Glorious Return Of NYC Marathon
Mutai, Jeptoo Shine As Triumphant Comeback Is Complete
November 3, 2013
New York, New York
There is always a palpable sense of anticipation leading up to the starting cannon of the New York City Marathon. But this year was different. The havoc wrought by Hurricane Sandy’s East Coast assault last year prompted a frustrating and controversial 11th hour cancellation of this international celebration of running. And in some ways, that loss – not just of the race, but of life and of property – seemed further magnified last spring after the horrific on-course bombings that marred this race’s older sibling – the B.A.A. Marathon. It has all converged to build an unparalleled level of excitement for the 2013 ING New York City Marathon.
The pre-race excitement peaked early Sunday morning as over 50,000 runners – many inspired to race by Sandy’s devastation, the Patriots’ Day bombings, or both – gathered at Fort Washington to begin the first NYC Marathon in two years. As the cannon signaled the beginning of the women’s elite race, Ethiopian and New York resident Buzunesh Deba charged to the front to grab the early lead. Joined by her training partner Tigist Tufa Demisse, Deba – untroubled by the pesky northern headwind – quickly settled into a 5:30 per mile pace – a Wanjiru-esque tactic that signaled to the elites that there would be no dawdling this morning, that the racing would begin immediately. Rhythmically, the Bronx duo built a prodigious lead over a Dream Team chase pack comprised of a dozen runners including two-time reigning world champion Edna Kipligat and reigning Olympic bronze medalist Priscah Jeptoo. For these two Kenyans there was a race within the race – their head-to-head battle for the World Marathon Majors title and the top prize of $500,000. Deba and Demisse – who had hit the 6 mile mark 2:00 ahead of the chase pack – went on to forge a margin of 3:30 by the time they crossed the Pulaski Bridge halfway mark in 1:12:38. ESPN2 commentators – and indeed millions of viewers of the live broadcast – were openly wondering if the women’s race was over.
Meanwhile, the men’s race unfolded as a more cautious affair. After conquering the opening 2-mile Verrazano Bridge, 16 elite men were bunched up front as the race headed up Brooklyn’s 4th Avenue. Passing 4 miles in 19:59, the 16 racers – which included Americans Meb Keflezighi, Jason Hartmann, Ryan Vail, and Augustus Maiyo – cautiously eyed one another, conserving energy for the real racing that was more than an hour away. A wind-hampered 13th mile in 4:48 began to thin the herd as the elite men headed for the Queensboro Bridge. By the time the 1st Avenue throng greeted the leading men, the lead pack was reduced to 9. Ethiopia’s Tsegaye Kebede – also locked in $500K World Marathon Majors battle with Olympic and World marathon champion Stephen Kiprotich – pressed the pace heading north to the Bronx, covering the always speedy 17th downhill mile in 4:39. The diminutive Kebede – in his third marathon in the last 7 months – was working hard while Geoffrey Mutai – the 2011 defending NYC champion running his first 26 miler of the year – looked well within himself as he deftly covered all 1st Avenue moves. It was clear that the others were waiting for Mutai – the race’s alpha dog – to make his move. As the lead pack runners – now down to 8 – crossed the Willis Avenue Bridge into the Bronx – a kickers’ race was in the making.
Back in the women’s race, Jeptoo – sensing the women’s title might be slipping away – took matters into her own hands as the chase pack swung off the Queensboro Bridge onto 1st Avenue. The Kenyan distance star set sail alone in her quest to reel in the two leaders. Positive results were immediately evident. Racing headlong toward the Bronx, Jeptoo soon held a 25 second lead on her World Marathon Major challenger Kipligat she left behind and had trimmed the advantage gripped by the Bronx duo down to 1:49. Was there enough time left? The effort was taking its toll on the two Ethiopian leaders: Deba dropped Demisse in the Bronx. Shortly thereafter Deba – 2011 NYC runner-up – threw up after coming off the Madison Avenue Bridge. The hunt was on.
Jeptoo – displaying her own unique, funky splayed-leg running style – continued to narrow the gap. By the 21st mile, the Kenyan had sliced the lead down to less than a minute and the hunter could see her prey. Flying past a fading Demisse in mile 22, Jeptoo closed on Deba, passing her shortly after the pair had entered Central Park at the 90th Street Engineer’s Gate. As Jeptoo wrested away the lead, the absence of any response by Deba signaled the race was over. The Olympic marathon silver medalist raced on to cross the line in negative split 2:25:07 to capture not only her first New York Marathon title, but also the title and life-altering prize money which accompanied her World Marathon Majors crown.
In Jeptoo’s wake, a disconsolate Deba – bridesmaid once again – finished 2nd in 2:25:56 with Latvia’s Jelena Prokopcuka – the 2005 and 2006 NYC champion – crossing under the banner in 2:27:47 to finish 3rd and round out the podium. Not completely unexpected, no American women finished in the top ten.
Back uptown, Geoffrey Mutai – whose winning 2011 Boston time of 2:03:02 remains the fastest marathon time ever run – sensed it was time to go. Among the lead pack of 8 in the 20th mile, the defending champion threw down the gauntlet with a decisive move that sent 6 world class marathoners out the back door. Only fellow countryman Stanley Biwott could gamely hold on. Could Biwott – viewed by many in the pre-race analysis as a possible “X Factor” – give Mutai a race? Mutai provided a resounding answer to that question less than a mile later with one final powerful surge that made quick work of Biwott. All that remained was Mutai’s coronation cruise through the park on his way to victory. Some may classify Mutai’s winning time of 2:08:24 as underwhelming. But remember this: only 7 other past winners have posted a finishing time faster than the winning mark rung by an unchallenged Mutai today. And none of those 7 winning times are within 2 minutes of Mutai’s 2011 course record of 2:05:06.
As Mutai savored his second consecutive NYC victory, Kebede – moving smartly over the final 5 kilos – weaved past some tiring elites to get up for second in 2:09:16. His second place showing placed him ahead of World Marathon Major challenger Kiprotich and assured him the WMM title and the $500K prize money. South Africa’s Lusapho April – virtually unnoticed in the lead pack – made the podium with a third place finish and a 2:09:45 clocking that surprised some analysts. Biwott – the last racer vanquished by Mutai – struggled home in 2:10:41 for 5th place. Like the American women, no American man finished in the top ten.
The bracing weather, the spirited competition, the stunning performances of the international elites, and the 50,000 different individual stories behind every participant who answered the starting cannon and crossed the finish line – it all came together to make Marathon Morning In America a wonderful event by any measure. But years from now this race will be remembered as the day the marathoners, the City, and the country demonstrated the resilient fortitude to overcome disasters – meteorological and man-made – and reclaim the joyful celebration that has always been the hallmark of this race. And in the end, that may well be the most triumphant aspect of the 2013 New York City Marathon.