NYC Half Marathon 2019 Review

The 14th edition of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon was the biggest event in its history. Over 24,000 runners took to the streets of New York City last Sunday. There were also 9 Olympians on show as they made their way from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

Despite the chilly early morning conditions, the racing was set to be hot as the winners would be bagging $20,000 each. The current world record holder for the half marathon, Kenya’s Joyciline Jepkosgei, was looking to dominate the American field. This included 2018 Boston Marathon champion Des Linden.

The men’s race was more open, with quality American track runner, Paul Chelimo, debuting at the distance and pitting himself against relatively unknown East African distance runners.


Believe you’re Untouchable

 

Jepkosgei’s pedigree is well-known. She reigns supreme over this distance, so no one expected the undulating course to pose much trouble for her. She was looking to replicate the superior performance that Mary Keitany produced to win the NYC Marathon late last year.

Her relaxed, bouncy stride appeared comfortable as she kept in the lead pack for the first 10k. When she broke away, her strong arm swing helped make the most of her substantial power-to-weight ratio. She kept her focus and eyes on the road ahead, and easily took victory by 60 seconds in 1:10:07.

 

Don’t Look Back in Anger

 

After a relatively slow start, Eritrea’s Daniel Mesfun forged ahead after the first mile. The 31-year-old had already won two half marathons in 2019 and has said he is looking to win the Boston Marathon next month. He made his intentions very clear after less than 10 minutes.

His short, powerful, flat-footed stride and bared teeth suggested that Mesfun was close to his limits. His lead was healthy, which built to as much as 22 seconds at the 15km mark. But he could not disguise his constant looking over his shoulder and several clutches of his stomach. It appeared that he was hoping to hold on to his lead by sheer determination and grit. In the closing stages, as Mesfun inevitably slowed, his rivals prepared their moves.

Many thought it would be the 5,000m specialist, Chelimo, who openly admitted that his recent 100+ mile weeks, and 22-mile long run had prepared him for victory. Although Chelimo did finish strong he could only finish third. Instead it was Belay Tilahun of Ethiopia, who stole the show. Not originally included in the elite field, it was a surprise to find him beside Mesfun with half a mile to race. Then the Ethiopian powered forward, winning by 6 seconds in 1:02:10.


The race illustrated how crucial it is for training to be targeted to the race (unless the race is being used as a tune-up for a more important upcoming race). Outward confidence, from Chelimo and Mesfun, is not always enough if the race strategy doesn’t take into account other astute competitors. Still, as Jepkosgei showed once again, when an athlete focuses on one distance, the outcome can be richly rewarding.

Waiting to Pounce at 2018 NYC Marathon

New York City held a mild, windless marathon this year.

The eventual winners employed the most effective strategies on the day, keeping their composure when competitors continued to test them, finishing strong.

Steady Start Helps those with Greater Capacity

Before the marathon I predicted that it would be extremely difficult to beat Mary Keitany. Not only had she won the event three times before but she is undoubtedly one of the greatest female marathoners ever, alongside the UK’s Paula Radcliffe.

The race began with a huge pack, and stayed that way for the first half of the race, which was completed in 1:15:50. If the pace had continued it would’ve meant a relatively slow winning time (Kenya’s Edna Kiplagat’s 2011 performance of 2:28:20 was the most recent winning time that would have been slower).

But, unsurprisingly twenty runners soon became eight as the pace steadily increased. Keitany began to lead the pack, but soon Rahma Tusa of Ethiopia and Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya surged. A 10-second gap quickly appeared. Only Keitany stayed with them.

Keitany had the impetus to keep the pace fast. Cheruiyot fell back, then Tusa had to let Keitany go. By 30km Keitany had begun her ‘victory lap’. She didn’t need to look back; the gap was growing with every stride.

She broke her competitors by running three consecutive 5km splits under 16:30. Her efficient stride, short, powerful arm swings (similar to Juliet Chekwel) helped her to win by over three minutes and record the second-fastest course time.

Know One’s Limits

It’s easy to comment that some of the athletes should have pushed the early pace to keep Keitany from running a huge negative split (she ran the second half of the race more than fifteen minutes faster than the first half). But every athlete needs to run their own race strategy. The relatively comfortable early pace meant that Americans Stephanie Bruce, Brittany Charboneau and Desiree Linden could all front run for short periods.

The danger is that by attempting to keep with a superior runner, as Tusa did, runners can compromise their race. Overstretching, especially during a marathon, can lead to a loss of a podium finish. Alone, Vivian Cheruiyot could run at the pace she needed during the last miles, finishing strong in second. The American Shalane Flanagan, last year’s champion, could also run within herself, eventually breaking away from the chase pack and completing the podium. Tusa faded, finishing in fifth position.

The experiences of Cheruiyot and Flanagan, who are both in their thirties, ensured that they kept a tight grip on the top placings.

Always Have More to Give for the End

Whilst the elite women made their move just after the halfway mark, the men’s race was decided in the final mile.

The elite field was strung out in a line by 5km, with Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa and Shura Kitata, and Kenya’s Tamirat Tola and Geoffrey Kamworor pushing the pace.

As the race progressed Kitata held the lead, but couldn’t break away. The frequent undulations kept the runners together until 35km, where Tola couldn’t respond to the surge from Kamworor.

Pre-race I believed the defending champion would be too strong for the Ethiopians, and like Keitany, was conserving energy before his fast finish. When Kitata fell back during the last mile, it seemed the Kenyan had only one competitor left. But it was Kamworor who couldn’t maintain, with Kitata fighting back and pushing his training partner and fellow countryman to the end.

Desisa had deceived everyone, quietly keeping back so that he could give his all when it was most needed. The Ethiopian, who had attempted to break the two-hour marathon last year with Eliud Kipchoge, had finished in the top three on three other occasions, and at the finish line his delight was clear to see.