By Rich Sands, @sands
(c) 2018 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

NEW YORK (05-Mar) — The United Airlines NYC Half is getting a course makeover this year, but returning pros Dathan Ritzenhein and Emily Sisson are confident their past successes in the event will bring them luck on the 13th running of the 21.1-kilometer race on Sunday, March 18.  New York Road Runners, the event founders and organizers, are expecting over 22,000 runners, according to president of events and race director, Peter Ciaccia.
The event’s new course starts in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, crosses into Manhattan via the two kilometer-long Manhattan Bridge, and then works its way north into Central Park for the final six kilometers of rolling hills to the finish line. In past years the race was all in Manhattan and began in Central Park and finished in the Financial District downtown.

Ritzenhein has run the event four times, finishing third in both 2008 and 2013. “This is the third course change that I’ve seen with the five times that I’ve run [including this year], so I won’t have that course advantage and knowledge there,” he said today on a teleconference marking 13 days out from the race. “But at the same time, once we get into the park, I’ve run so many races in New York that I’ll feel pretty confident.”

And his current preparations for the Boston Marathon in April adds an extra layer of self-assurance for the race, he said. “I do like the fact that it’s much more difficult towards the end of the race, which for me, training for a marathon right now, I think that’s going to help.”

The three-time Olympian is currently in his first marathon training cycle under the guidance of Keith and Kevin Hanson of the Michigan-based Hansons-Brooks Original Distance Project. With an eye towards the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, he signed with the group last year coming off the frustration of dropping out of his last two marathons due to injury, the U.S. Olympic Trials and New York City in 2016.

“I’ve known these guys for a long, long time going back to my high school days in Michigan,” said the 35-year-old Ritzenhein, who set his half marathon PR of 1:00:00 to win bronze at the 2009 IAAF World Championships. “They’ve been known always for the marathon and they were one of the first successful post-collegiate groups to come back out of the doldrums of American running of the ’90s. They gave me an opportunity which I didn’t know if I’d have left at this point in my career.”

Ritzenhein, who is married and has two children, is currently getting in warm-weather training in Orlando, Fla., with Hansons teammate Shadrack Biwott, who will also be racing the NYC Half and the Boston Marathon. The line-up also includes Kenyan Wilson Chebet, whose 59:15 PR is the fastest in the field, plus Teshome Mekonen, a New York-based Ethiopian with a 1:00:27 best, and Americans Abdi Abdrahman, a four-time Olympian, and Ben True, a 5K specialist who will be trying to finish his first half-marathon.  Cross country ace Chris Derrick is also in the field.

“I feel like I’ll be well prepared going into Boston,” Ritzenhein said of the depth of the NYC competition which includes 13 athletes who will be running Boston. “I need that. It’s been since October since I raced. I’ve trained really healthy and I’m feeling good. The field is great and I feel like I’m preparing as best I can. And hopefully I’ll be able come off the race in New York City feeling good and healthy. And I know if I’m healthy and I’m positive and motivated that I can be with anybody else in race at the end.”

For Sisson, the marathon is in her future (within the next year and a half, she predicts), but for now she’s concentrating on shorter distances. The 26-year-old Providence College grad ran her first half marathon in New York a year ago, finishing second to training partner Molly Huddle in 1:08:21, the fastest ever debut by an American on a record-quality course. She qualified for the U.S. team at 10,000 meters for the IAAF World Championships last summer, finishing ninth in London. She plans to continue on the track this year, but has enjoyed her second half marathon build-up, spending the winter in Phoenix with Huddle.

“We come down here just to escape the New England winter and it makes things easier,” she said. “We don’t have to be as flexible as when we’re in Rhode Island and there’s [the possibility of] a snowstorm. I’ve been able to get a bit higher mileage, which is good, and I feel better doing it this time around.”

In 2017 she tenaciously hung with Huddle until the final stretch before being out-kicked. “Last year there was such a learning curve, because I’d never raced anything close to that distance and I was just coming into it. I learned a lot from Molly, and I still am learning a lot. It feels a bit easier doing the mileage this time.”

While three-time winner Huddle won’t be back as she prepares for the Boston Marathon, the NYC Half field will still be formidable. Reigning Olympic 5000-meter champion Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya and Ethiopia’s Mamitu Daska, the third-pace finisher at the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon, are the top entrants.

Sisson, who recently ran a 2018 world-leading time of 15:13.76 for the indoor 5000, sees her breakthrough race 12 months ago as an advantage, even with the course change. “I still think I know what to expect with the undulating hills of Central Park and just running on the streets of New York,” she said. “I feel like I’m coming in a little bit more confident this time. I’ll get a better idea [about the new course] when we’re in New York and I get to see the finish and can visualize it a bit better.”

The United Airlines NYC Half will be broadcast live on WABC, channel 7, in New York City (free-to-air), and online at Coverage begins at 7:00 a.m.

PHOTO: The podium finishers from the 2017 United Airlines NYC Half (left to right): Emily Sisson (2nd), Molly Huddle (1st) Diane Nukuri (3rd). NYRR photo; used with permission.