The Seoul International Marathon is, based on its course record, the tenth-fastest marathon in the world. Although most runners in Korea never think of it, the only races that have seen faster times are the world-famous races where the best of the best compete: Boston, Berlin, London, Chicago, New York, Frankfurt, Rotterdam, Dubai and Fukuoka. The race organizers do their best to make Seoul a race comparable with any in the world for both elite and mass participation.
This year’s prize structure offered $80,000 to both the men’s and women’s winners, as long as they ran under 2:10:37 and 2:24:18 respectively, though the men’s time is more commonly run than the women’s time. Any time that was at or slower than these would only earn half the prize money.
While prize money at major marathons isn’t exactly winner-take-all, it encourages and rewards aggressive racing, with the result being that many professional marathoners drop out midway. The winner would receive $80,000, but the runner-up half of that, the third-place finisher half of the second-place finisher, the fourth-place finisher half of the third-place finisher, with the 5th-8th-place runners receiving $7,000, $5,000, $3,000 and $2,000 respectively. The ninth-place finisher would receive nothing.
Time bonuses were also in play. A runner would have received $300,000 for a world record and $200,000 for running faster than 2:05:00 but slower than the world record of 2:03:38. Running a course record, or close to it, would earn the winner between $100,000 and $200,000 while a runner finishing just a few minutes behind might receive just a few thousand dollars, or maybe even nothing. Flights and accommodations are typically provided by the race organizer, but it’s entirely possible, though not common, for a runner to run a world-class time and actually lose more money than you did in running this race.
With all this money on the line, the elite men went out at a steady 2:06 pace, slightly slower than course pace. They ran the first 5k, from Gwanghwamun to Euljiro via Namdaemun and Myeongdong, in 15:01. They hit 15 km coming back along the Cheonggyecheon toward Myeongdong in 45:01, and reached 20 km just past Dongdaemun in 1:00:28. The 25k mark was reached not far from Children’s Grand Park in 1:15:41. By this point, just eight men were left, and they reached 30 km at the same steady pace of 1:30:38.
It was around here, on a gradual uphill, that Kenyan Franklin Chepkwony separated from the pack. He ran 14:44 for the next 5k, the fastest of the race so far, and only Ethiopian Leche Dechase was able to follow. However, Chepkwony continued the blistering pace, running the next 5 km in 14:45, and Dechase could not keep up. Dechase would actually gain slightly on Chepkwony in the final 2 km, but the 18-second gap at 40 km was too big to overcome. Chepkwony won in 2:06:59 while Dechase finished second in 2:07:11. Seboka Dibaba Tola of Ethiopia was third in 2:07:27 and Yuki Kawauchi, a Japanese runner who works full-time as a civil servant, finished fourth in 2:08:14.
In the women’s race, three runners separated themselves from the rest of the pack quite early. Emebt Etea Bedada and Yeshimebet Tadesse Bifa of Ethiopia ran together with Filomena Chepchirchir of Kenya as they reached 10 km in 34:20. They ran together through the centre of the city, reaching 15 km in 51:34, but by the time they reached Dongdaemun at the east end of the city centre, Chepchirchir had opened up a slight lead. She reached 20 km in 1:08:47. Bedada and Bifa would catch Chepchirchir, however, and the three reached 25 km together at 1:25:48. They continued past Children’s Grand Park and reached 30 km in 1:42:43, running this third 10k in just under 34 minutes, the fastest so far.
Bedada and Chepchirchir would slow down here but Bifa would fall off the pace anyway, losing 17 seconds to Bedada and Chepchirchir by 35 km. Chepchirchir kept this pace after 35 km and, just like Chepkwony in the men’s race, dropped an Ethiopian competitor in the Jamsil neighbourhood, opening up a seven-second gap that extended to ten seconds by the finish line. Chepchirchir finished first in 2:25:43, Bedada was second in 2:25:53 and Bifa was third in 2:26:18.
The club had a very strong performance in this race. Son Chul ran a new personal best of 2:43:33, as did Uriah Orland (2:52:06). Michele Del Cero ran the other sub-3 by the Flyers on this day (2:59:17). On the women’s side, Ania Adamaszek led the way with a 3:36:59, followed by Jihwa Woo, who ran a personal best of 3:50:31.