easily eclipsed the previous record of 2:29.28, established by Namibia’s Helalia Johanes in 2018. The second- and third-place finishers, Nurit Yimam (2:27.40) and Gete Tilahun (2:28.32), both of Ethiopia, also beat Johanes’ time.
Cornelia Joubert (2:43.18) emerged as the race’s South Africa women’s champion.