NYC preview and heatstroke wrap-up

30 Oct 2008 Posted by

A look ahead at the New York City Marathon

We’ve wrapped our heatstroke series now, thanks to everyone for questions, comments and stories. The series was quite technical, heavy on the calculations and concepts, but hopefully provided some food for thought, and the realization that heatstroke is not simply the result of exercising in hot conditions and failing to drink which is how it’s often reported.

Today we look ahead at the final big city marathon of 2008, the New York Marathon, which takes place on Sunday. It features incredible fields, particularly on the women’s side, and has Paula Radcliffe and Paul Tergat among its stars. One of them will win, the other will not! (we believe, anyway!)

The women’s race: Radcliffe to win

Radcliffe is back after another disappointing Olympic Games, where she was hampered by insufficient training due to a stress fracture. She ran a brilliant 10-mile race in Portsmouth about two weeks ago, taking the lead from the gun and running at near world record pace in windy conditions. It was Radcliffe back to her old self, and so she looks a good bet for New York, provided she’s done sufficient mileage to translate that speed into a good marathon (which I suspect is the case).

She’ll be challenged by two very good racers in Catherine Ndereba and Gete Wami (to name but two of the potential winners). Wami has had a consistent, if not spectacular 2008. In fact, she’s in contention for the overall prize of $500,000 as World Marathon Majors champion, winning it if she finishes second or better in New York (it will be her second title, testament to her consistency since 2007).

She finished third in London (after falling at a water table), having won Berlin in 2007, and come second (behind Radcliffe) in New York, only five weeks later. She did however bail from the Beijing Olympic marathon, citing stomach problems, and is looking for some solace in New York. Her form seems reasonable, a PB over 21km in the Great North Run, though that was followed by a hamstring injury, which may have affected her training.

That injury, plus the fact that Wami has seemed off the boil in recent races (problems like falling and stomach ailments tend to happen when you’re not 100%) suggest that she’ll have her work cut out to win NYC. Second might be possible, but honestly, if I had to stick my neck out, I’d say Wami will finish outside the top three.

So NYC 2008 is a rematch between Radcliffe and Wami, but this time, they’re likely to be challenged by Catherine Ndereba, who is one of the all-time greats of marathon running. She was third in Beijing, and has a rich history of great performances. She’s certainly one of the most consistent marathon runners around, and won the world title in Osaka in 2007. However, she’s also been around for a long time, and I feel that she probably lacks that 1% that it takes to win against what is arguably one of the strongest fields in history. Three years ago, she’d have been a real challenger, but she hasn’t won a big city race since 2005, and as pointed out by Letsrun.com, she’s only won 2 out of 11 races this year. Her season already has an Olympic medal, and she’s not in contention for the overall prize, so the stakes are a little lower as well. I pick her to run a solid race, and finish second, perhaps picking up the pieces in a race that is sure to be set up by Radcliffe.

Paula Radcliffe, then, is the odds-on favourite. She has the incentive to redeem a season beset by injury and a disappointing Olympic Games, and she clearly has the form, based on the Great South Run. When on form, she’s the greatest runner in the world, by a substantial margin, so even allowing for being 2% underdone, she should still have what it takes. And she has found success in New York before, winning in 2004 and last year.

So I suspect Sunday will be a Radcliffe affair, and if she’s anything near her best, she’ll simply run a 2:22 pace from the gun, and knock the competition off, one by one. Seeing as how these predictions are guess-work at best, I may as well call it exactly!

I say Radcliffe takes the pace out from inside the first 10km, and runs through halfway in a shade inside 71 minutes. Because of the stakes, Wami goes with her, but gets dropped and then picked up by the more conservative racers like Ndereba. Radcliffe hangs on, slowing slightly in the second half, but wins in 2:22:09, for a course record. Second goes to a consistent Ndereba, about 2 minutes back, while third is taken by Rita Jeptoo of Kenya.

Fourth goes to a debutant Kara Goucher, who has one of the fastest times ever over the half marathon (66:57) and should be a formidable marathon runner one day. Wami, for her part, either finishes fifth, or decides to bail once she sees the World Majors title disappearing (depending on her contract – if part of her appearance fee depends on finishing, she’ll finish. If not, she’ll save herself for another day). And if this prediction is right, I’m heading to Vegas the week after the race while my luck is in!

Men’s race: Tergat returns, but won’t win

On the men’s side, the field is not as strong, and is missing defending champion Martin Lel, and most of the top men, who’ve either called it a season after Beijing, or ran in Berlin a few weeks ago!

However, the race does feature a man who has come second, second and third in his previous Major City Marathons, Abderrahim Goumri of Morocco. On debut, he was beaten by Martin Lel in London (2007). Then last year in New York, Lel completely obliterated him in the final 400m, relegating him to second again. Then in London this year, he finished second, again behind Lel, though this time, Wanjiru split them.

Goumri must be delighted that Lel is not in New York, as the only constant in his marathon races to date is the sight of Lel disappearing with about 400m to go. That won’t happen on Sunday, though a number of Kenyans may present some challenge. Goumri’s last marathon outing was a disappointing one – 20th in Beijing, despite going in as one of the favourites thanks to his 2nd, 2nd, 3rd in three major marathons leading into it. He’s run poorly at Championship marathons before – failed to finish World Champs in 2007, but that’s more likely a function of his being quite poor in the heat. He bounced back from that to finish second in New York, and expect a similar revival this year.

One of the afore mentioned Kenyan challengers is Paul Tergat, who is back after 18-months away. Quite what sort of form he’ll have is difficult to say. Tergat won the race in 2005, and enjoys New York, but I suspect he’ll be short on speed come Sunday – he is 39 years old after all, and probably doesn’t possess a 2:06 anymore. New York is not a 2:06 course, it’s usually an attritional race and I believe Tergat, by virtue of his racing pedigree and the likely conservative pace will feature. However, to win is another matter. The field is relatively weak, other than Goumri (though there are a host of 2:06/2:07 runners, but none who have yet established themselves as marathon superstars), and Tergat will, despite his age, feature until the final reckoning on Sunday.

I’ll be a little more circumspect on the predictions for the men’s race, and rather go with the race preview done by Letsrun.com – they’ve listed the top 5, and I would not argue with it – it’s the best race preview you’ll find, well worth a read!

So Goumri to win, Tergat in second. Where I will deviate from the Letsrun guys is that I say third and fourth will also go to Kenyans, and maybe dos Santos will take fifth. As for a winning time, may as well put it out there – 2:09:30, with a faster second half than first – let’s say second half in 64:25.

As always, we’ll do our race report, featuring splits and race commentary, as it happens. So join us on Sunday, about an hour after the finish, and we’ll give you low down on what happened on the streets of the Big Apple!

Ross

PS—We created a Science of Sport group on Facebook, so if you are logged on then be sure to join!

This post is part of the thread: Marathon Analysis – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.

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