It was a Kenyan sprint finish in Central Park. American Desiree Linden finishes fifth.
NEW YORK – When race day for the New York City Marathon dawned even more blustery than predicted, with steady winds nearing 30 mph and gusts up to 45, there was little doubt the result would be a tactical race from the get go, and probably a slow one at that.
At least part of that prediction was borne out, as Mary Keitany edged Jemima Sumgong by three seconds, equaling Paula Radcliffe’s 2:23:10 win over Susan Chepkemei 10 years ago—the closest finishes in the 44 editions of the race. Keitany’s time of 2:25:07 matched Priscah Jeptoo’s clocking from last year to the second, a much more comfortable 49-second victory.
In her last run at New York in 2011, her second third place finish in a row, Keitany bolted out to a halfway split of 1:07:56, under world record pace. Today’s conditions clearly inoculated her and the rest of the field with a healthy dose of caution, and a baker’s dozen braved the windy crossing of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and dawdled through Brooklyn at a pace barely below 5:40 per mile, well off Margaret Okayo’s 2:22:51 course record from 2003. “The wind seemed to come from every direction—it was an annoyance,” said Deena Kastor, who finished as the third American in 11th place in 2:33:18.
That group remained more or less together through halfway, fronted most of the time by Portugal’s Sara Moreira, a shorter distance specialist making her debut over 26.2 miles.
An increase in pace as the leaders came off the 59th Street Bridge onto First Avenue, always expected in this race, was mild, but shed several pretenders and whittled the lead group in half. Hanging on to the group was Desi Linden, generally considered to be the best hope to become the first American to win here since Miki Gorman in 1977. “There were a couple of surges where they’d open up a gap, but I figured I’d be better off running a little faster to catch up than run by myself the rest of the way into the wind,” she said.
As the leaders returned to Manhattan from the brief tour of the Bronx, there was a significant injection of pace, with the miles dropping into the 5:30 range, leaving only the two Kenyans to fight it out for the win. “At around 20 miles I was thinking it might be my chance to win,” said Sumgong, who switched to New York from Chicago when a hamstring issue flared up just before that race.
The pair continued to hammer, with a 5:11 23rd mile the fastest of the day, but neither conceded any ground to the other, and they made the final turn into Central Park at Columbus Circle in virtual lockstep. “At 40K Jemima opened a little gap and I knew I had to close it if I wanted to win,” said Keitany, a two-time London champion whose 2012 win there in 2:18:37 makes her the second fastest woman in history.
As the course made it final climb to the finish, almost cruelly into a headwind once again, Keitany began to open an almost imperceptible, yet inexorable, margin that she would maintain to the line.
Moreira, whose longest race before this had been a half marathon, turned in perhaps the most impressive finish of the day, 2:26:00 for third after doing most of the pace setting into the wind during the first part of the race, 15 seconds ahead of two-time (2005-06) winner Jelena Prokupcuka of Latvia. Linden rallied to take fifth in 2:28:11. “On a good day, I think my fitness was ready for 2:25-26, but once we saw the weather, the focus became on place,” Linden said. “After I got dropped I kept competing, which I’m proud of, and picked off some stragglers in the last miles.”
Annie Bersagel, an American living and training in Norway while working full time as a lawyer, was the second American in 10th place, while Kara Goucher, in her first appearance in New York since she finished third here six years ago in 2:25:53, the fastest debut by an American, struggle home in 2:37:03—still good enough for a 14th place finish. “I made the decision to run with the lead pack rather than fight the wind alone and I paid for it later,” she said. “I hit the wall for the first time in my career.”
That was the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-dont’s dilemma faced by all the runners on one of the windiest days in New York City Marathon history—run a bit over your head to catch a windbreak, or stick to your pacing plan and fight the gusts solo. In the end, those who fared best were those who were able to pull off a tricky balancing act and do both, none more successfully than Mary Keitany.