New York is an atypical race on the world road-racing circuit. It is one of the few marathons, and the only one in the World Marathon Majors Series (bar the championships, of course) which doesn’t lavish the elite-runners with the luxury of pacemakers and combined with the undulating gradient of the course, the New York Marathon tends to play to the advantage of the tactically astute runner.
The pre-race favourite in the women’s division in 2011 Mary Keitany could have done with a dollop of the racing know-how of an athlete like Edna Kiplagat or Catherine Ndereba as she admitted afterwards she ‘was not thinking’ after her outrageous start almost certainly cost her the victory.
Having won the London Marathon in the spring in a sub-2:20 time, Keitany was slated as many people’s pre-race favourites. In their pre-race preview, letsrun.com stated ‘the women’s race is Keitany’s to lose’ and while over-confidence might not be readily associated with the timidly-spoken Kenyan, maybe she was guilty of this? She was unrelenting in the first-half, passing through 10km in 31:53, 20km in 1:04:21 and halfway in 1:07:56.
New York isn’t a compatible course for a time-trail, as Keitany was soon to find out, but these splits would be ambitious on any course as she was six-seconds inside Paula Radcliffe’s revered world record-pace at the halfway point.
The second group, comprised of team-mates Firehiwot Dado and Buzunesh Deba from Ethiopia, didn’t make immediate inroads into Keitany’s lead as their pre-race plan surely didn’t consist of passing through halfway in course-record pace at 1:10:13. Both were running a long way inside their respective PBs on an uncompromising course and inevitably, they also began to slow.
Further up the road though, Keitany was coming to a halt. She didn’t wilt immediately but her 5km split between 30-35km fell the wrong side of 18-minutes and her 1:19 lead rapidly evaporated. It would be wrong to say Dado and Deba were making a deliberate bid to close Keitany down as their pace was also slowing but a 5km split of 18:44 between 35-40km showed Keitany had got her race tactics horribly wrong.
To her credit, Keitany did come back to the leaders after being hauled in but her resistance was soon broken after being dropped the second time. An Ethiopian 1-2 looked a certainty and Dado narrowly prevailed ahead of New York resident Deba, 2:23:15 to 2:23:19, with Keitany third In 2:23:38.
After a contrasting 2012 season where she retained her London Marathon title before finishing out of the medals at the Olympic Games on a slightly different course a few months later, Keitany has been out of action this year through maternity leave. A third London Marathon title appears the immediate goal and the New York Marathon will surely feature in her plans in the not too distant future.
No doubt Keitany will have learnt from her experience in 2011 and will treat the course and the distance with a bit more respect next time around.