Cheptegei, Bekele, Ayana, Dibaba head Valencia list

The top elite men for Sunday’s Valencia Marathon. From left: Kenenisa Bekele (Ethiopia), Alexander Mutiso (Kenya), Joshua Cheptegei (Uganda) and Gabriel Geay (Tanzania) after the pre-race Press Conference on December 1, 2023.

Photo credit: Valencia Marathon |

What you need to know:

  • Kenya’s Kandie, Mutiso face still challenge in rich Spanish race

In Valencia, Spain

It will be a combination of upcoming athletes and world beaters when the elites line up for the 43rd edition of Valencia Marathon here Sunday morning.

Tanzania’s Gabriel Geay, second here last year, Kenya’s Alexander Mutiso (third last year), Ethiopia’s legend Kenenisa Bekele, debutant Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda and Kenya’s former world half marathon record holder Kibiwott Kandie headline a stellar cast put together by organisers of the fastest-rising race.

The 27-year-old Mutiso, who trains in Ngong, Kajiado County, has good memories of Valencia after making his first appearance as a pacemaker in 2021 before returning as an elite entry last year, finishing on the podium.

He had been tasked to lead the first group of elite athletes in 2021 and ran up to the 30-kilometre mark before dropping out on cue.

In 2022, he saw it wise to run the full marathon and had no regrets.

“The Valencia Marathon is special for me… after emerging third last year, I wanted to run here again because it is a fast course and I might still lower my personal best time,” said Mutiso, who was fourth at the 2020 Valencia Half Marathon.

Asked if he has some butterflies in his stomach before tomorrow’s race, Mutiso said that he paced Kenenisa Bekele in 2019 at the Berlin Marathon and is ready to take on him in a full marathon.

“I have trained well and I don’t fear anyone because we are all competing and it depends on how one has prepared. I must admit the course is fast and we are going to run a faster race,” added Mutiso in an interview with Nation Sport.

He started the season with a win at the Prague Marathon in May where he clocked two hours, five minutes and nine seconds before taking a break.

During Friday’s elite press conference, Cheptegei said that he is basically going to learn the marathon on his debut.

He added that he has always been inspired by his seniors who include his competitor Kenenisa Bekele and the two-time Olympic marathon champion Eliud Kipchoge.

“I’m glad we are going to compete with Bekele on Sunday because he is one person I used to watch while in primary school and when I went to secondary school, Kipchoge inspired me again.

“These are two people who make me go for the best and I believe I’m going to run a good race on Sunday,” he said.

The highlights of Cheptegei’s running career on Spanish soil include in 2019 when he ran a national record of 26 minutes and 38 seconds in the 10-kilometre road race before shattering the world record in the 10,000m on the track race in 2020 (26:11.00).

An interesting race

He is anxious to see what a Spanish marathon has in store for him.

“We had to discuss with my team on the need to come back to Valencia and try the marathon, and I believe we are going to have an interesting race,” he added.
Bekele said he is glad to be back to the city as a marathoner after competing here indoors in the 3,000m.

Interestingly, his younger brother Tariku won the gold medal at the 2008 World Indoor Championships here in the 3,000m.

“The Valencia Marathon is known for its fast courses and I came here to run and get a qualification for the Olympic Games in Paris next year where I will be looking forward to representing my country in the prestigious event,” said Bekele, who will be running his first race for new sponsors ANTA. He was full of praise for Cheptegei, his former teammate at NN Running Club.

“You cannot run alone or run forever. Transferring to young generation is the natural course, but I’m very happy and proud to run with the young generations. World records are made to break them (regarding Joshua Cheptegei broke two records he set). Cheptegei doesn’t need my advice because he trains with really good trainers and team. Anyway maybe he gets the advice on Sunday.

“So far, I’m happy with my new sponsorship, ANTA, which has very good trainers.”

Another athlete to watch is Tanzania’s Gabriel Geay, who emerged second last year, running a national record which was also his personal best in the distance.

Geay said that unlike last season where he trained at Iten in Elgeyo Marakwet County in Kenya, he decided to train at home in Tanzania this time round and the sessions for him have been good.

Apart from Mutiso, Kenya will also be represented by Kibiwott Kandie, Simon Kiprop, Stanley Rono who is debuting.

Paco Borao, the Valencia Marathon Race Director said he is happy to see the race growing each year, and believes that athletes have been given an excellent platform to showcase their talents.

Ethiopia’s decorated track athletes Tirunesh Dibaba and Almaz Ayana lead a stellar women’s field here tomorrow.

Kenya-born Romanian Joan Chelimo Melly is also in the mix.

“I’m so grateful to be invited to Valencia again. I was here in 2020 after Covid and achieved my personal best. It’s overwhelming to see the Valencia Marathon growing. I love Valencia and I’m very happy to run again here on Sunday,” said Chelimo.

“It’s not easy to be professional and mum at the same time, but I manage to organise myself."

Ethiopia’s Worknesh Degefa will also be juggling motherhood and running. “I have two babies and I organise myself for training,” she said.

Another mum on the list is Germany’s Ethiopia-born Melat Kejeta. “Thanks to the organisation, I feel very welcomed. I’ll try my best on Sunday and I hope it will be a nice race. Last time I came for the half marathon and I hope the marathon will go as well as half marathon,” she said.  “I came with my family and with my daughter who is 17 months old."