A diverse cast of characters takes on the New York City Marathon this Sunday, including reigning champions Shalane Flanagan and Geoffrey Kamworor, whose repeat victories are far from guaranteed.
Women’s Race: Mary Keitany, Vivian Cheruiyot Will Make A Repeat American Victory Difficult
American distance running fans have been extremely lucky over the past calendar year to witness Shalane Flanagan and Des Linden win Abbott World Marathon Majors in New York and Boston. But we should keep in mind there’s a reason it took 40 and 33 years for an American woman to break those win droughts.
Two of the fastest women in world history, Mary Keitany and Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya, headline the field in New York despite the presence of Flanagan and Linden.
Keitany, 36, set the women’s-only world record of 2:17:01 just last year in London. In her career, she’s won six Abbott World Marathon Majors, made the podium in an additional four majors and placed fourth at the Olympic Games. Her past two marathon races, however, have not lived up to her gold standard. Last year in New York, she faltered to Flanagan and placed second. In London this spring, she took fifth while countrywoman Cheruiyot, 35, won her first major.
Cheruiyot has experienced the biggest successes of her career on the track—she won Olympic gold in the 5K in 2016 and is a four-time world champion in the 5K and 10K. Her total career medal haul includes 11 medals in the Olympics and Championships since 2007.
Her 2:18:31 win in London, then, signaled a successful transition to the next phase of her career on the roads in the marathon. It’s certainly difficult to imagine anyone besides Cheruiyot crossing the finish line first.
If Keitany isn’t on her ‘A’ game, it’s conceivable for multiple Americans to make the podium. It’s hard to guess what kind of shape defending champion Flanagan is in. The 37-year-old hasn’t raced since a disappointing sixth-place finish in Boston. Linden, 35, captured the win in a September test run at the Philly Half Marathon in 71:48.
It might be time for Molly Huddle’s turn at center stage. The 34-year-old is newer to the marathon than Flanagan and Linden; a 13th place run in Boston this year was underwhelming, but her third-place finish at the 2016 NYC Marathon in her debut showed plenty of potential in the distance. She broke the American record for half marathon in Houston earlier this year and is likely itching to show the world what kind of shape she’s really in after the terrible conditions in Boston left her hypothermic at the finish.
The other Americans to watch include Stephanie Bruce, who won her first national road race title this summer and is enjoying her best year of running ever in 2018; and Allie Kieffer, who rose from obscurity to place fifth in New York last fall. There’s also Sydney DeVore, the new Hansons-Brooks Distance Project runner who clocked 2:32 in her debut marathon this spring; and masters runners Roberta Groner, 40, and Carrie Dimoff, 35, who are looking to crack 2:30 for the first time.
Sarah Sellers, the Boston Marathon runner-up, is hoping to nab the Olympic Trials ‘A’ qualifying time of 2:37:00.
International Men: Shura Kitata To Challenge Reigning Champion Geoffrey Kamworor
Kenyan Geoffrey Kamworor returns to New York City to defend his title after a brilliant breakout performance to win his first Abbott World Marathon Major last fall. The 25-year-old had previously made the podium three times at majors and his personal best of 2:06:12 dates back to his 2012 debut in Berlin. But dropping former world record holder Wilson Kipsang for victory in victory marked his arrival as a top 26.2-mile contender.
Since then, Kamworor has not lost a race. He won his third consecutive IAAF World Half Marathon Championships title in March with astonishing splits—like a 13:01 5K between 15K and 20K.
He also has the best training partner in the world in Eliud Kipchoge, the newly minted world record holder thanks to his 2:01:39 win at the Berlin Marathon.
However, Kamworor is not the fastest man in the field and his 2:10 victory last year was cemented only over the final few miles after a tactical overall race. He has four men with sub-2:06 credentials to contend with in New York, including Tamirat Tola, the 2017 IAAF World Championships marathon runner-up who has run low 2:04 at the Dubai Marathon each of the past two years; Lelisa Desisa, who has made the podium in New York three times since 2014 including a third-place finish last year; Tola Shura Kitata, just 22 and runner-up at the London Marathon this spring in 2:04:49; and Daniel Wanjiru, the 2017 London Marathon champion.
Of these men, Kitata seems the most dangerous. In London, he was runner-up only to Kipchoge and handily defeated this fall’s Chicago Marathon champion in Mo Farah by almost two minutes. At just 22, he’s already run nine marathons—meaning he has both youth and experience on his side. He also trains with Ethiopian running legend Kenenisa Bekele, who was just sixth in London but at his peak has raced 2:03:03.
American Men: Abdi Abdirahman, Shadrack Biwott Lead The Field; Bernard Lagat To Debut
The fastest American man in the New York City field is 41-year-old Abdi Abdirahman, who, despite his advanced age, has shown no signs of slowing down. His personal best of 2:08 may date back to 2006, but he has finished as the top American in New York for the past two consecutive years with a third-place podium finish in 2016 and a seventh-place run last year. He was also sixth in Boston in 2017.
Shadrack Biwott, 33, placed fourth and third at the Boston Marathon the past two years and seems the most likely man—if any—to displace Abdirahman at the top of the U.S. ranks.
A slew of men who have run between 2:10 and 2:12 in the marathon will also contend for top American honors, including Jared Ward, who placed sixth at the Olympics in 2016 but dropped out of a half marathon in September due to hamstring problems; Tim Ritchie, the 2017 CIM champion and second-fastest American marathoner of 2017; HOKA NAZ Elite training partners Scott Smith and Scott Fauble, who finished just seconds apart in 2:12 PRs at the Frankfurt Marathon last year; Chris Derrick, who is racing his second career marathon after a 2:12 debut in Chicago in 2017; and Ryan Vail, who set his personal best of 2:10 in 2014.
Perhaps the most interesting American men’s storyline in New York is that of track great Bernard Lagat, who at 43 years old is making his marathon debut with Meb Keflezighi’s masters record of 2:12:21 in mind.