Friday's RAK Half-Marathon in the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates boasts a flat, fast course and over USD 400,000 in prize money, the most of any half-marathon in the world. The event's prize money table shows USD 28,000 for the overall race winners, and there are USD 5,000 bonuses for new course records and USD 100,000 bonuses for new world records. There is even special prize money for UAE residents and nationals.
However, it is unlikely that the full prize money purse will be paid out. Race officials have implemented a prize money reduction system which stipulates that the full awards for each place will only be paid if very fast times are achieved. The top-5 men must break one hour to collect the full awards for each of those places, while the top-5 women must break 69 minutes to collect the advertised prize money. Moreover, women finishing 6th through 10th must break 71 minutes to collect the full prizes.
While it is not uncommon for race organizers to set minimum performance standards for athletes to receive either full prize money or appearance fees, none have such harsh reduction standards as the RAK Half. Organizes defend the policy on the grounds that it promotes fast times, the prize money is already very generous, and that the United Arab Emirates does not tax any of the earnings locally.
"With a field of this caliber and pacemakers laid on specifically to set the early pace up well, and then to take the field through the middle stages, sub 60-minute times for six men or more are quite feasible," said media chief Tim Hutchings in a prepared statement. Hutchings pointed out that the course "is about as fast as is possible" with fewer turns than last year. He also said that a weather clause was in place should the temperature exceed 26°C (79°F) which would halt the reduction mechanism.
In the first two editions of the race, there have been seven marks below one hour on the men's side (three in 2007 and four in 2008), while only a single woman, Berhane Adere of Ethiopia, has broken 71 minutes. So, in order for the full prize money to be paid on the women's side, the top five women will all have to smash the course record by nearly two minutes, while the women finishing six through tenth must all run near Adere's course record of 1:10:58. Hutchings called Adere's record "appallingly slow."
"It's a fast course, good fields have been assembled and something has to be done to get the women to work as hard as the men," Hutchings said. "Yes, we all know that strength in depth in the women's distance running world is not as great as the men's, but that is no reason to ignore blatantly apathetic running."
The race's elite athlete coordinator, Ian Ladbrooke, has assembled very strong fields, so fast times are likely should the weather not be too hot. The men's race offers a terrific match-up between Ethiopia's Deriba Merga and Kenya's Patrick Makau, while a supporting cast of another nine men who have broken one hour are set to give chase. The women's field is nearly as strong: six sub-69 minute woman have been recruited, led by Kenyan Philes Ongori (1:07:57 PB) and Ethiopians Aselefech Mergia (1:08:17) and Derartu Tulu (1:08:26).
10% OF PRIZE MONEY GOES TO CHARITY
Another unusual feature of the race is that 10% of each athlete's prize money is diverted to charity. In large running events, the charity fundraising is usually shouldered by the recreational runners, although many races make direct charitable donations which are unrelated to prize money. Hutchings said that the mandatory charity donation has always been a component of the race and "has raised very little comment from the athletes."
"Additionally, as our official charities have all been linked to supporting the needy/disadvantaged in Africa and most of our elites are Africans, we felt at least it was motivated in the right direction," said race director Nathan Clayton. "In fact the official charity the first two years was the Paul Tergat Foundation, and Paul came the first year in support of this initiative."
The complete prize money details about the event can be found at this link: RAKMarathon.org.