Can anyone stop Mary Keitany? That’s the chief question ahead of the TCS New York City Marathon on Sunday (5), where the current queen of the marathon will seek to win a fourth straight title at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race.
Keitany, 35, may not have enjoyed immediate success in her marathon career – finishing third in New York in both 2010 and 2011 – but in the years since she has been indomitable on the streets of the Big Apple. What’s more, she now has a personal best fast enough to intimidate any female marathoner still running, with Keitany clocking 2:17:01 to win in London earlier this year.
At the London Marathon in April, she split a lightning-fast 1:06:54 for the first half, and such a strategy is unlikely to be employed on the more undulating New York course, though Keitany has indicated she will target the course record of 2:22:31. She proved her preparations were well on track by taking victory at the Great North Run in September, covering the half marathon in 1:05:59.
If anyone is to interrupt her dominance, then it will likely be her compatriot, Edna Kiplagat, the two-time world champion who took victory at the Boston Marathon earlier this year in 2:21:52. The 38-year-old made a quick turnaround to finish second in the marathon at the IAAF World Championships in London in 2:27:18, which will make New York her third marathon in seven months.
With a personal best of 2:19:50 – run to win the London Marathon in 2014 – and Kiplagat showing no visible signs of decline, it would be unwise to count her out.
Home hopes will rest on Shalane Flanagan, who continues her search for a victory in an Abbott World Marathon Major after a consistent career at the top level.
“I think I’ve always had a sense of urgency when it comes to the marathon because if you can arrive at the start line healthy and fit, I really put pressure on myself to deliver because it’s rare to have both of those on the same day,” said Flanagan, who has logged up to 130 miles a week in training in preparation. “New York is a really difficult course and so I’m hoping that those really big miles that I put in will pay off.”
In preparation, Flanagan clocked 31:15 to finish fourth in the Beach to Beacon 10K in early August, and in a conference call with media a fortnight ago, she said she was feeling better than she had in a long time. Could this be the year her long wait comes to an end?
Of the others, Ethiopian Buzunesh Deba, who was second here in 2011 and 2013, appears most likely to cause an upset if she can recover that kind of form. Mamitu Daska, with a PB of 2:21:59, was a winner at the Frankfurt Marathon last year and is also worthy of respect.
GHEBRESLASSIE LOOKING TO REPEAT
The men’s race, in contrast, appears wide open, with defending champion Ghirmay Ghebreslassie taking on a host of formidable pretenders to his throne.
The 21-year-old Eritrean, while not possessing an earth-shattering personal best – his fastest time was the 2:07:46 he ran in London last year – is a formidable racer, having won the world title in 2015 and coming home fourth in the Rio Olympics a year later.
Earlier this year, however, he could only finish sixth in the London Marathon in 2:09:57, having paid heavily for going with the pace in the early stages and reaching halfway in 1:01:44. The absence of pacemakers in Sunday’s field will undoubtedly play to his strengths.
He won’t be the only athlete who knows how to win in New York, though. Wilson Kipsang was a champion here in 2014, and returned to finish fourth a year later. Last year he chose Berlin as his autumn marathon and set his current PB of 2:03:13 behind Kenenisa Bekele, and he was just as impressive this spring when taking victory in Tokyo in 2:03:58.
Kipsang returned to Berlin this September for a highly-touted clash with Bekele and Eliud Kipchoge, but stepped off the course at the 30km mark after beginning to suffer in the damp, humid conditions. If he has recovered well since then, he should prove tough to beat.
The Ethiopian charge will be led by Lemi Berhanu and Lelisa Desisa. Berhanu holds a best of 2:04:33, run in Dubai last year, and just a few months after that he took victory at the Boston Marathon in 2:12:45. However, he failed to finish on his return there this year, so remains something of an unknown quantity in Sunday’s race.
Desisa, meanwhile, has been quiet since taking part in Nike’s Breaking2 marathon attempt in May. The 27-year-old Ethiopian finished second to Kipsang here in 2014, third in 2015, then second in Boston last year.
Another strong contender who should not be overlooked is Geoffrey Kamworor, one of the most versatile and accomplished distance runners in the world. The 24-year-old Kenyan impressed on his last visit to the New York City Marathon in 2015, when he finished second in 2:10:48, and he has a 2:06:12 PB to his name.
A two-time winner of both the IAAF World Cross Country Championships and IAAF World Half Marathon Championships, he brings a thoroughbred racing pedigree to the 26.2-mile distance, and few of his rivals will want him within striking distance when the race reaches its finale in Central Park on Sunday.
Cathal Dennehy for the IAAF