By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2023 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
NEW YORK (05-Nov) — Tamirat Tola of Ethiopia and Hellen Obiri of Kenya both got to the finish line first at today’s 52nd TCS New York City Marathon, but they used vastly different strategies to clinch their victories. Tola, 32, who had dropped out of the World Athletics Championships marathon in Budapest last August with stomach problems, broke away mid-race and scampered alone to a course record 2:04:58, the first sub-2:05 on New York’s notoriously hilly course. Obiri, 33, waited until the last 400 meters to break free from her final challenger, Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey, to win in a slowish 2:27:23. By doing so, she became the first woman since Norway’s Ingrid Kristiansen in 1989 to win the Boston and New York marathons in the same year. Both athletes won $100,000 in prize money, and Tola collected an extra $50,000 for setting a new course record.
WOMEN STICK TOGETHER
The 14-woman elite women’s field, the smallest since the race adopted an all-women’s early start in 2002, started cautiously, despite excellent weather (sunny and 52F/11C). American Kellyn Taylor was the nominal leader in the first two miles, and even enjoyed a small gap ascending the towering Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge in the first kilometer, but when the top-11 women hit Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn at the bottom of the bridge they were all together. Like sailors huddled in a lifeboat, they clung to each other kilometer after kilometer, nobody wanting to test the waters on their own.
“It was super-weird,” Taylor said of the slow pace. It was probably one of the weirdest races that I ran, especially with the caliber of the talent.” She added: “We were running 6-minute pace for no good reason except that we were doing it.”
The first three 5-kilometer segments ticked off in 17:23, 17:12, and 17:54. Taylor was joined by compatriot Molly Huddle and Kenyans Viola Cheptoo, Brigid Kosgei, Edna Kiplagat, Mary Ngugi, Sharon Lokedi (the 2022 race champion) and Obiri. There were also two Ethiopians, Letesenbet Gidey and Fantu Zewude Jifar. Nobody was concerned about the pace. The race organizers, New York Road Runners, don’t employ pacemakers like most modern marathons.
“At the beginning of the race it was just like, let’s sit and relax,” explained Lokedi, who spent most of 2023 dealing with a foot injury.
Despite massive crowds cheering them on, the pace stayed restrained, 17:50 for the 5 kilometers through 20-K and 18:19 for the 5 kilometers through 25-K. Obiri, the only woman in history to win gold medals in both indoor and outdoor world championships and world cross country, tried to stay calm and wait for the right moment to attack. She thought about it several times, she said.
“‘Can I try to make a move?,'” she revealed she said to herself. “You know, the marathon is about patience.”
When the race re-entered Manhattan after the small section in the Bronx, the real racing finally began. It was Cheptoo, a younger sister of Olympic medalist Bernard Lagat, who made the first move. Rounding Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem in the 23rd mile, Cheptoo opened a small lead, but Obiri, Gidey, Lokedi and Kosgei caught up. Taylor –who had done so much of the leading– fell back and would finish eighth in 2:29:48 (top American). Mile 23 went into the books in a snappy 5:04, and the pack covered the notorious uphill 24th mile in 5:19, perhaps equal to a sub-5:00 mile if it were flat.
“I think it was just more like we knew towards the end it would get fast,” said Lokedi. She continued: “When the move is made, be ready.”
Running in Central Park behind the majestic Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cheptoo and Kosgei fought to stay with Obiri, Lokedi and Gidey, but eventually the trio got away. Plunging down the Service Road behind the Central Park Zoo, the three women turned right onto Central Park South in a tight group. Obiri, who lost touch with Lokedi at that point last year, was determined to stay with the leaders.
“Sometimes you learn from your mistakes,” she said.
The three stayed together until the final turn back into Central Park. That section is slightly downhill, and Obiri surged. That move put Lokedi out of contention. Gidey held on to the back of Obiri, but the Kenyan still had another gear. The final 400 meters is uphill, and Obiri charged it like the world cross country champion that she is. Her arms pumping furiously, she put some daylight on Gidey.
“You know sometimes you must have that speed,” she said, adding, “I’m a marathoner, but I’m from track so I can do well.”
Gidey gave it her all, but Obiri was just too strong. Her winning time was the slowest here since Edna Kiplagat ran 2:28:20 in 2010, but it mattered not. Under the coaching of Dathan Ritzenhein at the On Athletics Club in Boulder, Colo., Obiri had prepared well. Remarkably, in three marathon starts she has two victories and hopes that she will be selected for the Kenyan team for the Paris 2024 Olympics.
“Sometimes anything can happen in a race,” Obiri marveled. “But for me I trained so well. I’m strong. I believed in what I did in my training.”
Gidey, who was running New York for the first time, took second in 2:27:29. Lokedi got third (2:27:33), and Kosgei (2:27:45) and Ngugi (2:27:53) ended up fourth and fifth, respectively. Cheptoo, who made the first move to break open the race, was sixth in 2:28:11. American Molly Huddle finished ninth in 2:32:02, completing her first marathon since April, 2019. She said before the race that her goal was 2:29:30.
TOLA GOES ON FIRST AVENUE
The men’s contest couldn’t be any more different. Although the first 5-kilometer segment was covered in a tepid 15:28, the second went down in 15:08 and the die was cast. It would be a fast race today, although Tola said he wasn’t paying attention to the clock.
“I’m not thinking about the course record,” Tola told reporters. “I’m thinking to win.”
In the next 5-kilometer segment six men got away: Ethiopia’s Tola, Jemal Yimer, and Shura Kitata; Kenya’s Albert Korir (the 2021 winner here); Morocco’s Zouhair Talbi; and the Netherlands’ Abdi Nageeye. That section was completed in a quick 14:26, led by Kenya’s Korir who was itching to run fast.
“I would like to improve my time,” said the tall and lanky Korir, who “only” had a 2:08:03 personal best coming into today’s race.
The leaders passed halfway in 1:02:45, and the climb up the massive Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge to the 25-K mark which followed caused Nageeye, Talbi, and Kitata to fall back. Flying around the 180-degree turn to exit the bridge onto First Avenue only Tola, Korir and Yimer remained on the front. The huge crowds roared in approval.
“The people of New York is amazing,” said Tola. “(They) give me more every kilometer.”
Lifted by the crowd, Tola and Yimer dropped Korir, then Tola dropped Yimer. By 35-K Tola had a 34-second lead and was running well under the pace of Geoffrey Mutai’s 2011 course record of 2:05:06 set in 2011. From the 25-K mark Tola ran 5-kilometer segments of 14:07, 14:30, and 15:18. Even though he slowed a bit, the record was still well within his grasp and he broke it by eight seconds.
“I’m happy to win New York Marathon,” he said in English. He added: “Thank you for all the people.”
The last third of the race wasn’t kind to Yimer. The 58:33 half-marathoner was still in second place at 35-K, but fell back to fourth at 40-K and ninth at the finish (2:11:31). Korir, on the other hand, rallied in that part of the race, moving from third at 30-K to second at 40-K where he stayed until the finish. He smashed his personal best by more than a minute, clocking 2:06:57.
“I didn’t think that I could run personal best,” he said, shaking his head. “But at finishing line I saw the clock I saw I crossed my personal best.”
Kitata also rallied and got third in 2:07:11, bagging his third New York City Marathon podium finish. Nageeye got fourth (2:10:21), and 2018 European marathon champion Koen Naert of Belgium got fifth in 2:10:25. Kenya’s Edward Cheserek finished eighth in his debut in 2:11:07, and the top American was (RRCA RunPro Camp alum and RunPro Grant recipient) Futsum Zienasellassie of HOKA Northern Arizona Elite in 2:12:09 (10th place). Canadian record holder Cam Levins dropped out early; his last split was at 15-K
HUG AND DEBRUNNER DOMINATE WHEELCHAIR RACES
As they did at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon last month, Marcel Hug and Catherine Debrunner of Switzerland dominated the professional wheelchair races, both winning by huge margins. Hug won his sixth TCS New York City Marathon in 1:25:29, missing the course record –and a $50,000 bonus– by just three seconds.
“The last 10-K was incredibly tough,” Hug said. “I was just pushing as hard as possible.”
Debrunner smashed the course record by about three minutes, clocking 1:39:32.
“It has been a fairy tale year with all of the records and the marathon victories and the laurels,” Debrunner said. “I don’t have the word for it.”
PHOTO: Kenya’s Hellen Obiri (right) at mile 25 of the 2023 TCS New York City Marathon with compatriot Sharon Lokedi and Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey (Photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)