Fish takes on the Africans

Ben Fish crosses the line to win the 2010 Hastings Half Marathon
Ben Fish crosses the line to win the 2010 Hastings Half Marathon

Ben Fish will have to conquer the African challenge in order to win a second Hastings Half Marathon.

The Blackburn flyer, winner in 2010, appears likely to battle it out with Kenyan talent Bernard Chemugo and Ethiopian star Tadele Geremew Mulugeta for the prestigious title on Sunday morning.

Having chosen not to defend his title 12 months ago, Fish - who also came sixth in 2009 - is back this year and is running the fastest times of his life.

A winner of many half marathons, Fish is targeting a good time in next month’s London Marathon in the hope of securing a coveted spot in this summer’s Olympic Games.

But Fish will have to overcome some stiff competition to become the seventh man to win two Hastings titles after Derek Stevens (1985, 1986), Paul Davies-Hale (1989, 1990), Sammy Bitok (1994, 1995), Simon Kasimili (2000, 2002), Fred Mogaka (2004, 2005) and Kiplimo Kimutai (2008, 2009). No man, incidentally, has ever won the race three times.

The results of the Bath Half Marathon a fortnight ago could provide a few clues as to how the race may pan out. Fish was sixth in 1:05:28, Chemugo came fifth in 1:05:08 and Geremew Mulugeta finished second in 1:04:33.

Julian Rendall, winner of the Hastings 100th Anniversary Marathon in 2008, is also in the line-up, while it will be interesting to see if Jeff Pyrah can challenge Daniel Anderson and Henry Mountcastle for the local honours.

Kenya, by the way, has provided 12 of the last 14 winners, including 2011 champion Gordon Mugi, who hasn’t yet signed up to defend his title, and Samuel Otieno, whose course record of 1:01:37 set back in 1999 still stands.

The outstanding favourite for the women’s title is also a Kenyan. Jane Muia is in very good form having won at Bath and with a personal best of 1:10:25, could threaten the course record of 1:11:13 set by Andrea Wallace in 1993.

Justina Heslop, from London, is coached by four-times women’s winner Birhan Dagne and primarily a 10K specialist, is moving up in distance. Eastbourne Half Marathon winner Yvette Grice is also in the field.

Numbers are around the 4,500 mark and race director Eric Hardwick says he has never known so many people leaving it late to enter. It will still be possible to sign up on the morning of the race at a cost of £25.