In the women’s race, caution was the early watchword as Portuguese athlete Sara Moreira led an elite pack, featuring Kenya's Sally Kipyego, Priscah Jeptoo, and defending champion Mary Keitany; Ethiopia's Aselefech Mergia, Mestawet Tufa, and Buzunesh Deba; France's Christelle Daunay; and first-time American Laura Thweatt through the race’s early stages. Stringing together miles in the mid-5:30s, the leaders were comfortably clicking off Brooklyn miles at 2:25-2:26 pace. The waiting game continued as Thweatt, a top American 5,000m/10,000m athlete, towed a front-running group of 14 through the first half in 72:56. Before long, the leading group was down to 10 as several runners, including two time NYC runner-up Deba who was hampered by a balky calf, dropped back. After the silent 16th mile across the Queensboro Bridge and the swing onto the First Avenue scream tunnel, the leaders had been reduced to Moreira, Thweatt, Kipyego, Keitany, Tufa, Mergia, and Jeptoo.
After an extended cat-and-mouse game heading uptown toward the Bronx, Keitany decided the waiting was over. Cleverly utilizing the 30K aid station to disguise her break, the Kenyan star stepped on the gas in the 18th mile and at last the race was on. Keitany’s downshift promoted the carnage she wanted. While Tufa, Jeptoo, and Mergia soon covered the break, Thweatt and Kipyego were gone almost immediately. Early leader Moreira struggled to hold on. After a quick spin in the South Bronx, Keitany, in full control, headed back to Manhattan over the Madison Avenue Bridge as Moreira finally let go.
Keitany and Jeptoo were elbow-to-elbow as they passed the 20 mile mark with the defending champion meting out the punishment as her countrywoman (Jeptoo) fought to hang on. Keitany’s 21st mile in 5:14 gave her an 8 second advantage. A 22nd mile in 5:13 gave Keitany a 30 second lead and basically sealed her victory. For good measure, Keitany added an exclamation point: an uphill 23rd mile in 5:15!
The coronation cruise over the final 5K was all that remained.
Mary Keitany hit the line in 2:24:25 to claim the Rudin Trophy and become the first NYC woman’s champion to successfully defend her title since world record holder Paula Radcliffe did it in 2008. Regathering herself over the final kilometers, Mergia got up for second in 2:25.32 as her Ethiopian countrywoman Tufa finished 3rd in 2:25:50. “At the beginning, I had no option to go in front. I had to wait,” explained the winner. “Becoming the champion again is very important to me. I am happy and very excited.”
In the men’s race, the early stages also featured lackadaisical pacing which was attributed by many to August’s world championship marathon which forced compressed periods of recovery and preparation for those Beijing participants electing to compete in New York. Ten miles into the race, a crowded lead pack of 15-20 runners included Kenya’s Wilson Kipsang, Geoffrey Kamworor, Stanley Biwott; Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa [two-time Boston champion]; and American’s Meb Keflezighi and Crain Leon. A 4:47 12th mile shook up the pack, but dropped no one. After passing the halfway mark in 66:50, the pace slowed further as the leaders strolled the 5K stretch up First Avenue in 16:24.
At 20 miles, the real racing began as Kamworor threw down a 4:24 mile to separate the contenders from the pretenders. Only Kipsang, Biwott, and Desisa could survive that pace burst as the African quartet sped through the South Bronx. The Kenyan protagonist - who captured the silver medal in August’s world championship 10,000 meters - kept the heat on with a 22nd mile in 4:22 that quickly sent the defending champion Kipsang out the back door. The three remaining Africans were left to sort out the medals over the final 7 kilometers.
Knowing he lacked Kamworor’s track speed, Biwott (the only one of the remaining trio not sapped by world championship competition in the Beijing late summer steam bath) took the lead and pressed the pace. It was a gamble that paid off. In the rolling hills of Central Park, Biwott forged a 35-meter lead. When the 10,000m silver medalist clawed back to within 10 meters of his countryman, Biwott had one final surge that broke Kamworor just before the duo exited the park onto Central Park South. Finishing strong, Biwott - who covered the 5-mile stretch from miles 20 to 25 in 22:46 - went on the win his first Marathon Major championship in 2:10:34. Kamworor crossed 2nd in 2:10:48 and Desisa grabbed 3rd in 2:12:10.
“It was fantastic for me. It is a great honor,” declared Biwott on his unexpected victory. “I am very happy today to win the New York City Marathon. I’ll be happy to defend my title next year.”
The Americans were not without performances to cheer. 40-year-old Meb Keflezighi posted his 8th top-10 NYC Marathon performance to finish in 2:13:32 and set a new American masters record and establish a new NYC Marathon masters event record. “The support and the crowd was just amazing. I always love it in New York,” said the former champion. “To do it for my 10th time, I am just happy to be here. I wanted to finish top 10. And now I can get ready for the Trials.”
In her debut marathon appearance, Laura Thweatt ran like an experienced veteran to finish 7th in 2:28:23. “I did surprisingly well. It was my debut marathon, so I didn't quite know what to expect,” said Thweatt afterwards. “I am really happy with the performance. I definitely got what I wanted out of this today.”
Earlier in the week, the 26-year-old track specialist repeatedly ruled out any chance she would compete in the United States Olympic Marathon Trials in February.
A hot bath, a delicious meal, and a good night's sleep might prompt Laura Thweatt to reconsider.
By Dave Hunter