Mary Keitany has a crystal-clear goal for Sunday’s 49th running of the New York City Marathon: She’d like to notch her fifth victory and become the marathon’s Second Lady. The First Lady will always be Grete Waitz, with her nine wins. But Keitany, 37, also has a chance to edge ahead of Bill Rodgers in the win department. Both currently have four.

Keitany is likely to be challenged by Ethiopian Ruti Aga (2:18:34) and Kenyan countrywoman Joyciline Jepkosgei, who is making her marathon debut. Jepkosgei is the world-record-holder in the half marathon, 64:51.

A strong group of American women—Des Linden, Aliphine Tuliamuk, Sara Hall, Kellyn Taylor, and Roberta Groner—are running New York in part, they say, to prepare themselves for the fierce competition and even-hillier course they’ll face at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. That race takes place in Atlanta next Feb. 29.

Mary Keitany NYCM 2019 PC
photo: Jen Ator

The Champion

Keitany won last year’s NYC Marathon by more than three minutes over Vivian Cheruiyot, 2:22:48 to 2:26:02. She also won in 2014, 2015, and 2016. She placed second once and third twice in New York. Keitany’s PR is 2:17:01 (London, 2017), and her 2:22:48 last year stands second only to Margaret Okayo’s NYC course record of 2:22:31 set in 2003.

“I’ve prepared very well, and I plan to run my own race,” Keitany said Thursday morning at a pre-race press conference. “I am 37, but I am still strong, and I want to follow in the footsteps of the great Grete Waitz.”

Asked about her racing shoes and the recent world-record 2:14:04 by Brigid Kosgei, she replied: “I am just running in normal Adidas race shoes. It was really nice how Kosgei ran in Chicago, because now we Kenyans have both the men’s and women’s world records. We are happy to have them both.”

The Contenders

In the last two years, Aga has run four World Marathon Majors events in the 2:18 to 2:21 range. She set her personal best in Berlin in 2018 (second place), and won last March’s  Marathon in 2:20:40. Aga dropped out of the World Championships Marathon five weeks ago.

Jepkosgei set her half-marathon world record, 64:51, in winning the 2017 Valencia Half Marathon. She won the NYC Half Marathon last March in 70:07. In July, she ran 15:19.1 for 5000 meters at high altitude in Nairobi. She and Aga did not appear at the press conference.

Nancy Kiprop adds some intrigue to the field, this being her first race of any kind in New York. Not just that, but she’s 40, and has run 2:22:46 and 2:22:12 (first place, Vienna, last April) in the last year.

Sara Hall NYCM 2019 PC
photo: Jen Ator

Sara Hall improved her marathon best by four minutes in Berlin five weeks ago, and then won the Twin Cities 10 Mile a week later in 53:11. Too much? It might seem so, but Hall has done this before. Two years ago, she won the California International Marathon (2:28:10) five weeks after running the Frankfurt Marathon.

“I’m not thinking about time on Sunday,” Hall said. “I’m here to work on my racing instincts, and to get ready for a hilly, competitive marathon in Atlanta.”

Kellyn Taylor NYCM 2019 PC
photo: Jen Ator

Kellyn Taylor ran her marathon best while winning the Grandma’s Marathon two years ago (2:24:49), and finished fourth in Prague last spring, 2:26:27. After that she turned her focus to the 10,000, placing third in the USATF Nationals (32:02.74) in late July. Taylor recently completed her best-ever 15 mile test effort, averaging 5:37 pace at Flagstaff’s 7000-foot altitude.

“I’m probably the most fit I’ve ever been,” Taylor said. “I want to stick my nose into the race and see what I can do. I’d rather reach too far than not reach. I expect the race to be really tactical, like the Trials, so it should offer valuable practice.”

Aliphine Tuliamuk NYCM 2019 PC
photo: Jen Ator

After a stress fracture and lost time last spring, Tuliamuk got a late start to her marathon buildup. Still, she averaged 5:41 in the same 15-mile test that Taylor did. “My training times have been good the last month,” she said. “I want to put myself in a position where I can run strong the last six miles.”

Des Linden noted that she had run her first sub-2:30 in 2009, and was “getting close to the back end of the second half of my career.” She said she takes one race at at time now, with no more four-year plans.” She added that she’s not ready to walk away from racing so long “as my body keeps responding to the training.”

Des Linden NYCM 2019 PC
photo: Jen Ator

Groner finished a strong sixth in the super-hot World Championships Marathon five weeks ago, where she had a measured fluid intake of 96 ounces (three quarts). “I’m going to give it my all on Sunday, and hope for a PR,” she said.

Top Women at a Glance

Mary Keitany, 37, KEN: 2:17:01 PR
Ruti Aga, 25, ETH: 2:18:34 PR
Joyciline Jepkosgei, 26, KEN: marathon debut (WR for half marathon 64:51, 2017)
Nancy Kiprop, 40, KENL 2:22:12 PR
Sara Hall, 36, USA: 2:22:16 PR
Des Linden, 36, USA: 2:22:38 PR
Sinead Diver, 42, AUS: 2:24:11 PR
Kellyn Taylor, 33, USA: 2:24:29 PR
Ellie Pashley, 30, AUS: 2:26:21 PR
Belaynesh Fikadu, 32, ETH: 2:26:41 PR
Aliphine Tuliamuk, 30, USA: 2:26:50 PR
Roberta Groner, 41, USA: 2:29:06 PR

Open Prize Money

1.–$100,000
2.–$60,000
3.–40,000
4.–$25,000
5.–$15,000
6.–$10,000
7.–$7,500
8.–$5,000
9.–$2,500
10.–$2,500

USA Prize Money

1.–$25,000
2.–$15,000
3.–$10,000
4.–$5,000
5.–$3,000

Amby Burfoot won the 1968 Boston Marathon. He offers KISS Training Programs (Keep It Simple & Smart) at RunWithAmby.com.