Top Runners Stepping Out Of Their Comfort Zones

Big names, but no clear favorites in either race at tomorrow's ING New York City Marathon.

Haile Gebrselassie looked calm and confident before his New York City Marathon debut. Photo:
Haile Gebrselassie looked calm and confident before his New York City Marathon debut. Photo:

Big names, but no clear favorites in either race at tomorrow’s ING New York City Marathon.

Written by: Chris Lotsbom
(c) 2010 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

NEW YORK — Tomorrow’s ING New York City Marathon will truly be a race like no other.  With many athletes leaving their comfort zones, there are no clear favorites for the twisting and hilly course from Staten Island to Central Park.

The headliner is Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie, the marathon world record holder and two-time Olympic gold medallist.  With 27 world records under his belt, the “Emperor” is making his ING New York City Marathon debut.  Leaving his usual time-trial, flat racing conditions behind, the big question is how will Gebrselassie react to the undulating course through the five boroughs of New York?  Will he sit and wait until late in the race to move, or will he push from the start, up the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge?  Gebrselassie has said little about his strategy since arriving here on Thursday morning.

“New York, it’s not the one you run for time,” Gebrselassie offered.  “It’s the one you run to win.”

Aiming to defend his title is Meb Keflezighi, the 35 year-old American from Mammoth Lakes, Calif., who was the surprise victor a year ago.  In a role which no American has had to play since 1982, Keflezighi is trying to prove that 2009 was no fluke, and that he can repeat.

American Dathan Ritzenhein will be making his “re-debut” at the marathon distance, running his first marathon since earning a bronze medal at the IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships in 2009.  Under coach Alberto Salazar, Ritzenhein has put in some the best training of his career after a disappointing fourth place finish at the Bupa Great North Run in September.

“The last seven weeks have been the best training that I’ve put in in a very long time,” said Ritzenhein, 27.  “I feel great. I’ve done workouts now. I’ve done all the workouts that I did before my best marathon, but I’ve done them better.”

Another storyline to watch for tomorrow is the debutants. Gebre Gebremariam of Ethiopia, the 2009 World Cross Country Champion, has dominated shorter road races this year. But will his short-distance success carry over to the 26.2 mile (42.195 km) distance?  Canadian Simon Bairu, American Tim Nelson, and Kenyan Peter Kamais are also all making their debuts.  Bairu set the Canadian record for 10,000 meters last May (Nelson set a PB of 27:31.56 in the same race), and Kamais was the winner of the NYC Half Marathon in March.

Also from Kenya are heavyweights James Kwambai, Abel Kirui, and Emmanuel Mutai.  Kirui and Mutai finished first and second in the marathon at the 2009 World Championships, which was held on a flat course in Berlin.  Here they will have to face a much more challenging course, with a number of bridges and hills leading to Central Park.  Kwambai has done well on flat courses, especially his 2:04:27 finish in the 2008 Fortis Rotterdam Marathon, the third fastest marathon of all-time.  Kwambai ran New York last year, but dropped out with stomach troubles.

Not to be forgotten are two-time ING New York City Marathon Champion Marilson Gomes dos Santos of Brazil, who dropped out of last year’s contest, and Arata Fujiwara of Japan, the 2010 Ottawa Marathon champion who is racing in New York for the first time.  European champion Viktor Röthlin is also hoping to get to the podium.

The women’s race offers a similar storyline, led by two noteworthy debuts by Shalane Flanagan and Mary Keitany.  Flanagan, the Olympic 10,000-meter bronze medalist from Beijing, will be making her long awaited debut and is also the favorite to win the USA Marathon Championship which is being held as a race within the race.  Flanagan, who lives in Portland, Ore.,  said she is ready to tackle the challenge of the marathon.

“My coach (Jerry Schumacher) and I feel like being in 2:25 shape is a podium-type status,” she said. “So we set ourselves up for those kind of workouts over 18 miles and 16 miles.”

Keitany, the 2009 World Half Marathon Champion, has conquered nearly every challenge thrown at her, whether that be the half marathon –where she has posted three of the ten fastest times ever– or the 25K, over which she set the world record this year.

Defending champion Derartu Tulu is returning, and like Keflezighi, will be trying to prove that she was not an accidental champion last year.

A couple of Boston Marathon champions, Teyba Erkesso and Salina Kosgei, are trying to win their second World Marathon Majors race.

Ludmila Petrova of Russia has proven that New York is where she succeeds most.  At 42 years young, Petrova won the 2000 race and was runner-up last year.  Finishing one spot behind her in last year’s race was Christelle Daunay, the French record holder.

Mara Yamauchi of Great Britain (sixth at the Beijing Olympics), Kim Smith of New Zealand (the Kiwi record holder), and Ana Dulce Felix are also names to look out for on Sunday.