Ritz Gears Up For Boston, Sisson Takes On Tough Field: NYC Half Preview

Kirby Lee/Don Jackson

With the 2018 World Half Marathon Championships scheduled for next weekend and major marathons in Boston and London on tap for April, the spring road racing season is in full swing. 

On Sunday, a deep field takes on a new course at the New York City Half Marathon. In prior years, the race in New York has served as a key tune-up for Boston and London and also played host to the some of the best the world has to offer at the distance. This year is no exception. 

Here is a breakdown of the men's and women's fields.

WOMEN

The Favorites

Vivian Cheruiyot and Mamitu Daska are using this race in their ramp to a spring marathon. Cheruiyot is racing London, while Daska is staying stateside and competing in Boston. Both women had successful years on the road last year with Cheruiyot finishing fourth in London and Daska placing third in New York City. Though Cheruiyot is best known for her performances on the track, she didn’t race at all on the track last year, opting for two half marathons on the road. 

Daska has the fastest personal best in the field—a 1:06:28 that she ran in 2015. But in a race like this, perhaps the best bet is someone who isn’t planning on racing a marathon in a month. 

Enter Buze Diriba. The 24-year-old Ethiopian ran 1:06:50 in the Houston Half Marathon and has been a star on the roads for her entire career. With no spring marathon to worry about, expect Diriba to be fresh and aggressive. 

The Challengers

Like Daska, American Emily Sisson won’t be racing a spring marathon. The 26-year-old hasn’t yet made the leap to the marathon, though if she keeps performing as well as she has in the half marathon, she won’t be able to hold out for much longer. She is the top returner in this race after she posted a 1:08:21 runner-up finish last year. 

Sisson was third in the 10,000m at the 2017 U.S. Championships last year and went on to finish 10th at worlds. That track speed hasn’t been blunted this winter. In February, Sisson put up a 15:13 5000m indoors. That’s speed that few in this field can match. Sure, Cheruiyot has a personal best of 14:20, but it’s unlikely she’s in that kind of form in the midst of marathon training.  

Betsy Saina hasn’t cracked the marathon code yet—she has two DNFs at the distance—but she’s formidable at the shorter distances. She won the Marugame Half Marathon this year in 1:09:17 and was fifth in the 10,000m at the 2016 Olympics. It doesn’t appear that she’s planning on racing a spring marathon, so this race could command a large share of her attention. 

Caroline Rotich is planning on racing the Boston Marathon again this spring, a race she won in 2015. Since 2015, she hasn’t been in contention for a major marathon victory, but she did take fifth at the Amsterdam Marathon in October. This will be her first opportunity to build on that result. Aliphine Tuliamuk was 13th in the New York City Marathon last fall, but she has a half marathon personal best of 1:09:16 and already has a race under her belt this year—a 1:11:41 in Houston. 

Also Keep An Eye On…..

Sunday is Desiree Linden’s first race on the roads. The marathon veteran has competed in two cross country races this year, both overseas. Linden is part of the star-studded American contingent racing the Boston Marathon next month. Her personal best in the half marathon is 1:10:34. If you're looking for parallels from last year, Linden ran 1:11:05 at the 2017 New York City Half before placing fourth in Boston with a time of 2:25:06. However, the changes to the course in New York make it difficult to make any strong comparisons. 

Karoline Grøvdal of Norway is making her 2018 debut on Sunday. She holds the Norwegian record of 1:09:41 and has competed in the last five global championships on the track. 

MEN

The Favorites

Wilson Chebet enters with the fastest seed time and the only man in the field who has run under one hour. But his 59:15 came from way back in 2009, so the 32-year-old will be challenged in this race. The most resistance should come from Teshome Mekonen, the 22-year-old Ethiopian. Mekonen is the top returner after finishing third in the race last year with a time of 1:00:28. 

Unlike Chebet, Mekonen is not gearing up for a spring marathon and should be considered the favorite in the race. Stephen Sambu ran 1:00:41 in Houston earlier this year and was fourth in the New York City Marathon last fall. He is running Boston, but his stellar record on the roads commands respect, even if he is in the midst of a marathon buildup. 

The Challengers

The pool of challengers is deep and wide, and includes runners from the United States and abroad. Americans Chris Derrick and Noah Droddy placed sixth and seventh in this race last year. This will be Derrick’s third attempt at the distance, and Droddy will try to recapture the magic from his huge personal best performance of 1:01:48 in 2017. 

Shadrack Biwott, Dathan Ritzenhein’s training partner for the Boston Marathon, has a personal best of 1:01:25 and took fourth in the Boston last year. There are several different ways to play a marathon during the buildup, and it will be interesting to track how Biwott and other play it. Will he try to mimic his goal marathon pace for most of the race? Or will he and Ritzenhein run aggressively from the start? Ritzenhein began training with the Hansons-Brooks training group last year and competed in two half marathons in 2017. His last few years have been dotted with injuries and his last completed marathon came in 2015. 

The top Japanese entrant in the race is Kei Katanishi. The 21-year-old is a prolific road racer, completing five half marathons last year. He ran his personal best this year of 1:01:58 in Marugame. 

Haron Lagat’s 1:01:00 at the Houston Half Marathon was good enough to put him on the American team for next week’s World Half Marathon Championships, but he got caught in the web of the IAAF’s freeze on transfers of allegiance. That ruling made Lagat ineligible to compete in international competition until the IAAF institutes a new policy. In the midst of all the bureaucratic drama, Lagat is in the best shape of his career. So although he won’t be competing in Valencia for gold, he still can make an impact on the global road racing scene this weekend. 

Also Keep An Eye On…..

Ben True is making his debut at the distance. He finished fourth in the 5000m at the U.S. championships last year and has been a strong performer on the track throughout his career. His longest race on record is a 15K, so this represents a serious increase in distance. 

The 41-year-old Abdi Abdirahman is also entered and has made a career out of spoiling the prognostications. He was 15th in this race last year, but had top seven finishes in both Boston and New York. But the field goes even deeper. Top Americans Andrew Bumbalough, Scott Fauble, and Matt Llano are also scheduled to race, as is Great Britain’s Chris Thompson.

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