By Rich Sands, @sands
(c) 2018 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
NEW YORK (04-Nov) -- Mary Keitany returned to the top of the podium of the TCS New York City Marathon here today, earning her fourth title in five years with a dominating second half in the 48th running of the historic race from Staten Island to Manhattan. The men's competition came down to a dramatic battle in the final mile, with Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa holding off a spirited rally from compatriot Shura Kitata to score his first victory in the Big Apple.
Defending champions Shalane Flanagan of Portland, Ore., and Geoffrey Kamworor of Kenya returned to the podium, both claiming third place on a near-perfect day for racing which combined cool temperatures (47F/8C), bright sun, and blazing fall foliage.
The professional women's race set off first. A tentative first half was reached in 1:15:49, with a lead pack of eight women in contention: Keitany and Kenyan compatriot Vivian Cheruiyot, Americans Flanagan, Des Linden (this year's Boston Marathon champ) and Molly Huddle, and a trio of Ethiopians: Rahma Tusa, Netsanet Gudeta and Mamitu Daska. The real racing began moments later when Keitany, Gudeta and Tola broke away with a 5:14 split for the 14th mile.
A remarkable 4:55 segment for the 17th mile was more than Gudeta could handle and it was very briefly down to a two-women race between Keitany and Tusa. (Gudeta would later drop out after 35-K.) Keitany, who finished second last year after three straight victories, kept pushing and used an explosive 15:19 split from 25-K to 30-K to open up a 17-second gap on Tusa. Looking supremely comfortable, Keitany ripped the next 5-K in 15:34 and soon had a lead of nearly two minutes.
Cheruiyot, Flanagan, Huddle and Daska had been running together, patiently waiting to see what the hot pace might do to the leaders. The Kenyan, who has four Olympic track medals, including the 5000 meter gold from 2016, eventually threw down a surge of her own and moved into third place in the 21st mile. She passed Tusa in the 23rd mile to move into second, but could not make a dent in Keitany's lead. She later revealed that she'd suffered a recent hamstring injury and ran in pain for most of the race.
Thanks to an astonishing second half of 1:06:58 --the fastest ever recorded in a women's marathon-- Keitany crossed the finish line in 2:22:48, adding to the titles she won in 2014, '15 and '16. She recorded the second-fastest time in event history, just 17 seconds off Margaret Okayo's 2003 record. Behind her, Cheruiyot came through in 2:26:02 in her New York City debut, while Flanagan, who passed Tusa decisively just before 40-K, took third-place in a time of 2:26:22, 31 seconds faster than her winning mark in 2017.
“The pace of New York is not like other races,” Keitany, a notorious front runner said of the slow early start on the challenging route. “So for me it was not necessary to start [fast] at the beginning. I didn't want to rush at the beginning so that [I would] suffer at the end. I wanted to be comfortable throughout the race."
Flanagan landed on the New York podium for the third time in three tries in New York. In addition to last year's victory, she finished second in her debut in 2010. "When I got dropped from Mary and a bunch of other women, I kept thinking, keep fighting you never know what's going to happen in front of you, and just put your head down and keep working for that podium spot," she said of her pursuit of Tusa. "So when I finally got into that third place I got another level of excitement and just felt really proud of myself in that moment even though there were some rough patches in there."
Huddle (2:26:44) set a personal best for fourth place, completing only her third marathon, followed by Tusa (2:27:13) and Linden (2:27:51). Allie Kieffer, the fourth American in the top 10, lowered her best time to 2:28:12 for seventh place (she finished fifth last year).
The men's field also went out conservatively, hitting 10-K in 30:48 and 15-K in 45:47. Kitata's frequent attempts to push the pace finally created a separation at halfway (1:03:55), with countrymen Desisa and Tamirat Tola as well as Kamworor and fellow Kenyan Festus Talam forming a lead pack. The pace quickened between 25-K to 30-K with a 14:36 split, and soon Talam and Tola lost contact. Kitata, fell behind in the 23rd mile, which the leaders covered in a blistering 4:29.
Heading towards 40-K in Central Park, Kamworor led Desisa by a stride, and the three-time world half-marathon champion appeared to be biding his time for a breakaway, just as he did last year. But just after two hours into the race, Desisa, who finished third here a year ago, made a decisive move, which the defending champion was unable to match.
Two-time Boston Marathon winner Desisa would not have a comfortable run to the finish, however, as a rejuvenated Kitata, the runner up in the London Marathon in April, came flying down Central Park South, passing Kamworor and gaining ground on the leader with each stride. As they entered the park again for the final climb to the finish Kitata appeared to have the momentum to steal the victory, pulling up right behind his rival. Desisa had one last answer, however, and sprinted home in 2:05:59, two seconds clear of Kitata. Kamworor (2:06:26) finished third as the podium finishers recorded the second, third and fourth-fastest times ever in New York.
"After Geoffrey dropped off I thought maybe he will come back at the finish line," Desisa admitted. "But Shura, I didn't think he was following me. He's a strong guy. And when we train together, he's a fighter. Because of that, I was afraid. So as I am finishing my run, yes, I am very afraid of him."
Tola (2:08:30) and Kenyan Daniel Wanjiru (2:10:21) rounded out the top five. Jared Ward of Mapleton, Utah, was the top finisher from the United States, placing sixth overall in 2:12:24. Three other Americans cracked the top 10: Scott Fauble (seventh in 2:12:28), Shadrack Biwott (ninth in 2:12:52) and Chris Derrick (10th in 2:13:08).
"I always relish the opportunity to run in places like this and the good races because they don't always come around as easy or as regularly as you hope they do," said Ward, who finished sixth in the 2016 Olympic marathon, but has had a string of sub-par races since. "It's just fun to be back and to be running with such a strong American field. I mean, I really like these guys that we were running around."
Two-time Olympic 1500-meter medalist Bernard Lagat finished 18th in his marathon debut, clocking 2:17:20 at age 43. He experienced pain in his right calf and had trouble with the downhill sections in the second half.
Desisa and Keitany each earned $100,000 for their victories, along with an extra $45,000 time bonus (Desisa for breaking 2:06, Keitany for going under 2:23).
Daniel Romanchuk became the first American man to win the wheelchair division, clocking 1:36:21, one second ahead of defending champ Daniel Hug of Switzerland. Manuela Schär, also of Switzerland, took her second straight women's title, in 1:50:27, for her fourth Abbott World Marathon Majors victory of the year, following wins in Tokyo, Berlin and Chicago. The winners both earned a $20,000 first-place prize.
More than 50,000 runners were expected to complete the race, making it the largest marathon in the world. The final finishers were due to be welcomed at the finish line Sunday evening by Peter Ciaccia, who is retiring as New York Runners' president of events and the longtime race director for the marathon.
PHOTO: Mary Keitany of Kenya winning the 2018 TCS New York City Marathon for the fourth time in 2:22:48 (photo courtesy of New York Road Runners)
PHOTO: Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia winning the 2018 TCS New York City Marathon for the first time in 2:05:59 (photo courtesy of New York Road Runners)