April 20 2017
Crisp temperatures and clear skies set the stage for fast times and fierce racing at this yesterday’s Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) New York City Marathon. The women’s field was filled with tried-and-true talent and untested legs. Having won in both 2014 and 2015, Kenyan’s Mary Keitany was a favorite going in. But fan’s of U.S. distance running were most excited to see if marathon newbies Molly Huddle, Kim Conley, Neely Spence and Olympic triathlon gold medalist Gwen Jorgenson could give her a run for a chunk of the $803,000 total prize purse waiting at the finish.
The women started the race at a relatively relaxed trot, rolling through the 5K in a big pack around 18:40. Keep in mind, of course, that this is still a 6:00-minute mile—but well off personal-best pace for a large chunk of the top field. Keitany tightened the screws, winding the pace gradually downward. By mile 10, Keitany was joined only at the front by her countrywoman Joyce Chepkirui (2:24:10 marathon runner) and Ethiopian speedster Aselefech Mergia.
Then around the New York City Marathon halfway mark, the two-time Kenyan champion basically said, “Pleasure running with you all—but I’ll see you at the finish.” Churning out low 5-minute miles, she dropped Mergia and then Chepkirui for good. Keitany ran the last half of the marathon completely alone aside from a few pace cars and police escort vehicles. In windy conditions, on a brutal back-half course, she put her competition in her rearview and never looked back. Keitany bounded through the finish with strong legs, a huge smile and neon-pink-painted nails pointing up to the sky, clocking in at 2:24:26—an average pace of 5:31 for all 26.2 miles.
How did Keitany find the will to fight alone for 13-plus miles? Some fans of the sport speculate that a fire burned in her belly after being left out of Olympics this summer. Unlike the U.S., which relies on Olympic Trials races to decide who we send to the Games, Kenya hand selects the athletes they wish to represent the red, yellow and green.
In last year’s London Marathon, Keitany tripped into another runner a few miles from the finish. She took a harsh fall and was unable to go for the win thereafter. After this unfortunate race, Kenya decided to drop Keitany from the Olympic team, taking away her chance to compete in Brazil. Without a chance to run in Rio, her victory in New York must have tasted all the sweeter.
Despite losing contact early on, Molly Huddle, the U.S. champion in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters, never gave up. She gritted out mile after mile with no runner in sight. But despite the fact that this was her first marathon and her racing legs were untested at this distance—even elites hit the wall—she was able to hang. Passing Mergia around mile 14, she ran strong in third place, until Kenya’s Sally Kipyego caught up around the 17th mile. The two ran close, gradually reeling in Chepkirui. In an exciting battle, Huddle relied on her track speed to execute an incredible kick, good enough for third place in 2:28:13.
Huddle now joins the ranks of the precious few American women who have secured New York City Marathon podium spots in the last decade. Her only other company? Kara Goucher and Shalane Flanagan. It’s clear that Huddle will become a 26.2 force to be reckoned with.
Rounding out the top 10 were Chepkirui in fourth. Burundi national record holder Diane Nukuri came in fifth, followed by Aselefech Mergia, Canada’s Lanni Marchant, U.S.’s Neely Spence Gracey and Sara Hall and Ethiopia’s Ayantu Dakebo Hailemariam.
Olympic gold medalist Gwen Jorgenson had a tough second half finishing in 2:41, close to Olympic 5,000 meter runner Kim Conley.
The most dominant American marathoner, Tatayana McFadden, took the women’s chair division for the fourth consecutive year.
As for the guys, Ghirmay Ghebreslassie of Eritrea became the race’s youngest champion at the tender age of 22—and the speedy time of 2:07:51. Abdi Abdirahman proved that age is nothing but a number when the 39-year-old American athlete earned third place.
The real winner? The crowds! In the face of a stressful election week, it was lovely to see millions of strangers cheering each other on for the simple pleasure of watching one another succeed.