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Keitany, Biwott Take Elites to School at New York City Marathon

The two put on a clinic in pacing and pulling away.

NEW YORK—Kenyans Mary Keitany and Stanley Biwott turned the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon into a five-borough classroom on Sunday, showing the elite runner fields and the rest of the world how to produce 26.2-mile masterpieces.

Both were almost invisible in big packs that stayed watchfully together through halfway, but chose their moments to perfection to finish alone. Keitany won in 2:24:25 after a halfway split of 1:12:56, Biwott’s finish was 2:10:34 after a half in 1:06:47. The math says it all.

The crucial moment came a little sooner for Keitany than Biwott. She surged at 30K, arms pumping high across her diminutive frame, and instantly blew apart a group of six. Tigist Tufa (Ethiopia), who surprisingly beat Keitany to the win the 2015 London Marathon in April, stuck closely with her for awhile. She stuck almost too close, as Keitany turned and snarled at her for jostling as they ran side by side through the Bronx.

“When I made my move around 30K, I say, OK, let me just go, and if somebody is more strong, she can come, and we can go. I was ready to go with her, but fortunately they never got me. I was feeling OK,” Keitany said after the race. Last week, she told Competitor that she was determined not to repeat the mistake she made here in 2011, when she went out crazy fast and lost a huge halfway lead.

This time, Keitany had it all under control and soon had all the space she needed. Tufa tightened and drifted back, and the once-fearsome Kenyan Priscah Jeptoo was also history. Ethiopian Aselefech Mergia eventually came through for second, but Keitany was alone and away, relentlessly piling the yards on to her lead. Even on the testing hills through Central Park, she was running at 5:13-5:18 mile pace, and finished, seemingly with strength in reserve, 66 seconds in the clear.

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It was a supremely efficient racing performance by Keitany, who has made her mistakes in the past, but with Paula Radcliffe now retired, she is arguably the best woman now racing. She is the second fastest in marathon history to Radcliffe with 2:18:37, and today won her third major marathon (London 2012, New York City 2014). Disposing of Tufa will have seemed especially sweet, as Keitany seemed less than happy after that race with the unexpected reverse in fortune.

Biwott’s record has been one of impressive near misses—a second and a fourth in London, and fifth in New York in 2013. His only win was Paris in 2012. Taller than most Kenyans, he sometimes looks too big and lolloping as he looms above the lead pack, but when the action started today, he was flowing.

“During my previous marathons I was not able to run the last five kilometers at a consistent speed. So for my preparation I trained with a very good program of long runs at  the full 42 kilometer distance, not 35. So I was able to have a lot of endurance speed to finish, not running slow at the end. So I was confident, and happy to be the winner, thank you,” Biwott said.

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Geoffrey Kamworor, the immensely promising 22-year-old Kenyan who pushed Mo Farah for the world 10,000 meters track championship in Beijing in August, was the first to break up the pack. His move came at what is becoming the traditional place in the New York City men’s race, just after 20 miles. The first major drama was that the move blew away pre-race favorite and defending champion Wilson Kipsang. There was going to be a new name on the men’s trophy.

There was more drama to come. Kamworor, though light on marathon experience (best 2:06:12 in 2012), was the obvious threat and at first seemed in command. He has high credentials in track (silver medal, world 10,000 championship 2015), cross country (world champion, 2015) and in the half marathon (world champion 2014, and a best of 58:54). That could have added up to a phenomenal first serious marathon.

Kamworor was thinking the same.

“When I decided to make a move, I knew I was feeling strong, and I was feeling OK. I knew I could make it all the way to the finish,” Kamworor said.

But the gap we were watching for never came. Biwott and Lelisa Desisa kept it tight. Desisa, who narrowly lost here to Kipsang last year, and is a double Boston champion (2013, 2015), was the first to lose his grip. Up the long gradual slope on the 24th mile along Fifth Avenue, it was Biwott who edged in front. Kamworor frowned. Desisa disappeared. Entering Central Park, there was daylight between Biwott and Kamworor, and very slowly it increased.

Biwott’s endurance training miles paid off, and he never faltered. His lead had grown to fourteen seconds at the tape.

Notable among the top 10 finishers was the Japanese “Citizen Runner” Yuki Kawauchi, who gave Japan one of its best recent placings in sixth place, one ahead of Meb Keflizighi.

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There were plenty of lessons for all citizen runners in New York today. Judge it right, run negative splits, and watch for the moment to make the break. But making the break is only half the battle, so Keitany and Biwott both proved. Then you have to keep it, nurture it, and make it last, all the way.