2011 ING New York City Marathon Women's Preview: Can Anyone Challenge Mary Keitany?

By LetsRun.com
November 4, 2011

Whereas the men's race at the 2011 ING NYC Marathon is completely stacked and wide open, the women's race is Mary Keitany's to lose.

Keitany, the current women's world record holder in the half marathon, finished a respectable third in New York last year in her marathon debut. Then this past April on the streets of London, she put on an exhibition, destroying the strongest marathon field of the year to win the Virgin London Marathon in 2:19.19. A marathon star was born.

Don't let anyone else in the field's credentials fool you, Keitany is the class of the field on Sunday. The beauty of the marathon is that it is a true test of human endurance and anything can happen. The favorite often does not win and that gives a few other women dreams of walking home with the laurel wreath.

The most credentialed challenger is Caroline Kilel. This past spring in Boston, she prevailed in a thrilling stretch duel with American Desiree Davila. It was a race for the ages. However, that does not mean it was anywhere close to comparable to Keitany winning in London the previous day. The London women's field was stacked. Before Boston, Kilel had been 4th at the World Half Marathon Champs in 2009, but she had only broken 2:25 in the marathon once (and six times ran over 2:30). She was our 7th pick to win in Boston. She proved us wrong, but she has not proven she is anywhere near being 2:19 marathoner like Keitany.

Keitany With The First Sub-2:20 Since 2008

Inga Abitova is the next most credentialed marathoner in the field. A 30:31 track runner, she was second last year in London in 2:22:19. This year in London she was 15th, although she did run 2:26, which shows how strong the women's London field was. Abitova was originally slated to run in Chicago this fall, but pulled out with an injury. So the question is, is she truly healthy and is she ready to consistently run well in the marathon? Or was she an addition to the New York field to make up for the withdrawal of defending champ Edna Kiplagat (Kiplagat won the World Champs in August and was going to try to double back here but had to pull out with injury).

Buzunesh Deba is getting a lot of press attention in New York (NY Times profile here). Why? She's pretty good and she trains most of the year in New York City. A New York City resident has not won the race since it went to being a five boroughs race. Deba ran 2:23:31 to win the Rock N Roll San Diego Marathon in June. In March she ran 2:26 to win the LA Marathon. Clearly she's going in the right direction. However can she make the jump to truly world class? Before this year, she was running 4 marathons a year to make a living and none were faster than 2:27. That type of athlete usually does not win in New York. In the half marathon, she has dipped under 1:10 this year, but prior to this year had never broken 1:12. If she wins, she will give a lot of 2:30 women hope that they too can become 2:20 women.

Another 2:23 marathoner is Isabella Andersson, the Swedish record holder (2:23:41 in Dubai in January). Andersson appears to be a natural marathoner. She has never run under 1:10 in the half but could contend for the podium here (but likely not the win).

Former European XC champ Jessica Augusto ran a very respectable 2:24:33 for 8th in her marathon debut in London. Her father and early inspiration in the sport, has passed away since London, and she'll be running in his memory on Sunday. A podium spot is not out of the question, but a win would make a made-for-TV movie. Rosa Mota's 2:23:29 Portuguese record is right in front of her.

Two Half Marathon Stars Could Be A Factor

Two women (Kim Smith and Werknesh Kidane) with impressive half marathon speed but so-so marathon credentials could be factors on Sunday.

Many pundits' darkhorse pick is Kiwi Kim Smith. Smith has had tremendous success at the half marathon. In September, she ran 67:11 in Philadelphia, the fastest half marathon ever in America. (Smith also ran 67:36 for the half in New Orleans in February). If you look at the all-time women's half marathon list, you see most of them eventually become pretty good marathoners. The question is when do they figure out the marathon and whether that is good enough to win a race like New York.

Kim has run four marathons in her life and dropped out of two (most recently Boston where she had a big lead at halfway and then ended up dropping out with a calf-injury). There is no question she can improve vastly on her 2:25:21 PR in London last year. There are a lot of questions on whether she can withstand the rigors of 26.2 miles on the difficult New York course with her spotty history in the marathon. The other knock on Kim is she is known for running her best times in fast time trials by herself. That was not the case in Philadelphia, where she beat former world XC champ and 2003 10,000m silver medallist Werknesh Kidane.

Kidane is being totally overlooked by most pundits. She is the wife of last year's men's champ Gebre Gebremariam. Since becoming a mom, she has not shown the form that garnered her the World XC title. However, this year she has shown improved form. 7th in Boston in 2:26 does not say much, but she was 15 seconds behind Smith in Philadelphia in the half in September. If we're considering Smith for the win with her unproven record in the marathon, why shouldn't we consider Kidane, who has better track credentials and similar half marathon credentials? World XC champs (Paul Tergat and Paula Radcliffe are the most obvious examples) are known for doing well on the tough New York course.

The Americans

Olympians Jen Rhines and Lauren Fleshman lead the US contingent.

Rhines, a former Olympic marathoner, became so frustrated with the marathon that she gave up on it AFTER she ran her PR (2:29:32 in 2006). She does not plan to run the Olympic Marathon Trials, but with everyone else running the Trials, she is getting a big payday to run New York this year. She ran well on the track this year, but the big question is how she will do here. It seems like a worthy goal would be a PR.

Lauren Fleshman, like Rhines, does not intend to run the Olympic Marathon Trials. Fleshman made the World Championships final at 5,000m and was running better than any American long distance runner on the track when the Worlds rolled around in August. What that means for the marathon, we have no idea. The marathon is totally unchartered territory for her, as she has never even run a 10,000m on the track. The New York Road Runners, however, have deep pockets and Fleshman will be giving it a go.

What would be best for Fleshman is a slow, tactical race like last year, where virtually everyone was in the race until Central Park. However, Lauren indicated that she may be shooting for 2:30 to 2:35, which would put her out of contention in even that type of race. And on top of that, she got injured two weeks ago.

Most likely the race will be faster and Fleshman (and Rhines) likely will be running for a top 10 finish.

1:11 half marathoner Molly Pritz is also in the field and is making her marathon debut.

Predictions - We won't get too cute here. There is no reason to think Keitany will lose. Sure, it could happen because this is a marathon. Picking the favorite of the rest of the runners is tough. We'll go with Daba, Abitova (because class usually wins out in marathons) and then Kidane because no one is picking her. If Kim Smith gets it right, look out, but this does not seem like her type of course. Most interesting is what type of race will it be. Slow, tactical races give everyone a shot and make for great TV in a field like this one.

Predictions: 1) Keitany 2) Abitova 3) Kidane
*Full Women's Field Here

Others not mentioned:
Dado Firehiwot
has won the Rome Marathon twice but will need to improve here.

More: Men's Preview Of 2011 ING NYC Marathon

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