Boom or bust debut for Burka in Frankfurt?

*Gelete Burka has ignored the age-old adage of moving up through the distances as the Ethiopian contests her first marathon this weekend in Frankfurt. The 27-year-old, who said a disappointing performance at the World Championships where she didn’t get through the 1500m heats prompted her to attempt the marathon, doesn’t lack ambition even though this will be a venture into the unknown for an athlete who has only once raced at a distance above 10km. She’s committed herself to following the pacemakers and she’s hoping for a 2:20 time. Burka has run 40km in training in preparation for her debut and a 10km PB of 30:53 shows she doesn’t lack pedigree on the roads.

A marathon, however, is a lofty step-up in distance although world-class 1500m runners have been known to run a good marathons too.

  • Qu Yunxia – 3:50.46 (1500m)/2:24:32 (marathon)
  • Wang Junxia – 3:51.92/2:24:07
  • Yin Lili – 3:53.91/2:32:42 (WYR)
  • Dong Yanmei – 3:55.07/2:28:09
  • Tetyana Pozdnyakova – 3:56.50/2:29:00
  • Zhang Linli – 3:57.46/2:24:42
  • Kutre Dulecha – 3:58.38/2:30:06
  • Gelete Burka – 3:58. 79/ ?
  • Sonia O’Sullivan – 3:58.85/2:29:01
  • Zhang Lirong – 3:59.70/2:24:52
  • Raisa Katyukova-Smekhnova – 3:59.8/2:28:40
  • Grete Waitz – 4:00.55/2:24:54
  • Liz McColgan – 4:01.38/2:26:52
  • Gete Wami – 4:01.47/2:21:34
  • Jo Pavey – 4:01.79/2:28:24
  • Meskerem Assefa – 4:02.12/2:25:17
  • Liliya Shobukhova – 4:03.78/2:18:20

Burka’s high-risk strategy will make for exciting viewing. Will she make a winning debut like her team-mate Meselech Melkamu (a late withdrawal this year) did last year or will a lack of miles in the legs prove costly in the second-half?

*The leading Ethiopians in the men’s race Dino Sefr and Feyisa Lilesa were equally bold about their ambitions in the pre-race press conference. Both of them are hoping the pacemakers will run at 2:03-pace in a ploy to attack Haile Gebrselassie’s national record of 2:03:59. Both of them have come within a minute of Haile’s record with Sefer, marginally the faster at 2:04:50, but his performances have tailed off since setting that time in Dubai in 2012 (DNF Olympics, 2:09:18 in Tokyo). Lelisa, a 2:04:52 performer, dropped out of the World Championships just two months ago but affirms he is fully recovered and arrives in Frankfurt in the shape of his life.

*Chris Thompson’s performance in the Birmingham half-marathon last weekend was another sign the marathon is where he’s likely to be headed at the 2016 Olympics. The former UK 10,000m record-holder demonstrated he has the strength required to tackle 26.2-miles as he fought off experienced US marathoner Abdi Abdirahman for the runner-up spot on a course renowned for its undulations in the latter stages. He’ll be looking to gain revenge on Uganda’s Thomas Ayeko, the winner in the West Midlands on his half-marathon debut, over 10-miles on a very different course to Birmingham at the Great South Run.

*One athlete making the transition up to the marathon this weekend is Andrea Lalli. At 26, most European runners are still content to ply their trade on the track but recent trends show the event is no longer exclusively the domain of runners in their 30s. A fast debut might not be in the offing due to the testing nature of the course in Venice but his front-running performances in cross-country races and his times at the shorter distances (61:11 half-marathon PB) suggest the marathon is where he’s most likely to flourish. 

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