Americans Huddle, Abdirahman Earn Third-Place Finishe

By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
(c) 2016 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

NEW YORK (06-Nov) — Kenya’s Mary Keitany made one of the strongest winning moves in TCS New York City Marathon history, blasting away from the field at 14 miles before running solo to her third straight victory in 2:24:26. Keitany, 34, became just the third woman in history to win here three times, joining the late nine-time champion Grete Waitz of Norway and three-time champion Paula Radcliffe of Great Britain.  Only Keitany and Waitz had won three consecutive times.

In similar fashion, Eritrea’s Ghirmay Ghebreslassie said goodbye to chasers Lucas Rotich and Lelisa Desisa on the Willis Avenue Bridge after mile-19 and would cover the roads of New York by himself. Breaking the tape in 2:07:51, the 2015 world marathon champion ran the fastest marathon on USA soil this year. Ghebreslassie became the youngest winner in race history at 20 and the event’s first Eritrean champion.


In her past two victories, Mary Keitany sat back and conserved energy before pouncing, learning valuable lessons after running out of gas in 2010 and 2011. Today, with her husband and two children watching, she went back to her old aggressive ways, though would not falter in the final miles. She’d maintain her insurmountable lead through the finish to re-write the history books.

With a crosswind blowing steadily, Keitany relaxed through 10 and 15 km, hitting the checkpoints as part of the sizable lead group in 35:50 and 52:48, respectively. On the outside of her petite body was a face screaming relaxation. Inside, her heart beat to a different rhythm.

After not being selected for the Kenyan Olympic team, Keitany wanted to come to New York and prove a point, not just to selectors and fellow competitors, but also to her family. With her son Jared, daughter Samantha, and husband Charles Koech in attendance, Keitany wouldn’t be beaten.

“I’m saying actually today I think I was very focused on this race since my preparation was very okay at home. Since I didn’t get to go to Rio, I had enough time to train, and now I’m happy for this event,” Keitany said.

Later she’d add: “This morning my daughter was just telling me, Mom, good luck and try not to fall down like what I did in London. So I tell my child, let me just try my best. Pray for me.”

After the 15 km aid station, Keitany subtly injected a surge that would break up the field. Keitany, Joyce Chepkirui, and last year’s runner-up Aselefech Mergia increased their tempo to 5:08 per mile pace, forcing an issue upon American debutante Molly Huddle: go and risk bonking or settle and see what happens.

“Around 8 or 9 (miles), there was a little bit of a breakaway, and I had to decide if I go or stay. I think, Sally [Kipyego], you made more of an even move, and that paid off a lot at the end today. I kind of went a little harder around mile-08 and was alone for a while,” Huddle recalled. Though Huddle picked her pace up, she couldn’t catch up to the leading trio. It turned out for the better.

While Keitany, Chepkirui, and Mergia had jumped out to a 27-second lead on Huddle by 12 miles, the pace ultimately proved to be suicidal for the latter two. Keitany led up the Pulaski Bridge after 13 miles, hitting half way in 1:12:39 next to Chepkirui. Mergia was suffering and faded to 1:13:25 at halfway, and would never again be a factor, finishing sixth. Huddle, meanwhile, was gutting it out in no-women’s land, running alone while battling a strong wind.

Chepkirui would only last another half-mile, beginning to break near the 14-mile mark. Barely halfway into the race and with two boroughs still to come, Keitany was all alone in front. Consistent miles in the 5:05-5:20range proved to be the winning potion.

The only person to come within an arm’s reach of Keitany was world record holder Paula Radcliffe, riding in the lead motorcycle. Keitany was on the brink of accomplishing something Radcliffe never did here in winning three straight titles.

Though Keitany’s cadence seemed to slip ever so slightly in the Bronx and entering Manhattan, it rebounded once Central Park came into view. Her lead continued to grow: at 20 miles Keitany’s gap was 2:07, grew to 3:04 at 22 miles, and was at it’s highest point at 40-K (3:59). The day belonged to Keitany, plain and simple.

Keitany broke the tape in 2:24:26, a second off her winning time last year (2:24:25). The win meant a great deal, especially since the first people Keitany saw approaching the finish were her children.

“It means a lot to me. I’m very excited that I got it again, three times. I know that it’s not easy,
but I got it. So it means a lot to me. And also, my family, my God, and everybody there at home,” said Keitany.

“When I was crossing the line, I was seeing my kids just around there, and I think they were cheering me, and I was happy for them to be in New York for the first time since they accompany me and cheer. They have just cheered me.”

With gold secured, the focus went back to the rest of the podium placings. Over the final 10 km, Chepkirui steadily began to crack all the while Sally Kipyego was covering ground. After dropping out last year at mile 23, Kipyego changed her preparation coming into today, and it proved invaluable in the final miles.

Kipyego overtook Huddle for third between miles 15 and 16, then caught Chepkirui, who was suffering with bad blisters, by the 25th mile. She’d have just enough to fend off Huddle –who’d followed suit by passing Chepkirui in the final mile– in Central Park’s final 600 meter stretch, 2:28:01 to 2:28:13.

“For me, I’m very happy. I’m very happy with the results today. For those that were here last year or know what happened last year, this was kind of a redemption year for me, or marathon for me. I just decided to run behind today and run within myself and make sure I didn’t get carried away with the leaders. Stayed within my pace, and that paid off today,” said Kipyego, sporting her silver medal over a Nike Oregon Track Club jacket. “I kind of stuck to my plan and didn’t get carried away. I think at the end of the day, that is really what helped me get through and be able to finish my first marathon.”

Huddle’s performance, highlighted by the strength to hang tough while running a majority on her own, was rewarded with the podium placing. She joins Kara Goucher (third, 2008) and Shalane Flanagan (second, 2010) among American women to finish on the podium here in their debut marathons.

“I was just thrilled to get through the race smoothly. I thought it was a big step in learning how to race the marathon. It seems like about who manages themselves the best. I feel like I learned a lot today. I’m glad I had a good experience, and I’m really happy to be third,” Huddle said, speaking in her usual soft tone.

Huddle didn’t hit a hard wall, and described the pain of her race as a simple grind. She will return to the track in the spring, but doesn’t rule out the possibility of a marathon next year.

Outside of the top three, Chepkirui finished fourth in 2:29:08; Diane Nukuri fifth in 2:33:04; and Aselefech Mergia sixth in 2:33:28. Neely Gracey and Sara Hall, both coached by Steve Magness, were the only other Americans in the top ten, finishing eighth (2:34:55) and ninth (2:36:12), respectively.

Olympic triathlon gold medalist Gwen Jorgensen was 14th in her marathon debut, running 2:41:01 after covering the first half in 1:15:55. She was content with the race, though said she would do more marathon-specific training next time.

“This was different than a triathlon. I didn’t prepare as well as I should have going into this race. I just didn’t have enough time. It was difficult. My muscles definitely got sore during the race,” she admitted. “They’re going to be pretty tired and sore for several days. That’s different than a triathlon. Normally, I go into a triathlon, and I’m fully prepared and ready to go. For this race, I wasn’t prepared, and it definitely hurts.”

Kim Conley, like Huddle and Jorgensen racing her debut marathon, was 16th in 2:41:38. She fell off the lead group around nine miles, splitting the first half in 1:14:32. Among those not to finish was Buzunesh Deba, who’d battled illness and visited the hospital earlier in race week, and 2013 USA marathon champion Annie Bersagel who stopped at 21 miles.


Ghirmay Ghebreslassie had reason to be confident entering his debut TCS New York City Marathon. He’d won the 2015 IAAF World Championships Marathon, and placed fourth at both the 2016 Virgin Money London Marathon and at the Olympic Marathon. Knowing his preparations had been very solid, Ghebreslassie was borderline cocky with his outlook on the race.

Yet it was all for good reason. The 20-year-old put the hammer down with more than seven miles remaining and only looked back to revel in his lead.

“If you lose your confidence, you lose everything. What you did in training, also what you are going to do in the race, you can lose everything. So in order to be, in order to achieve what you need during the race and before, you must have full confidence,” Ghebreslassie explained. “If you lose your confidence means you are hopeless. If you lose your hope, you can’t do anything. That’s why I believe to have my confidence first. All what I did in training in relation to the systems that I use during the race can make me to be the winner. I believe that anyone must be confident before.”

Ghebreslassie let Americans Dathan Ritzenhein and Matt Llano push early and often, hitting 10 km in 30:37. The first major move would be at just before 15 km, when defending champion Stanley Biwott stepped off the course due to a right calf injury. That assured a new champion would be crowned in Central Park.

Like Keitany, the men’s winning move would come around the midway point. At the 20 km aid station, Lucas Rotich (a training partner of Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge under coach Patrick Sang) surged to string out the field and separate the contenders from pretenders. Ghebreslassie followed immediately, as did two-time Boston Marathon champion Lelisa Desisa.

Hitting halfway two steps up on the chase pack of six were Ghebreslassie, Desisa and Rotich. Their 1:04:24 split was very solid for this course, though set up the opportunity for a negative split on the undulating second half. Covering the next six miles together, it was a matter of time until the youngest of the bunch unleashed his speed.

Approaching the Willis Avenue Bridge at 19.5 miles, the group was three. At the bridge’s apex, there was only one. In a matter of minutes Ghebreslassie not only grabbed the lead, but gapped Desisa and Rotich with relative ease.

“I didn’t win because my friend was stronger than me. I appreciate it because he was strong,” Rotich said, summing up the move succinctly.

Ghebreslassie went into a bit more detail: “We were helping each other before he dropped back. Then after I look back once and he was a little bit far from me, and I was really a little bit angry with him because we were helping each other. I was thinking maybe others from behind can catch him. So I was a little bit competing
with it. So I was okay.”

Looking back twice and waving his arm, Ghebreslassie encouraged Rotich to join him. But it was pointless: the youngest elite in the field had torn the will out of everyone, including the Kenyan Rotich.

Ghebreslassie re-entered Manhattan and Central Park alone, and waved to the thousands of spectators every once in a while. He savored the final miles before breaking the tape in 2:07:51, securing his nation’s first New York City Marathon title.

“As I won for the first time in the World Championships, the first from Eritrea. So today it’s the first time — nobody has won any major marathon from Eritrea. It’s just like the championship for me to be a winner in this race. So I’m really proud of it,” said Ghebreslassie (Of course, Meb Keflezighi, a native of Eritrea who has been an American citizen since 1998, won here in 2009 and the Boston Marathon in 2014). On his victory lap, Ghebreslassie high-fived Rotich before the Kenyan crossed in 2:08:53.

Like the women’s race, the podium didn’t go to the three athletes bold enough to break away early. Desisa wound up fading miserably and was passed by Abdi Abdirahman after 35 km before ultimately dropping out. Abdirahman, rejuvenated by overtaking Desisa, got a second wind while chasing his first podium placement at an Abbott World Marathon Major.

The 39-year-old missed the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in February due to injury. With the loss of a potential fifth Olympic team spot, Abdirahman focused on getting healthy and returning with fire to the roads. To him, New York was his personal Olympic Trials, something he’d tell managers Ray Flynn and Brad Yewer.

“My main goal was just to focus on my form, my breathing, and make sure I didn’t give any distance. My main goal was just I want to keep the same pace they’re running,” he would say.

Abdirahman completed an American sweep of third place in 2:11:23. He’d celebrate by brushing off his shoes as if they were on fire at the finish.

“There’s nothing guaranteed until you cross that finish line. There’s three great athletes who were behind me, so all respect to them. I didn’t think I had it until I came to the park and then 400 meters and then 200 meters to go. That’s when I thought I had it,” said Abdirahman. Other than Meb Keflezighi (2009 victory, 2004 runner-up and 2005 third place finishes), no American man had placed on the podium since Bob Kempainen in 1993 (finishing second).

Fourth place almost went to another American, Shadrack Biwott, though the former Oregon Duck was overtaken by Japan’s Hiroyuki Yamamoto of the Konica-Minolta team in the final two miles (they’d finish 2:11:49 to 2:12:01, respectively). Still, the American showing was very strong when looking at the big picture: eight Americans in the top 15.

One American not to finish was Dathan Ritzenhein, who dropped out due to a heel injury.

Over 52,000 runners started today’s race on the 40th anniversary of the race becoming a five-borough competition.  Runners were treated to bright skies and mostly cool temperatures, although some said it felt warm in the unshaded areas.

“This was just a fantastic day,” said Peter Ciaccia, President of the New York Road Runners and Race Director of the TCS New York City Marathon. “We had a record number of starters today, and we think we’re just going to have a record number of finishers as well that will carry through. So it’s going to be, again, the biggest marathon in the world thus far.”

Ciaccia told members of the media that during today’s race, Meb Keflezighi announced that he will return to New York next year to race his 26th and final competitive marathon. “His final marathon will be here in New York next year, and that’s pretty special for us.”

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