LetsRun.com's Preview Of The 2012 NYC Half Marathon

By LetsRun.com
March 16, 2012

*Watch Live Sunday at 7 am

A few weeks ago, we referred to the 2012 NYC Half as the "London" of the half marathons. What we meant is the race is so full of names, it reminds us of the London marathon each spring - it seems like everyone is there.

While the New York race organizers may not like us using the term "London" as an adjective, we hope they forgive us, as we meant it as the ultimate of compliments.

The race really does have a lot of recognizable names from throughout the globe in it.

The Men's Race
We'll start our analysis with the men and begin by presenting you three sets of names - one set that is based in North America, one set that is based in Africa and one that is based in old Commonwealth - and then there is South America's Marilson Gomes dos Santos.

After each name, you will see where they are from, their half marathon and 10,000 PRs, and then a comment or two about them. Note, we present the runners in each group in order of how excited we are to see them run. For example, Dathan Ritzenhein ("Ritz") is our #1 attraction as we want to see how he looks after finishing 4th at the OTrials marathon. Even though Meb Keflezighi ("Meb") handily beat Ritz at the Trials, Meb's only the sixth American we most want to see in this race, as it means next to little for him or his Olympic chances. He has nothing to prove here.

The North American Based Runners
Dathan Ritzenhein -
USA - (60:00 PR, 27:22.28 10,000 PR, 2:09:55 at Trials in Houston) - How will Ritz look in his first race back after finishing 4th at the Olympic Trials Marathon?
Bobby Curtis
- USA - (1:01:52 PR, 27:24.68 10,000 PR - 2012 opener) - Can Curtis mix it up with some of the world's best? Good form here means he's likely to make the US Olympic team at 10,000 as he's one of just 4 with the "A"' standard.
Scott Bauhs - USA - (61:30, 27:48.06 10,000 PR, 61:30 half in Houston in January) - Looked good in January, can Bauhs beat many of the top Americans? Good form here means he'll have a shot for the US team at 10,000 later this summer.
Sam Chelanga - KEN - (63:41, 27:08.39 10,000 PR - 7:50 3k in February) - The NCAA 10,000-meter record holder is likely a future US Olympian, how does his 10,000 track success translate to the roads?
Ed Moran - USA - (debut, 27:43.13 10,000 PR, 29:49 10k on roads at World's Best 10k on Feb. 26th) - His marathon debut in November in NYC of 2:11:49 was a smashing success. How will he fare in his return to NYC?
Meb Keflezighi - USA - (61:00, 27:13.98 10,000 PR -  2:09:08 Marathon Trials win in Houston). - Meb loves New York, but given the fact he won the Trials, we aren't expecting much here as he doesn't need to be in shape right now.
Wesley Korir - KEN - (62:30, 29:06.83 10,000 PR, 2:06:15 marathon PR - 2012 opener) - The runner-up at the 2011 Bank of American Chicago Marathon seems to be a true marathoner. Can he proves us wrong by excelling at 13.1?
Eric Gillis - CAN - (63:34, 28:07.19 10,000 PR, 2:11:28 marathon PR - 2012 opener) - His 13.1 best should be faster given his marathon time.

African Based Runners
Peter Kirui -
KEN - (59:40 PR, 27:25.63 10,000 PR - 2012 opener) - We are very excited to see what the 2011 Kenyan 10,000 champ (6th at Worlds, 1 spot ahead of Galen Rupp) who also ran 59:40 and 2:06:31 in 2011 looks like in New York and what he says about his plans for the rest of the year. Will he shoot for the Olympic 10,000?
Feyisa Lelisa - ETH - (59:22, 27:46.97 10,000 PR - 59:22 in Houston in January, 61:52 in February)- The 2011 IAAF World Championships Marathon bronze medallist looked great in January but struggled in February. What form will he be in here?
Deriba Merga -
ETH - (59:15, 27:02.62 10,000 PR, 2:06:38 - 2012 opener) - The 2009 Boston Marathon champion is a threat to win if he's on. He likes to race. It's a bit odd he hasn't finished a race so far in 2012.
Abderrahime Bouramdane - MOR - (62:40, 2:07:33 marathon PR - 2012 opener) - 4th at World Champs in 2011 at 26.2.

South America's Best
Marilson Gomes dos Santos (59:33 pb, 27:28.12 10,000 pb, 61:46 2nd place showing in Brazil two weeks ago). Two-time ING New York City marathon champ.

From The Commonwealth
Chris Thompson - GBR - (debut, 27:27.36 10,000 PR -  7:48 and 13:29 indoors this year) - In good form so far this year.
Ben St. Lawrence - AUS - (debut, 27:24.95 10,000 PR - 13:24 in Feb, 13:48 in March) - Didn't run very well earlier this month, how does he respond here?
Collis Birmingham - AUS - (65:46, 27:29.73 10,000 PR - 13:15 5,000 in Feb, 13:22 in March) - Already secured an Olympic berth earlier this year.
Michael Shelley - AUS - (62:10, 27:59.77 10,000 PR, 2012 opener) - 28-year-old ran 2:11 twice in the marathon last year.

(More Entrants Here: Men's Pro Athlete Bios).

And that list doesn't include two people from Japan. Toyo University stars Yuta Shitara (62:35 pb) and Kento Otsu (62:43). The NYRR certainly has gone to all corners of the globe to build an interesting field.

But who will win?

That is hard to answer. The problem when trying to handicap a half marathon is that a half most often isn't an athlete's main goal and thus you are sort of trying to handicap a race that in some ways is just a key stepping stone for a later race. Additionally, that later race may be in the near future (say, a spring marathon) or more distant future (Olympic 10,000 or US 10,000). Additionally, if the half marathon participant is a marathoner at heart, they very well may have run no other races so far this year and thus it's hard to judge their fitness.

Thankfully the NYRR likes to use it's half marathon to sort of give many top 10,000 runners a feel for a longer distance, the roads and New York as a sort of open house for the ING new York City marathon in case down the road one of the runners wants to move to the marathon. As a result, many of the entrants have run races in 2012. But if you really want to get up to date on people's form, you might want to watch tonight's broadcasts of NYRR Live at 8pm eastern where Olympian Todd Williams will hopefully have some insight on the top competitors.

In terms of winning this race, we'd say there really are just five contenders. The three African runners with pbs in the 59s - Peter Kirui of Kenya and Feyisa Lelisa and Deriba Merga of Ethiopia - and Dathan Ritzenhein - whose PR is almost in the 59s at 1 hour flat - as well as maybe Marilson Gomes dos Santos, who also has a pb under 1 hour (59:33) and has twice been top 10 at world's at 13.1.

When his career is over, it'll be interesting if people end up saying that the half marathon really was Ritz's ideal event. It seems perfectly suited for Ritz for a number of reasons. Unlike a 10,000, it's on the roads and features hills and what not, which suits Ritz, who is a former cross-country star. Additionally, it's not too far of a distance, as Ritz tends to bonk at the end of marathons.

Ritz almost ran the USA XC trials after missing out on the Olympic marathon team and he stated in a USA Today feature that he has been doing track workouts. So there is no doubt he's back at it after the Trials. But that doesn't mean he's by any stretch of the imagination he's ready to go 100%. The OTrials were just two months ago. As a result, we'd be very surprised if he won. It would be a long shot for Ritz to win if he was 100% sharp and we don't think he's 100%.

One guy who likely is in great form is Kenya's Peter Kirui. Kirui had a great 2011, as he ran 59:40 for the half, helped pace Patrick Makau to his world record, and then helped pace Wilson Kipsang to his 2:03:42 and then decided to finish that race in 2:06:31 (if you don't know Kirui, we recommend you read this NYRR Profile of him: Behind the Stats: Peter Kirui). We think Kirui is in good form as he's going to race a marathon for the first time in four weeks - Rotterdam.

Lelisa is going to be running London this spring, so he's likely in good form. We find it a bit odd that Merga hasn't raced so far this year as he loves to race and don't know what to expect from him. He's our wildcard. dos Santos, who has twice won the marathon in New York, ran a half-two weeks ago in 61:46 in his native Brazil. Fitness like that might get him top 5 but won't win.

If one of those four doesn't win, then maybe Sam Chelanga will a big surprise. He made a low key half-marathon debut in Boston in 1:03:41 last year. He'll have to do much better to be a factor here but he is the NCAA 10,000 record holder.

In addition to the winner, there is a lot to pay attention to. Ritz, Curtis, Bauhs, and Moran are four of the US's biggest Olympic hopefuls at 10,000 (plus a few absent people like prohibitive favorite Galen Rupp plus "A" qualifiers Matt Tegenkamp and Tim Nelson and the injured Chris Solinsky). Assuming Rupp makes it, there are only two spots left. Who's fitness gives them the inside track for that?

LRC Prediction: A Kenyan or Ethiopian wins. We're leaning towards Peter Kirui. We're very interested in seeing who ends up being the first American here. If it's not Ritz, there will be a lot to talk about after the race.

We're sure some of you will criticize us for taking the easy way out by saying a Kenyan or Ethiopian will win. We hate it win people talk about Kenyan or Ethiopian runners or even worse African runners as if they are not individuals. We did it here to make a point. For as loaded as the field is with 'names', it's by no means loaded in terms of Kenyan and Ethiopian talent. Saying a Kenyan or Ethiopian will win it means saying one of three guys will win it, Feyisa Lelisa, Peter Kirui, or Deriba Merga. For better or worse, one thing the NYRR does is try to make their fields full of interesting stories. Other half-marathons likely have more top-end talent as all you need to do is go to Iten, Kenya and get the 10 most in form guys. For example, last week 5 Kenyans broke 1 hour at the ABN-AMRO City-Pier-City Half Narathon.

With that in mind, perhaps we shouldn't call this the "London" of half-marathons. London is the best of the best. This race has a lot of top talent spread over the globe which by the way is what the Olympics does as well. So maybe it just makes since to call it the NYC Half Marathon. One thing we know for sure is it is a race we're really looking forward to and without a doubt the top half-marathon in the United States.

More: Tonight 8pm Eastern NYRR Men's Preview Show With Meb Keflezighi and Dathan Ritzenhein

Women's Race
As with the men, there are a lot of top not competitors in the women's race as well. Check out some stats on some of the top entrants below (More entrants here: *Women's Pro Athlete Bios).

Leading Women/Those With A Chance/Those With PRs Under 70:00 + Desiree Davila

Kara Goucher (66:57 PR, 2:24:52 PR, 2:26:06 3rd place showing at OTrials in January) - 33-year-old made marathon team on very little training. Will she progress now that she has time to train?
Desiree Davila (70:34 PR, 2:22:38 PR, 2:25:55 2nd place showing at OTrials in January) - 28-year-old isn't satisfied to have just made an Olympic team. Can she dip under 70:00 for 1st time?
Caroline Rotich
of Kenya (1:08:52 PR, 2012 opener) - Defending champ was 4th in Boston marathon and 7th in New York last year.
Kim Smith of New Zealand (1:07:11 PR, 2012 opener) - The fastest-ever women's half marathoner on U.S. soil was 5th at 2011 ING New York marathon in her last race.
Firehiwot Dado of Ethiopia (1:09:26, 2012 opener) - Reigning ING New York City Marathon champion also won in Rome last year
Olesya Syrev  RUS - (1:09:52, 2012 opener) - 28-year-old was 8th last year in this race and then went on to run 4:02 for 1,500 and make semis of Worlds.
Madai Perez - MEX - (69:45 PR, 2:22:59 PR, 2012 opener) - 32-year-old was 6th at World Half in 2006.
Hilda Kibet - NED - (68:39 PR, 2:24.27 PR, 71:45 in January, 71:15 in February) - 30 years young now.
Lisa Jane Weightman - AUS - (1:09:00 PR, 2:28:48 PR - 2012 opener) - 33-year-old Australian.
Shewarge Alene Amare - ETH - (69:25 PR)

Other Leading Entrants
Janet Cherobon-Bawcom - USA - (70:59 PR, 2:29:45 PR, 2:29:45 5th place showign at OTrials in January) - Former Kenyan ran great at Trials.
Julie Culley
- USA - (debut, 15:21.18 5,000 PR, 2012 opener) - 13.1 is a long way for someone who doesn't even do the 10k.
Jeannette Faber - USA - (74:19 PR, 2:36:50 PR, 2:36:50 21st place showing at OTrials in January) - Shhhh. 30th bday is next month.
Stephanie Pezzullo - USA - (73:12 PR) - Zap Fitness Newton Running runner coached by Mark Hadley
Claire Hallissey - GBR - (1:12:02) - A contender for the British Olympic marathon team.
Freya Murray (1:12:44) - GBR
Diane Nukuri-Johnson (1:12:08) - Burundi
Irvette Van Blerk (1:10:56) - South African
Karolina Jarzynska (1:10:36) - Poland
Irvette Van Blerk (1:10:56) - South Africa
Yolanda Caballero (1:12:35) - Columbia

In terms of who will win, handicapping the women's race might be even harder than the men's race and that's normally not the case as worldwide women's running is significantly less deep than men's running. However, many of the top entrants come into this race off of limited training/racing.

Former Providence star Kim Smith, who has won her last 6 half-marathons and set the US half-marathon all-comers record of 67:11 last year, is one of the best 13.1 runners on the planet. However, she admits she's been training at a high level - 100 mph for only a "month or so" and isn't sure where she is at she told Universal sports: "I'm not exactly sure where I am right now because I haven't raced in so long."  

2011 Boston and 2012 US Olympic Trials runner-up Desiree Davila also says she's running the race on about a month of training after having taken two weeks off after January's Olympic Trials. Given the fact that Davila's PR is only 70:34 to start with, we think she's got zero chance of winning it.

So who could win it? Well the defending champion Caroline Rotich of Kenya is back and she's getting ready for the Boston marathon so we assume she's farther along in her training than say a Smith or Davila who are just getting ready for the London Olympics. So history certainly could repeat itself. Davila's Olympic teammate Kara Goucher also could be in the hunt. Yes, we know Goucher lost to Davila in Boston last year and at the Trials in January but we think she's much more likely to be in the hunt than Davila.

Since Goucher was just coming into fitness at January's Olympic Trials, Goucher seems to have taken a different track than Davila as Goucher said she started working on her speed a bit after Houston. She will start a long Olympic marathon buildup starting in April, after the NYC Half race is over. Plus Goucher's 13.1 pb is 3:37 faster than Davila's. The surprise winner of the 2011 ING New York City marathon, Firehiwot Dado, is also running and can't be discounted.

One person who we don't think will win but is worth watching is Russia's Olesya Syrev. Syrev deserve props for racing as in the summer she is a 1,500 specialist. The 2011 European indoor 3k champ clearly follows the belief that Strength = Speed as last year she got 8th at the NYC Half before going on to run 4:02 for 1,500 and making the semis of world's.

LRC Prediction: If Smith is on, she's hard to beat at 13.1 but she admitted you'll probably be able to tell in the first half-mile if she's on. We doubt Goucher is back to tip top form as well. Someone has to win so maybe Rotich repeats???

Thursday's NYRR NYC Half 12 Women's Preview Show With Kara Goucher and Desi Davila, Olympian Todd Williams and an ABC 7 Anchor
Kara Goucher and Desi Davila at the 7:50 Mark Start Pro Field Discussion, Kim Smith Eats a Cupcake 17:30, Sports Illustrated's David Epstein Joins in 18:30

More: Friday at 8pm Eastern Men's Show Meb Keflezighi and Dathan Ritzenhein as in-studio guests.

*Men's Pro Athlete Bios
*Women's Pro Athlete Bios

Disclosure: The NYRR is advertising the 2012 NYC Half on LetsRun.com this week. The NYRR had no say on this article and it is not part of any advertising on LetsRun.com


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