Mary Keitany after winning the 2015 New York City Marathon (© Getty Images)
Kenya’s Mary Keitany successfully defended her title in fine style at the New York City Marathon, crossing the line in 2:24:25 at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race, while the men’s title went to Stanley Biwott in 2:10:34 on Sunday (1).
The marathon, they say, is a race which doesn’t truly begin until 20 miles, and that was certainly the case in New York, with both winning moves coming in the closing miles after largely uneventful races beforehand.
With an impressive turn of speed over the final five miles in the historic race, which winds its way through the Big Apple’s five boroughs, Keitany finished 1:07 ahead of Ethiopia’s Aselefech Mergia, who was second in 2:25:32.
Another Ethiopian, London Marathon champion Tigist Tufa, was third in 2:25:50 with the best European runner, Portugal’s Sara Moreira, coming through strongly over the final four miles to finish just three seconds further back.
With cool and breezy conditions greeting the start in Staten Island, a nine-woman group led by Moreira went through halfway in a steady 1:12:54, and they were all still together at 18 miles before the pace gradually increased over the course of the next two miles.
At 20 miles, the Kenyan pair of Keitany and 2013 New York Marathon champion Priscah Jeptoo, along with the Ethiopian duo of Tufa and Mergia, were the only ones left in contention at the front. “When I made my move, I said if somebody was strong enough to go with me, I was ready,” said Keitany.
Keitany cranked up the speed even further in the 21st mile, throwing in a 5:14 mile, which did considerable damage to her rivals, and only Tufa was able to follow suit.
However Keitany surged again in the miles that followed – running the 22nd mile in 5:13, the 23rd in 5:16 – and reached 35km in 1:58:55.
At that point Tufa dropped away, and her decline was sharp, losing 13 seconds to Keitany in barely a kilometre.
From there, there was little doubt that the 2009 world half-marathon champion was going to run out the winner and take her tally to four wins out of eight marathons.
When she crossed the line in 2:24:25, Keitany became the first woman to successfully defend her title at the New York City Marathon since Paula Radcliffe in 2008, and afterwards, the 33-year-old said much of her performance can be credited to previous race experience.
“I learned lessons here in 2011, so today I had to be patient and wait,” she said. “I was very confident coming here. At home my training was perfect and I was coming to defend my title. It helped that I understood the course, as the field was very tough.”
Behind Keitany, Mergia overtook the flagging Tufa with just under a mile to the finish to clinch second place in 2:25:32, with Tufa holding on for third in 2:25:50.
Biwott topples Kamworor and Kipsang
In the men’s race, the field dawdled through the opening 5km in 15:47 and, with more than a dozen athletes bunched together at the front, only marginally picked up the pace in the following miles to reach 10km in 31:31.
Shortly before halfway, Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa moved to the front and whittled the leading pack to eight, but it was a short-lived injection of pace and at halfway, which was reached in 1:06:49, there were 13 athletes still in the leading group.
It wasn’t until 20 miles that the race was finally blown apart, with Geoffrey Kamworor surging to the front and clocking a 4:24 mile.
Only Desisa, Biwott and defending champion Wilson Kipsang could go with him, but the strain on Kipsang’s face soon became evident and the former world record-holder soon began to drop away.
Desisa was the next to crack, losing contact with the Kenyan duo after Biwott moved to the front in the 23rd mile, which was covered in 4:33.
Even Kamworor was beginning to feel the effects of his surge, which saw him record a 14:50 5km split between 30km and 35km.
The following 5km, with Biwott applying the pressure at the front, was 14:19, by far the fastest of the race, and that pressure proved too much for Kamwowor, the reigning world half marathon and world cross-country champion.
“The pace was too slow,” said Biwott afterwards, “so I went hard to make it even until the end.”
Biwott opened a lead of five seconds as they entered the final mile in Central Park and as much as Kamworor tried, he couldn’t regain contact during the final run to the finish line.
With a few hundred metres to run, Biwott began waving to the crowds, celebrating what was his first win at a World Marathon Majors race.
He crossed the line as champion in 2:10:34 to take his first marathon win since Paris in 2012 and afterwards, the Kenyan explained that a different focus in training had led to his breakthrough.
“During my previous big marathons, I was not able to run the last five kilometres at a consistent speed, so this year I have trained for the full 42 kilometres to improve my endurance. I increased the distance and today it helped me a lot.”
Kamworor took second place in 2:10:48 and afterwards, the 22-year-old was content with his performance. “I was happy to finish on the podium,” he said. “Second is good for me, and hopefully I can come back next year and try to win.”
Desisa faded badly over the closing miles, but still hung on for third in 2:12:10, with Kipsang fourth in 2:12:45.
In total, 50,229 runners entered to take part in this year’s event, which is the world’s largest marathon.
Cathal Dennehy for the IAAF