Kenya’s Ruth Chepngetich, who won the Dubai Marathon earlier this year with the third-fastest time in history (2:17:08), broke away from the a small lead pack with seven kilometers remaining to win the world championship Saturday morning under sauna-like conditions in Doha, Qatar.
Chepngetich finished in 2:32:43, perfectly pacing herself through a race in which many runners exhausted themselves early on. Defending champion Rose Chelimo of Bahrain was second, 1:03 behind. Namibia’s Helalia Johannes took third ahead of two-time world champion Edna Ngeringwony Kiplagat of Kenya.
Roberta Groner, a 41-year-old runner and the oldest athlete in any event on the U.S. team, outlasted other runners to finish sixth in 2:38:44.
Even with the race taking place in the middle of the night along the Doha waterfront, organizers reported a starting temperature of 32.7 degrees Celsius (91 degrees Fahrenheit) with 73.3 percent humidity, putting the heat index at 111 degrees Fahrenheit. The IAAF’s live commentary said conditions in the 2007 world championships in Osaka weren’t too far behind those numbers at 32 degrees Celsius and 74 percent humidity.
The runners started conservatively, with a large pack passing the 5k mark in 18:21, roughly on pace for a 2:35 marathon. Still, the heat took its toll by the halfway mark, with all three Ethiopian entries — Tokyo Marathon winner Ruti Aga, Roza Dereje and Shure Demise — withdrawing.
They were far from alone. Only 40 of the 68 runners who started made it across the finish line.
A lead pack of five runners — Chelimo, Johannes and the Kenyan trio of Chepngetich, Kiplagat and Visiline Jepkesho — built a lead of nearly a minute by the 15k mark.
Israeli runner Lonah Chemtai Salpeter managed to chip away at that lead by the 25k mark and join up with Jepkesho, who had fallen 13 seconds behind. But Jepkesho continued to fade, and Salpeter wound up 11:53 behind before withdrawing. The top survivor behind the lead pack was Volha Mazuronak of Belarus, followed by Groner.
The lead pack of four that had run together since the 15k mark finally broke apart at 35k, when Chepngetich revved up the speed. Chelimo broke away in pursuit, leaving Johannes and Kiplagat together.
Groner has taken an unusual path to get to world championship level. She gave up running after college, only to return 10 years later after giving birth to three kids. She ran her first marathon in 2011 in Chicago, finishing in 3:12:42. Since then, she has chipped away a few minutes each year and broke the 2:30 mark earlier this year in Rotterdam.
The two other Americans also finished the race. Carrie Dimoff finished 13th in 2:44:35. Kelsey Bruce crossed the line 38th in 3:09:37, nearly 38 minutes off her personal best.
Earlier in the day, the heat had much less impact on events in Khalifa International Stadium, where athletes occasionally took advantage of air-conditioning vents near the track. Most medal contenders advanced through their preliminary rounds with little trouble.
The world championship schedule for Saturday includes a pair of late-night distance events, with men and women each competing in the punishing 50k walk.
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