It was another great day of racing in a big city marathon as two “novice” winners were crowned today. Gebre Gebrmariam (ETH) and Edna Kiplagat (KEN), stormed to victory today. The conditions were nice, but New York never produces fast times, and true to form Gebrmariam won in 2:08:14 while Kiplagat ran a 2:28:40—the third slowest women’s time since 1990. This is a function of the race course, which rules out the pure speedsters and turns the race into a chess match in sneakers. This is great because it increases the chance that we see a true race, especially when both the men’s and women’s fields this year showed depth, on paper at least.
Out with the faves
It was the legend himself, Gebrselassie who was favoured to win today. And why not? Even though he has never performed that well in tactical marathons, there was no real reason to think he did not have the speed to ensure a victory. However as we all know by now, he pulled up short at 29 km with a knee injury and subsequently announced his retirement. A few others easily could have taken the win today, including Goumri, Kwambai, Gomes dos Santos, Kirui, and Mutai.
The very slow early pace ensured a large group for most of the way, but eventually, through various moves, it was a three-man competition between Kwambai, Mutai, and eventual champ Gebrmariam. Kwambai stayed strong until before 35 km, at which point he was gapped to Mutai and Gebrmariam. He then fought hard to try to regain contact, but it was just not enough, and he faded to 5th on the day. At around 40 km, Gebrmariam was able to break Mutai, and the gap only grew as it went from 8 s at 25 miles, to 50 s at 26 miles, and finally 64 s by the time Mutai crossed the line in second.
Hindsight is always 20/20, and in many ways looking back it is no surprise that Gebrmariam won today. In 2009 he won the World Cross Country champs, out-sprinting Tadesse, and he spent this year racking up a slew of victories on the road. As is the case in the marathon, though, it most often comes down to who suffers from fewer mitigating factors on the day, and therefore who simply feels that much better than the others in the bunch. It is what happened to Meb last year, and as I mentioned up above on paper several men were capable of winning today—it just so happens that Gebrmariam was able to put it all together and execute better than the test.
Flanagan 2nd in impressive debut
On the women’s side it was also a very pedestrian start to the race, which did pick up and split as surges were thrown in and the wannabe’s were left behind. After all the sorting out, it was Kiplagat, Flanagan, and Keitany running even with each other. Flanagan was actually gapped around 24 miles, and it looked like she would finish third as the two Kenyans battled for the win. But she showed toughness in battling back and overtaking Keitany, although perhaps it was Keitany who did the “work” there by slowing down. Indeed, Keitany really took her foot off the gas as soon as she was passed by Flanagan, and jogged it in for third place.
Nevertheless, it was an impressive run for the 10000 m bronze medalist in Beijing. She will not have the pure speed to contend with the Africans on the flatter courses, but in races like NYC and Boston, where slower halfway splits and even slower opening 5 km times prolong the point at which the pack breaks up, runners like Kara Goucher in Boston and now Flanagan in NYC have shown they can be present and accounted for in the last 1-2 miles of these races.
It will be tough to crunch the numbers as both of us are pretty tied up at the moment, but given that the race had timing mats every mile from halfway, it would be fun to see how and when the different runners changed their speeds and dropped off the pace. And in fact, it is a good opportunity to take advantage of the data hounds among our readers, and collaborate via a spreadsheet “wiki” in which readers can log on and enter the data from the different runners using the race’s athlete tracker function to retrieve the raw data.
The spreadsheet can be found here, and we welcome readers go to the sheet and enter data from the men’s race accordingly. We can then transform those times into running speeds and analyze the changes over the latter part of the course when the pack began to splinter. And of course the data will be available publicly for anyone else who wants to analyze it as they see fit, so this should be a fun exercise in data analysis!
Slow period, plenty to write about
In the interim since the Chicago Marathon there has been much we have missed, including but not limited to Ryan Hall’s leaving his coach, Eddy Hellebuyck’s admission to using EPO and allegations of rife doping among top runners, developments in the Contador case, and Wilson Kipsang’s 2:04:57 in the Frankfurt marathon, just to name a few. So The Sports Scientists have a bit of a backlog, but work, family, and personal commitments rule the day at the moment and make it hard to spend the time we would like on these topics. Rest assured that we will cover them in due course!