Having the physical tools is one thing, but to go where no woman has gone before – and set a world record – you need a whole lot of determination to go with it.

That’s an area in which Peres Jepchirchir has never been lacking.

Her courage, class and composure were all on full display on Saturday as the 27-year-old claimed her second global title at the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships Gdynia 2020, her time of 1:05:16 in cold, windy conditions a world record (pending ratification) in a women-only race.

It came as no surprise to those watching. Jepchirchir, after all, had run 1:05:34 in Prague last month in what was a largely solo run and for her manager, Gianni Demadonna, the photos from that race were a window into her mindset.

“She was alone in front, but you could see the determination in her face,” he says. “She’s not only really motivated, but she has a tough mind.”

Despite the cold weather and sea breeze blowing in from the Baltic on Saturday, Jepchirchir spoke in confident terms about a fast time and even told her manager before the race she was “in as good shape, if not better” than she was in Prague last month.

After a strong early pace – 5km was reached in 15:20, 10km in 30:47 – Jepchirchir knew she was on for a fast time, but the chief thing on her mind was bringing the gold medal back to Kenya. She had a major moment of panic with 50 minutes on the clock as her teammate Joyciline Jepkosgei tangled legs with Ethiopia’s world record-holder Ababel Yeshaneh, both athletes crashing to the road and forcing Jepchirchir to hurdle them to stay on her feet.

“It affected me because I (stood) to see if Joyciline was coming, but I heard (her) say, ‘Peres, go, I’m coming,’ so I moved on. I was looking (out) for the team.”

Jepchirchir closed up quickly on the leaders and turned for home alongside Ethiopia’s Yalemzerf Yehualaw and Germany’s Melat Yisak Kejeta. Jepchirchir powered ahead as they navigated a chicane into the finishing straight and from there she was able to enjoy a solo run to the line, crossing in 1:05:16 to carve 18 seconds off her women-only world record.

“I am so happy with this,” she said. “It’s a gift to all the Kenyans, to my family.”

Peres Jepchirchir
Born: 27 September 1993. Coach: self.

Virtually no one knew who Peres Jepchirchir was when she appeared in the lead pack at the Kenyan Cross Country Championships in February 2014, surging clear of two-time world cross-country champion Emily Chebet and 1500m star Faith Kipyegon, who eventually outkicked 20-year-old Jepchirchir for the win.

Jepchirchir had run one low-level marathon before that, clocking 2:47:33 at altitude in Kenya, but until that point no one had ever witnessed her world-class potential.

She grew up in Kericho in western Kenya and her family were farmers, growing tea and maize. Jepchirchir ran to school throughout her childhood, a commute she estimates was between three and five kilometres, and she started running competitively in primary school after a gentle push from her brother.

“He said, ‘you are capable as a runner’,” says Jepchirchir. “He motivated me.”

Her coach for many years as a senior was Gabriela Nicola, but after he relocated back home to Italy the remote coaching arrangement via phone calls, WhatsApp and emails soon became difficult and she later decided to steer her own path.

In 2016 she lowered her half marathon best to 1:06:39 and announced herself on the global stage with victory at the World Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff. She reached an even higher level in 2017, breaking the half marathon world record in Ras Al Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates, clocking 1:05:06 to beat Mary Keitany by seven seconds.

What made that run all the more astonishing was that Jepchirchir was a few weeks pregnant at the time, and she gave birth to her daughter, Natalia, in October 2017.

Thirteen months after giving birth, Jepchirchir returned to racing with another low-key marathon in Kenya, clocking 2:46:15. Her first big test came in February 2019 at the Ras al Khaimah Half Marathon, where she threw herself into the deep end by taking on a field that including world half marathon champion Netsanet Gudeta, among others. Jepchirchir finished a respectable sixth in 1:07:36.

Later in the year, she won the Lisbon Half Marathon by one second in 1:06:54, her first victory since breaking the world half marathon record in 2017. She followed it in December with her first high-level marathon, winning in Saitama in 2:23:50, a PB and just 32 seconds shy of the course record.

But despite showing a glimpse of her future potential over the 42.195km distance, Jepchirchir had unfinished business at the half marathon. Once the Boston Marathon was cancelled, she focused her sights on the World Half Marathon Championships.

She warmed up for Gdynia by winning at the Prague 21.1K, breaking the women-only world record with a stunning 1:05:34 run. It was a clear sign that she had returned to the form that had carried her to her greatest achievements in 2016 and 2017.

After a strong early pace in Gdynia – 5km was reached in 15:20, 10km in 30:47 – Jepchirchir knew she was on for a fast time, but the chief thing on her mind was bringing the gold medal back to Kenya. Teammate Joyciline Jepkosgei fell with about 15 minutes to go, but she told Jepchirchir to carry on without her.

Jepchirchir powered ahead, seeing off the challenge from her final two opponents, and crossed the line in 1:05:16 to carve 18 seconds off her own women-only world record.

She joins the legendary trio of Tegla Loroupe, Paula Radcliffe and Lornah Kiplagat as the only women to win more than one world half marathon title. Jepchirchir, however, is the first multiple winner of the title to set more than one world record for the distance.

While the half marathon has so far been her strongest discipline, Jepchirchir says she “loves them all” and she is relishing the chance to take on double the distance on 6 December at the Valencia Marathon, where she hopes to run 2:17 to 2:18.

With the form she’s in, even the most ambitious goal now seems achievable.


Multiple winners of women’s world half marathon title
3 Tegla Loroupe (KEN) – 1997, 1998, 1999
3 Paula Radcliffe (GBR) – 2000, 2001, 2003
3 Lornah Kiplagat (NED) – 2006, 2007, 2008
2 Peres Jepchirchir (KEN) – 2016, 2020

Women-only half marathon world record progression

1:06:25 Lornah Kiplagat (NED) Udine 2007
1:06:11 Netsanet Gudeta (ETH) Valencia 2018
1:05:34 Peres Jepchirchir (KEN) Prague 2020
1:05:16 Peres Jepchirchir (KEN) Gdynia 2020

The outright world record for the women’s half marathon is 1:04:31 by Ethiopia’s Ababel Yeshaneh.

World all-time half marathon list, outright

1:04:31 Ababel Yeshaneh (ETH) Ras Al Khaimah 2020
1:04:49 Brigid Kosgei (KEN) Ras Al Khaimah 2020
1:04:51 Joyciline Jepkosgei (KEN) Valencia 2017
1:04:52 Fancy Chemutai (KEN) Ras Al Khaimah 2018
1:04:55 Mary Keitany (KEN) Ras Al Khaimah 2018
1:05:04 Joan Melly (KEN) Prague 2018
1:05:06 Peres Jepchirchir (KEN) Ras Al Khaimah 2017
1:05:07 Caroline Kipkirui (KEN) Ras Al Khaimah 2018
1:05:09 Florence Kiplagat (KEN) Barcelona 2015
1:05:15 Sifan Hassan (NED) Copenhagen 2018

World all-time half marathon list, women-only races

1:05:16 Peres Jepchirchir (KEN) Gdynia 2020
1:05:18 Melat Kejeta (GER) Gdynia 2020
1:05:19 Yalemzerf Yehualaw (ETH) Gdynia 2020
1:05:39 Zeineba Yimer (ETH) Gdynia 2020
1:05:42 Ababel Yeshaneh (ETH) Gdynia 2020
1:05:58 Joyciline Jepkosgei (KEN) Gdynia 2020
1:06:11 Netsanet Gudeta (ETH) Valencia 2018
1:06:20 Yasemin Can (TUR) Gdynia 2020
1:06:25 Lornah Kiplagat (NED) Udine 2007
1:06:36 Mary Keitany (KEN) Birmingham 2009

Winning rate of the 10 fastest women at the half marathon

80% (20/25) Mary Keitany (KEN)
77% (10/13) Peres Jepchirchir (KEN)
76% (13/17) Florence Kiplagat (KEN)
75% (03/04) Sifan Hassan (NED)
62% (08/13) Brigid Kosgei (KEN)
47% (08/17) Joan Melly (KEN)
44% (08/18) Ababel Yeshaneh (ETH)
43% (06/14) Joyciline Jepkosgei (KEN)
43% (03/07) Fancy Chemutai (KEN)
11% (01/09) Caroline Kipkirui (KEN)

Most sub-66-minute performances
5 Mary Keitany (KEN)
4 Brigid Kosgei (KEN)
3 Peres Jepchirchir (KEN)
3 Sifan Hassan (NED)
3 Ababel Yeshaneh (ETH)
3 Joyciline Jepkosgei (KEN)

- Advertisement -