Mary Keitany accomplished a dominant three-peat over one of the toughest marathon courses in the world.
In a series of blazing fast mile splits that ranged from 5:08 to 5:25, Keitany broke the field to win her third straight New York City Marathon in 2:24:26 on Sunday morning. Keitany is the first woman to win three straight New York victories since Greta Waitz won five straight marathons 30 years ago. Keitany took home $130,000 in prize money for her win.
"This was faster than the race in the last New York City Marathon. I'm happy to be here again. I have to say I'm very excited this morning because I did well again in the U.S., and I'm saying actually today I think I was very focused on this race since my preparation was very okay at home," Keitany said.
"Since I didn't get to go to Rio, I had enough time to train, and now I'm happy for this event. Thank you," she added.
Sally Kipyego earned hard-fought redemption with a second-place finish in 2:28:01. Kipyego made her marathon debut on the New York City course last year and was forced to drop out with three miles remaining. One year later, Kipyego earned a spot on the podium and $60,000 in prize money.
"I'm very happy with the results today. For those that were here last year or know what happened last year, this was kind of a redemption year for me, or marathon for me," Kipyego said. "I just decided to run behind today and run within myself and make sure I didn't get carried away with the leaders. Stayed within my self, and that paid off today."
In a much anticipated marathon debut, 10K American record-holder Molly Huddle blasted a kick to the finish for third-place in 2:28:13 and $65,000 in prize money. Huddle's performance follows a sixth-place finish in the 10K at the Olympic Games in August where she broke Shalane Flanagan's American record.
"I was just thrilled to get through the race smoothly. I thought it was a big step in learning how to race the marathon. It seems like it's about who manages themselves the best," Huddle said. "I feel like I learned a lot today. I'm glad I had a good experience, and I'm really happy to be third."
Joyce Chepkirui held the runner-up position for the majority of the race, but was passed by Kipyego and Huddle with just over a mile remaining. Chepkirui closed for a fourth-place finish in a time of 2:29:08.
Americans Neely Spence Gracey and Sara Hall followed in eighth and ninth overall with 2:34:55 and 2:36:12 finishing times, respectively. The remaining top 10 finishes were occupied by Diane Nukuri (5th), Aselfech Mergia (6th), Lanni Marchant (7th), and Ayantu Dakebo Hailemaryam (10th). Triathlon Olympic champion Gwen Jorgensen made her marathon debut with an impressive 14th-place finish in 2:41:01. The multi-sport star beat a number of notable marathon pros on her way to a top 15 finish. Two-time Olympian Kim Conley made her marathon debut in 2:41:38 and closed for 16th-place overall.
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Despite an intense crosswind, Keitany assumed the lead well ahead of the rest of the competition just past the halfway point. The remaining 13 miles were a solo effort for the Kenyan marathon star who gradually extended her lead over Chepkirui, Kipyego and Huddle by eventually three and a half minutes.
The race started conservatively with an 18:42 initial 5K split and a tight lead pack working together to battle the heavy crosswind over the bridge from Staten Island. The pace picked up significantly between five and eight miles.
Keitany began to take over at the nine mile mark where she went through the mile split in 5:26 and threw off the competition in the lead pack. The only competitors willing to take the chance and run with Keitany were Mergia, and Deba. Meanwhile, Huddle remained a few seconds behind in fourth-place--where she would remain for a majority of the race.
Between the 10 and 12-mile marks, Kenyan compatriots Keitany and Chepkirui worked together to break their competitor Mergia who eventually fell off the leaders. By the 14-mile mark Keitany broke the race open and extended a lead over Chepkirui. She would remain well ahead of her competition for the rest of the race.
Huddle remained in fourth and eventually passed Mergia around the 14-mile mark. Meanwhile, Kipyego plotted her assault on the lead pack up until the final two miles of the race.
Despite running the majority of the race alone, Keitany varied her mile splits between 5:08 and 5:30 depending on the terrain of the difficult New York course. By mile 17, Kipyego and Huddle found themselves together and close to catching runner-up Chepkirui. But it wasn't until the 40K mark that Kipyego passed Chepkirui. Shortly after, Huddle used her track speed to throw down a kick to also overtake Chepkirui and hold her position into the finish line.
With a roaring crowd at the finish line in Central Park, Keitany cruised to her third New York City victory, 3:34 minutes ahead of Kipyego who closed for second and Huddle who closed 12 seconds behind Kipyego.
Redemption and a debut
Keitany's victory follows a summer in which the marathon champion was left off of the Kenyan Olympic team that competed in Rio de Janeiro. Keitany, who is the second fastest woman in the history of the marathon, spent her summer shattering course records in the United States from Maine to Iowa.
For the past two years since giving birth to her daughter, Keitany has won New York three times and claimed second in London. Sunday's performance in New York makes her just the second woman ever to claim back-to-back-to-back victories over the five boroughs.
Kipyego's runner-up finish follows a heart-breaking marathon debut last year where the Oregon Track Club athlete dropped out with three miles remaining. As Kipyego told FloTrack prior to Sunday's race, she immediately told her coach Mark Rowland to sign her up for next year. The tenacity paid off on her quest for redemption, which was granted in a battle for a podium finish.
"I think the biggest lesson that I learned from last year was that the marathon is definitely not a sprint. Just because you feel good for 20 miles doesn't really mean that much really in a marathon. You need to be able to survive the whole 26.2 miles," Kipyego said.
"So I think I respected the course, and if you saw how I raced today, I held back a lot, and I didn't go, and I stayed with -- ran within myself. I think that was the greatest gift that came out of last year. It was a disappointing experience for me last year, but I learned a lot, and I think I ran well today because I had that experience last year," she added.
Women's press conference part two:
Huddle's debut performance became a much anticipated race as the New York-born runner has dominated the American distance running scene for several years. She broke the American 10K record this summer in Rio and owns the second-fastest 5K and half marathon runs in U.S. history.
When asked of her race plans for next season, Huddle said that she wants to return to the track, but is keeping her options open on the roads.
"I'm not really sure marathon-wise what would be next. I plan to go back to the track next spring. So probably just a regular track season," Huddle said. "I'm not sure if I'll do a race or a half or anything in March. We'll see how I recover."