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Doha’s midnight marathon poses exciting challenge

Tuesday December 11 2018

Kenyan athletes lead the way at the 46th Honolulu Marathon in Hawaii on December 9, 2018. The race was run largely in the dark but thanks to excellent street lighting the roads were as clear as daytime. PHOTO | HONOLULU MARATHON

Kenyan athletes lead the way at the 46th Honolulu Marathon in Hawaii on December 9, 2018. The race was run largely in the dark but thanks to excellent street lighting the roads were as clear as daytime. PHOTO | HONOLULU MARATHON  

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Sunday’s Honolulu Marathon gave a glimpse of what it takes to organise and run in a night marathon.

The race, won by Kenya’s Titus Ekiru and Vivian Kiplagat, started in the dark, at 5am local time, and was mostly run under the cover of darkness with the winners crossing the finish line at Kapiolani Park shortly after daybreak.

Of course not pitch-dark as the well-lit streets on Honolulu were easy to navigate.

There were key learning points from this race, especially with Doha hosting a mid-night marathon at next year’s IAAF World Championships which the Qatari capital will host from September 27 to October 6.

By the way, these will be eccentrically “Kenyan” championships, given the extraordinary support our athletes muster whenever they compete at the annual, season-opening Doha Diamond League meeting.

And given that the venue is just five hours away by air, scores of Kenyans will most certainly be willing to troop to Doha and snap up tickets to enjoy the 10-day championships which will have an evening-only programme due to the sweltering day-time heat that’s unhealthy to compete in.


Also unique to the Doha championships will be the first mixed relays on this stage.

The Asian Championships, that will run from April 18 to 25, will be used as a test event to perfect the air-conditioned Khalifa Stadium, venue for next October’s “Worlds.”

Khalifa Stadium will also host the season-opening IAAF Diamond League meeting on May 3 and 4.

In the bespoke changes adopted by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), Doha will have split evening sessions starting at 4.15pm running until, on average, 11pm.

The decathlon and heptathlon will also, for the first time, run concurrently.

Technically, the midnight marathon — described by IAAF President Seb Coe as “new and exciting” — means Kenyan runners selected for Doha, and their coaches, must calibrate their biological clocks in time for the

competition that will see the men’s and women’s marathon races blast off at midnight.

The Doha championship course will feature six laps of seven kilometres each along the iconic Corniche esplanade with the city’s spectacular skyline providing the backdrop.

It’s on this promenade that Qataris celebrate their national holidays and national sports days given its aesthetic appeal.

Doha’s heat means it’s common to have most sports events held at night here, with the most spectacular being MotoGP’s Marlboro Grand Prix of Qatar at the newly-built, $58 million (Sh5.8 billion) Losail International Circuit.

Qatar was the first to host a night MotoGP in 2008 and, 11 years later, will be the inaugural hosts of a night marathon at next year’s IAAF World Championships.

In Hawaii on Sunday, Honolulu Marathon CEO Jim Barahal and his team pulled off another great race where the athletes had to adjust to early timings.

The hotel pick-up was at 3am with elite athletes co-ordinator Patricia Owens mobilising the runners to be at the Ala Moana Beach Park starting line by 3.30am for the 5am start.

These timings meant the athletes had to be meticulous in their warm-ups ahead of the race after an early evening that night which afforded them adequate sleep ahead of the wee hours wake-up call.

While the conditions provided for a spectacular fireworks display at the start of the race, they posed a huge challenge to press photographers who needed to be at their best settings to click any feasible shots of the runners as the blasted off Ala Moana Boulevard along Waikiki Beach for the 42-kilometre journey.

By 7.30am, the elite runners were done, the last of the 27,000-strong field slowly making their way to the finish line 10 hours later.

With athletics struggling to cling onto audiences post-Usain Bolt, such innovation as night races is the best way out, and the IAAF officials have most certainly been scratching their heads and coming up with several fresh competition formats including Qatar’s night marathon.

Last week, IAAF World Athlete of the Year Eliud Kipchoge made another interesting proposal: that marathons be contested between teams, so that, at the end of the season, there are rankings for individual runners and teams, just like Formula One racing does with drivers’ and manufacturers’ rankings.

Kipchoge is part of the NN Running Team, a concept developed by his management company, Global Sports Communications, and financed by Dutch investment services company NN Group N.V.

Besides injecting life into marathon contests, the NN Running Team has offered an ideal platform for sponsors to leverage on their investment in the sport, innovation that will contribute towards making the sport more exciting to follow.