2016 TCS NYC Marathon International Women’s Preview: Mary Keitany Tries to Embarrass the Kenyan Selectors by Winning Third Straight Title

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By LetsRun.com
November 2, 2016

The year’s final Abbott World Marathon Major is upon us, as the TCS New York City Marathon will take place in the Big Apple on Sunday. For the third consecutive year, Kenya’s Mary Keitany is the favorite, and she’ll look to become the first woman to pull off the three-peat since Grete Waitz, who won five straight from 1982 to 1986. But Keitany will be pushed by 2015 runner-up Aselefech Mergia of Ethiopia, who beat Keitany earlier this year in London, as well as fellow Kenyan Joyce Chepkirui, the 2015 Amsterdam/Honolulu Marathon champion.

Then you’ve got Molly Huddle, the American record holder at 10,000 meters, making the most-anticipated marathon debut by an American woman since Shalane Flanagan in 2010. Two-time Olympian Kim Conley will also be making her marathon debut, as will Olympic triathlon champion Gwen Jorgensen. They’ll be joined by Olympic Trials 5th placer Janet BawcomNeely Gracey, Sara Hall and Annie Bersagel.

As always, there are plenty of storylines in New York, so we’ve broken our previews up this year. Below we take a look at the women’s international field. We’ll continue to roll out previews during the week and will be on-site in New York starting on Thursday to provide insight from the top pros. If you missed our first two previews, looking at the international men’s and U.S. men’s fields, you can read them at the links below.

International Men’s Preview: Can Studs Stanley Biwott and Ghirmay Ghebreslassie Bounce Back From the Olympics Against Mr. Consistent (Lelisa Desisa) & Rising Star Lucas Rotich?

U.S. Men’s Preview: What Has to Happen for an American to Win for the First Time Since 2009

What: 2016 TCS New York City Marathon

When: Sunday, November 6, 9:20 a.m. ET

Where: New York, New York

How to watch: The race will be broadcast nationally on ESPN2, with coverage beginning at 9 a.m. ET. You can also stream the race online through WatchESPN. Locally, the race will also be shown on ABC7, with coverage beginning at 7 a.m. ET.

Prize money




Time bonuses

Additionally, there is masters and NYRR prize money. For a full breakdown, go here.

Abbott World Marathon Majors

The Abbott World Marathon Majors consists of eight major marathons — Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, New York, the World Championships and the Olympics — with the winner of each series taking home $500,000. The current series runs from the 2016 Boston Marathon to the 2017 Boston Marathon, and right now Kenya’s Jemima Sumgong is the leader with 50 points thanks to her victories in London and at the Olympics. Sumgong cannot be caught, only tied, as athletes can only count two marathons per cycle. Since none of the women entered in New York have won a major during this cycle, they would have to win on Sunday and in Tokyo or Boston next year just to tie Sumgong. But even then, they’d still likely lose out on the $500,000 grand prize as in the event of a tie, the WMM race directors hold a vote to determine the champion and Sumgong’s wins in London/Rio would be more impressive.

Important links: LRC 2015 New York City Marathon coverage * Race website

Women’s International Field

Mary KeitanyKenya2:18:372-time defending champ was snubbed for Olympics but running great in ’16
Aselefech MergiaEthiopia2:19:313-time Dubai/2010 London champ was 5th in London in April, 2nd in NYC in ’15
Buzunesh DebaEthiopia2:19:59Bronx resident is now the CR holder in Boston after Jeptoo’s DQ; 7th in Boston in April
Joyce ChepkiruiKenya2:24:1166:18 HM pb; won Amsterdam/Honolulu in ’15; 3rd in Boston in April
Diane NukuriBurundi2:27:5013th in Olympic 10k; 8th in Chicago last year
Lanni MarchantCanada2:28:0024th in Olympic marathon just 2 days after running 10k in Rio
Etaferahu TemesgenEthiopia2:29:248th in her debut in Ottawa last year, but just 13th (2:34) in Dubai in Jan.
Kellys AriasColombia2:29:3619th at World Half Champs in March; DNF in Olympic marathon
Ayantu Dakebo HailemaryamEthiopia2:33:59This is marathon #5 of ’16; ran 2:37 at Twin Cities on Oct. 9
Maria PeraltaArgentina2:37:57 38yr old was 51st at World Half, DNF at Olympics.
Marilyn ArsenaultCanada2:40:20 Not a bad pb considering she ran it in 2013 at age 45!!
Laura ManninenFinland2:41:21 43-year old ran her marathon pb on Sept 25 of this year.
Emma NordlingSweden2:43:28 31-year old was 16th in NY las tyear in 2:43:28.
Kirsten MolloyAustralia2:43:41 37-year old ran 2:45 in July.
Sally KipyegoKenyaN/A’12 Oly. silver medallist in 10k DNF’d her marathon debut in NYC in ’15

The Heavy Favorite

On Sunday, Keitany will look to be the first woman in 30 years to three-peat in New York

On Sunday, Keitany will look to be the first woman in 30 years to three-peat in New York

Mary Keitany — Kenya, 34 years old, 2:18:37 pb (2012 London), 65:39 half
Marathons since start of 2015: 2nd 2015 London (2:23:40), 1st 2015 New York (2:24:25), 9th 2016 London (2:28:30)

Last year, we tried to argue that even though Keitany was the favorite in New York, chances are she wouldn’t win as she was facing a stacked field (seven women under 2:24, including the reigning Dubai, Boston and London champs). Keitany made us look silly by cruising to her second straight NYC title.

Well, we’re not making the same mistake two years in a row. Her opposition is not as strong as it was in 2015, and Keitany has looked fantastic in the second half of 2016. If she does not win on Sunday, it would qualify as a major upset.

So why is Keitany the favorite? Well let’s begin with what she’s done in marathons since returning from pregnancy in 2014:

11/2/2014New York2:25:071st
11/1/2015New York2:24:251st

Two wins and a second at the two most competitive marathons on Earth. Not too shabby. Looking farther back, she’s lost a grand total of 7 races over the last 8 years.

Of course, Keitany’s last marathon — in which she fell and struggled to a ninth-place finish after dealing with a stomach illness three days before the race — was her worst since she debuted at the distance in New York six years ago. Falling victim to recency bias, Athletics Kenya left Keitany off the Olympic team, a decision that predictably backfired when the woman they chose over Keitany, Visiline Jepkesho, staggered to 86th place in Rio.

But any fears that Keitany had “lost it” at age 34 were assuaged by what she’s done since then: a commanding victory at the Olomouc Half Marathon in June (Keitany ran 68:53 to win by over three minutes) and course records at the Bix 7-Miler (35:18) and Beach to Beacon (30:45) in July and August. Keitany hasn’t raced since Beach to Beacon, but assuming no setbacks she should be in terrific shape. Furthermore, Keitany has plenty of experience on the course (in addition to her two victories, she was third in 2010 and 2011), which helps on New York’s technical layout.

We’re always a little skeptical about an athlete competing with “extra motivation.” Even without the Olympic snub, this is still a World Marathon Major, a race that Keitany has won the past two years and spent several months preparing for. Is she really going to try harder because she was left off the Olympic team? At the same time, Keitany has never been afraid to run from the front, and if she wants to make a statement to show the Kenyan selectors the error of their ways, dominating this race would be a big one. In good conditions, we would not have been shocked to see Keitany attack the course record (2:22:31) but with high winds in the forecast (mostly in the runners’ faces), that may not be the wisest strategy.

Four Who Could Challenge Keitany

If Keitany runs her best, no one is beating her on Sunday. But if she struggles, there are five other women who could win: the four women listed below, and one Molly Huddle (whom we’ll get to in our U.S. women’s preview).

Aselefech Mergia — Ethiopia, 31 years old, 2:19:31 pb (2012 Dubai), 67:21 half
Marathons since start of 2015: 1st 2015 Dubai (2:20:02), 4th 2015 London (2:23:53), 2nd 2015 New York (2:25:32), 5th 2016 London (2:23:57)

Why she has a chance against Keitany: Not only was Mergia the runner-up last year, but she was only 13 seconds behind Keitany in London last year and actually beat Keitany the last time they raced at the London Marathon in April. She’s a consistent marathoner (top 5 in her last four marathons, all of them against tough competition) and as she showed in London, can capitalize if Keitany isn’t at her best.

Why she’ll lose to Keitany: Mergia is still 1-3 in her career versus Keitany over the 26.2-mile distance and had no response when Keitany made her move at 20 miles in 2015. In her only other race this year, the B.A.A. 10K on June 26, she was just seventh in 32:33.

Buzunesh Deba — Ethiopia, 29 years old, 2:19:59 pb (2014 Boston), 68:59 half
Marathons since start of 2015: 3rd 2015 Boston (2:25:09), DNF 2015 New York, 7th 2016 Boston (2:33:56)

Why she has a chance against Keitany: Deba, who resides in the Bronx, has finished in the top 10 five times in New York, including runner-up finishes in 2011 and 2013, the former over Keitany. She’s also the course record holder at the Boston Marathon (2:19:59) after doper Rita Jeptoo was officially stripped of the 2014 title last week.

Why she’ll lose to Keitany: If you noticed, in the section above we didn’t talk about Deba’s recent accomplishments. That’s because the last two years have been rough. In 2015, she recorded a trio of DNFs in New York — at the Mini 10K, the NYC Half and the NYC Marathon — and her struggles have continued in 2016. Here’s what she’s done so far this year (courtesy All-Athletics):

17.01.2016Houston Half MarathonHalf MarathonUSAEFDNF
20.03.2016New York Half MarathonHalf MarathonUSAEF12.1:14:391037
18.04.2016Boston MarathonMarathonUSAGLF7.2:33:563.21063
26.06.2016Boston B.A.A. 10K10 km RoadUSADF12.33:251084
04.07.2016Atlanta Peachtree Road Race10 km RoadUSAEF7.33:553.41026

That’s not the resume of a fall marathon winner.

Joyce Chepkirui — Kenya, 28 years old, 2:24:11 pb (2015 Amsterdam), 66:18 half
Marathons since start of 2015: 
10th 2015 Boston (2:29:07), 1st 2015 Amsterdam (2:24:11), 1st 2015 Honolulu (2:28:34), 3rd 2016 Boston (2:30:50)
Prep race: 69:57 for 4th at Great North Run (half marathon) on September 11

Why she has a chance against Keitany: Like Keitany, Chepkirui is an exceptional half marathoner (66:18 pb, 2nd to Huddle at NYC Half in March). She also won Amsterdam and Honolulu last year, marathons that typically serve as stepping stones to a World Marathon Major victory. She didn’t win in Boston in April, but she improved mightily from her first go-round the year before, moving up seven places. At 28, the time might be right for Chepkirui to claim her first major crown.

Why she’ll lose to Keitany: Keitany already smoked Chepkirui at the Olomouc Half Marathon in June (Chepkirui finished third in 72:40, 3:47 behind Keitany) and for someone whose best distance has historically been the half marathon, her 69:57 clocking at the Great North Run (good for fourth place) on Sept 11. wasn’t particularly impressive. Perhaps that’s a sign that she’s more locked-in to marathon training this time around, but it’s hard to get excited about that kind of time.

Sally Kipyego — Kenya, 30 years old, no marathon PB (dropped out at 40k last year), 68:31 half
Marathons since start of 2015: DNF 2015 New York
Prep race: 69:53 win at San Jose Rock ‘n Roll Half 

Why she has a chance against Keitany: Well she doesn’t if Keitany is on her game but Kipyego was the 2012 Olympic silver medallist at 10,000. In her marathon debut last year in NY, she stayed in the lead pack for close to 20 miles before falling off. No one else in the field has run anywhere close to 14:30 for 5000 as Kipyego has.

Why she’ll lose to Keitany: Kipyego, who is based in the U.S., was with the lead pack for 20 miles last year but ended up a DNF so she’s unproven over the 42.2-km distance. After her half marathon last month in San Jose, she told RunBlogRun her goal was to be competitive and have a “solid race”. Solid may get you top 3 but it won’t beat Keitany.

Best of the Rest

  • Diane Nukuri, Burundi, 31 years old, 2:27:50 pb: Nukuri ran well at the Olympics (13th in the 10k in 31:28) and she’s been solid on the roads this year (69:23 at Marugame Half in February, 69:41 at NYC Half in March) but she’s never shown anything to suggest she’s capable of winning a race as big as the New York City Marathon.
  • Lanni Marchant, Canada, 32 years old, 2:28:00 pb: The Canadian record holder, Marchant is a fine marathoner, and she was a respectable 24th in Rio (not bad considering she ran the 10k two days before). She was 20th at the World Half Marathon Champs in March, but like Nukuri, she’s not a serious threat to win on Sunday.

Conclusion: Keitany is a bigger favorite in 2016 than she was in 2014 or 2015. She doesn’t need to run her best race to win in New York; she just needs to make sure she doesn’t totally blow up.

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