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2006 ING New York City Marathon Preview
by LetsRun.com
November 3, 2006
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*Race Website

Below we give you a detailed analysis of the 2006 ING NYC Marathon. This year's marathon has a guaranteed prize pool of $749,000, the largest guaranteed prize pool in the sport, including $100,000 in American only money. The race is on NBC in the NY area, and for the first time is being streamed live on the internet for $4.99. The stream will have the main coverage plus a special camera that will notify you when a runner you are tracking runs by (and they'll even have a camera on Lance Armstrong).

Women's Preview First, Jump to Men's Here

Women's Preview: Deena vs Catherine the Great (and others)
The women's race is being billed as the Deena and Catherine Show. Those are the two favorites, but there are others who could win. It's not a stretch to say this is the most competitive ING NYC Women's Marathon ever .Women's running in general, and in particular the marathon, is not as deep as men's running, so sometimes the stars can pick up a win while not bringing their "A" game. That will not be the case this Sunday, as there are too many good women for anyone to sneak by with the win.

And while most of the American media attention is centered on American record holder and Olympic bronze medallist Deena Kastor, lets first take a moment to look at the incredible record of Catherine Ndereba. She's not nicknamed "Catherine the Great" for nothing. Below is her competitive marathon record since 2000 (let us know if we missed a race but we think this is her complete record).

Apr 17, 2000

1s

Boston

2:26:11

Oct 22, 2000

1st

Chicago

2:21:33

Apr 16, 2001

1st

Boston

2:23:53

Oct 7, 2001

1st

Chicago

2:18:47

Apr 15, 2002

2nd

Boston

2:21:12

Oct 13, 2002

2nd

Chicago

2:19:26

Apr 13, 2003

2nd

London

2:19:55

Aug 31, 2003

1st

World Champs- Paris

2:23:55

Nov 2, 2003

2nd

New York

2:23:03

Apr 19, 2004

1st

Boston

2:24:27

Aug 22, 2004

2nd

Olympics-Athens

2:26:32

Apr 18, 2005

1st

Boston

2:25:13

Aug 14, 2005

2nd

Worlds- Helsinki

2:22:01

Jan 29, 2006

1st

Osaka

2:25:05

14 World Class marathons (only one not a "Major") and she's never finished worse than second. Truly amazing.

Our only hesitation in picking Ndereba is that she is getting a little older (33 yrs old) and one day the wheels may fall off like they did to former Kenyan marathoning great Tegla Laroupe, but until they do, you've got to count on Ndereba being in the mix just going off of past performances. And although Ndereba has raced sparingly in 2006, she did win the inaugural NYC Half Marathon on August 27th in 1:09:43 in a sprint finish with Benita Johnson (who set an Australian record at the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon) so her form appears to be there.

Deena Kastor is an athlete that many expect to challenge Catherine the Great and possibly give America its first female winner since 1977. Kastor has been the standout in American distance running on the female side for the last decade. This past spring she became the 8th female to crack the 2:20 barrier, running 2:19:36 to win at London and also qualify for the 2008 Men's Olympic Trials with an "A" qualifier.

Deena has said her sole focus is on winning NY. And we believe her. The only question is what is her form like? Before London and before her 2:21 in Chicago last year, she raced half marathons in sub 1:08. This year she has done no races since she cut her European track season short because she was not running well and that makes us a bit nervous.  No doubt she could get pushed by her male training partners just as hard as she could in a race, but we will not know for sure if she is at 100% until Sunday.  Reports are that her training has rebounded  Deena definitely will have the home crowd advantage on Sunday. How much will that help? We'll find out on Sunday.  

Other Women to Watch: Prokopcuka, Jeptoo, Chepkemei, and Kiplagat
Last year's champ Jelena Prokopcuka continues to improve as a runner but she needs another breakthrough to beat the likes of Deena and Catherine. She followed up last year's win by placing second at Boston this spring and then prd on the track this summer (30:38 for 10k) at the European champs.

Prokupcuka was defeated in Boston by Rita Jeptoo, a star on the upswing. Jeptoo broke through with her Boston victory after finishing 7th at the World Champs the year before. Last month she ran 63:47 for 3rd at the World Road Running Champs for 20k in Hungary (that's equivalent to about a 1:06:30 half marathon).

Susan Chepkemei is a runner still looking to break through for a victory in a major marathon. She was 3rd in London this year, 2nd in NY last year, 3rd in London last year, and 2nd in NY in 2004. Always in the mix, but always coming up short. She has great speed (65:44 for the half marathon in 2001) and is coming into form: 70:22, just 19 seconds behind Chicago winner Berhane Adere in October at the Great South Run. But up until this point the marathon is not her best event in her career.

Another runner with tremendous success at shorter distances who has not quite delivered through on her promise in the marathon is Lornah Kiplagat. Kiplagat is a familiar scene to many Americans as she tears up the US road racing scene. She comes into NY in fine form coming off of her first global championship. She ran 63:21 for 20k on October 8th to win the World Road Running Champs in Hungary. Kiplagat has run fairly well in the marathon (her pb is 2:22:22 from 2003) but has not shown the ability to win a major championship. And unlike some of the others she has experience with the NY course, and they generally were not good experiences. She has run NY the last 5 years and finished 10th last year (2:28), 7th in 2004 (2:28), 3rd in 2003 (2:23:43 a time that would have won every NYC Marathon except 2), 8th in 2002 (2:28). She'll have to run 1-3 minutes faster than her best NY time if she wants to win as it seems probably that with good weather the course record (2:22:31) in NY will fall.

Predictions:
We know the NYC marathon organizers and many site vistiors would love to see Deena win. Based on her London race, we're tempted to pick her as we think the amazingly consistent Catherine Ndereba may be a bit past her prime. However, Jeptoo's upside seems to be too great and we know she's in awesome form whereas we are just hoping Deena is in top form.  So we'll pick Jeptoo to win. We kind of feel that Deena will have a win or bust attitude so we'll pick Mrs. Consistency (Ndereba) for 2nd and then Deena for third.  

(We're really making this pick for two reasons: 1) By picking someone the mainstream media doesn't pick, we want to make ourselves look very smart and 2) We like to gamble and noticed the sportbooks are putting Jeptoo as the favorite.)
1) Jeptoo 2) Ndereba 3) Deena 4) Kiplagat 5) Prokupcuka

Men's Preview: Rematch of Last Year Plus Baldini, Culpepper, and Ritzenhein
The men's matchup at the ING NYC Marathon features an exciting field as the top 3 from last year's race, Paul Tergat, Hendrick Ramaala and Meb Keflezighi, all return.  That's a great start on a great field and then when you throw in Olympic champ Stefano Baldini and include the debut of American youngster Dathan Ritzenhein , you have a nice field that clearly is stronger than last year's, because there are lots of other talented people like American Alan Culpepper.

Tergat, Ramaala, and Meb battled it out for 24 miles last year with Meb then dropping back. Tergat and Ramaala continued to battle all the way to the tape with Tergat outleaning Ramaala in the most exciting finish in the history of the NYC Marathon.

Defending champ Paul Tergat is approaching the final years of his career at age 37, but he's the greatest all around runner in the history of the sport. 5 time world cross country champion, former world record holder at 10k and the half marathon, Olympic silver medallist, and current world record holder in the marathon. The only thing missing on his resume is the Olympic Gold and he intends to give it one more shot in Beijing.

Some have questioned Tergat's fitness as he pulled out of his one schedule prep race the BUPA Great North Run. Don't hold this totally against him as reports say that after the birth of his son, he felt like he was not 100% ready to race. And remember that Tergat pulled out of the BUPA Great North Race last year with hamstring problems and went on to win NY. It's safe to assume if he makes it to the starting line he thinks he is fit enough to win. Tergat showed this spring (where he pulled out of the London Marathon the week of the race with a minor calf injury) that he will not just show up to collect his appearance fee.

Hendrick Ramaala came within inches of winning his second straight ING NYC crown last year and appears to have figured out the marathon after showing a ton of promise earlier in his career at the half marathon. (For a great profile on Ramaala from the November 2006 issue of Running Times Magazine click here. Ramaala began his running career as a jogger at his University and continued to train a lot with his local running group, instead of with fellow world class athletes. Some message boarders think his workouts are not "hard" enough.)

Ramaala was third in London this year, but his strengths appear to be more in line with the challenging NY course. In his one tune-up race, he won the BUPA Great North Half Marathon in 61:03 so he appears to be ready to challenge for another NY win.

American Meb Keflezighi has developed into one of the most consistent marathoners in the world. Silver medallist at the Athens Olympics, runner up in NY in 2004, 3rd in NY last year, and 3rd in Boston this year, he is hoping to become the first American winner since Alberto Salazar in 1982 (besides Keflezighi's 2nd in 2004, Americans have finished 2nd in 1993 (Bob Kempainen) and 1989 (Ken Martin). Last month, Meb dropped out of the Rock N Roll San Jose Half Marathon over the final miles with a hamstring problem and missed a few days of training. However, if you listen to Deena Kastor, she's not worried about Meb's preparations, and Meb got silver in Athens after telling his brother he might have to drop out with an injury. Meb hopes his injury gave him some unplanned beneficial rest. He told Dick Patrick of USAToday, "I just hope to rise to the occasion. This may have been a blessing in disguise to get me some rest. It may work to my advantage."  Meb was in great shape before the injury as he ran 1:01:28 at the inaugural NY Half Marathon in September so if he's rested and feeling good, watch out.

Stefano Baldini, in addition to being the Olympic champ, is one of the most consistent marathoners in the world. Baldini also excels in Championship marathons. He was World Half Champ in 1996, European marathon champ in 1998, World Marathon bronze medallist in 2001 and 2003, Olympic Gold Medallist in 2004, and European Champ in August of this year. Championship style races are his forte, not time trials, and the NY course is more suited for championship racers. However, Baldini is coming off of a marathon less than 3 months ago at the European champs and he ran a disappointing 62:42 for the Half Marathon at the Bupa Great North Run (losing to Ramaala and Ritzenhein among others). But don't let this totally discourage you about his chances as lately he has run a few shorter races and had some good training runs in Italy and is pleased with his preparation.

The Other American Hopes: Culpepper and Ritzenhein
New York has come a long way since the dark days the final few years of the 1990s when top Americans just didn't show up at the race. In addition to Meb, the race has prominent Americans Alan Culpepper and the young upstart Dathan Ritzenhein, not to mention the blue collar Pete Gilmore (2:12:45 at Boston this year).  We like Gilmore's blue-collar roots as he competed for a long time without a shoe contract (like LetsRun.com co-founder Weldon Johnson) so we guess we'll give him a pass for signing with a company that blatantly steals copyrightable material from others including LetsRun.com.

Just 2 years ago, Alan Culpepper and Meb Keflezighi were mentioned in the same breath and considered near equals in the running world. Both multiple times USA champs at 10k, Culpepper defeated Meb at the 2004 Olympic Marathon Trials. Meb, however, then went on to Olympic silver and followed it up with 3 World Marathon Major top 3 finishes. Culpepper has performed admirably, 4th at Boston in 2005 and 5th this year, but it's a far cry from Meb who has not only gotten an Olympic medal but has contended for the win in NY and Boston. The knock on Culpepper is he'll run solid but won't contend for the win. This year at Boston, he was more aggressive than usual and tried to go with Meb on a fast early pace and ended up fading to 5th. Will he put caution aside in NY? The slower pace in NY may be beneficial to him.

Dathan Ritzenhein heads into uncharted waters in NY, as it is his marathon debut, but he definitely appears to be willing to put caution aside. Ritz is considered by many to be the future of American long distance running. We say that in the present tense but Ritz has been considered by many to be the future of American distance running since he was a high school phenom and won a bronze medal as at the Junior World Cross Country Champs, before going on to win the NCAA XC Champs. And from his pre-race comments, Ritz isn't just going to NY hoping to get his feet wet. After he ran 61:26 for 3rd at the Great North Run (a run that impressed Baldini) last month, Ritz told the IAAF, "If I'm 10th (in NY), that would be a bad day. After today I expect to do well. I may even win it."

Everyone we've talked to has told us Ritz is made for the marathon and has tested unbelievably in physiological tests. Can Ritzenhein be the next Alberto Salazar? Salazar won his first of 3 straight NYs in 1980 (2:09:41) while still in college. Or will Ritz, like many before him, find his marathon debut to be humbling? Ritzenhein talked big about medalling before the 2005 World XC Champs and went home with one of the worst races of his career in 62nd place. Ramaala, a great half marathoner who struggled at first in the marathon, had words of caution for Ritz after the Great North Run: "With Dathan's background he should be good at the half marathon. The marathon is hard. Even if you jog, it's hard."

Others to Watch:
Even if Ritzenhein were to duplicate Salazar's feat by running extremely well in his debut, he'll have a tougher time winning because the marathon major fields are much deeper than in Salazar's day. Lots of guys have shown that given the right day they can run fast. And while the ability to run 2:06 under ideal conditions has never been as important in NY, the race does have some guys besides the stars mentioned above who have run fast times elsewhere. Most of them, however, appear to be on the decline. Titus Munji ran 2:06:15 in Berlin in his 2nd marathon in 2003, but has not done much since. William Kipsang ran 2:06:39 also in his 2nd marathon in 2003, then ran 2:07 in 2004, and 2:08 in 2005. Raymond Kipkoech ran 2:06:47 in 2002 and has not run under 2:09 since.

Rodgers Rop is one runner who has shown the ability to run well in NY. He was Boston and NY champ in 2002, and came back the next year to finish 2nd in New York. Rop had a few down years after that but rebounded with a 2:07:34 pr in London this April for 6th. Rop is only 30, but most would believe that his best marathon years are behind him.

Budweiser Longshot Tomas Nyariki
Nyariki is one of the ChasingKimbia guys whose preparations have been so poignantly chronicled on ChasingKimbia.com. The ChasingKimbia website says this is Nyariki's marathon debut, but he ran 2:21:50 last year in Chicago. Nonetheless, one could argue this Nyariki's first marathon while in top form. Nyariki was a star at shorter distances and even earned a bronze medal at the World Champs at 5k in 1997. A brutal car jacking in 2003 that caused him to lose his eye seemed to put an end to his running career. However, he made a comeback last year, and really seemed to approach his old form this year. He was the upset winner of the Beach to Beacon Road Race and was 2nd at the Falmouth Road Race, and then defeated Meb Keflezighi at the NYC Half Marathon. So clearly he has the speed necessary to win the marathon. The endurance is another matter, but we're sure there are more than a few of you who will be rooting for him to pull the upset on Sunday.

Predictions:
Tergat is one of our favorite runners of all time. But we just think he's not 100% fit. And while we're not picking Ritz for our top 5, we know most of you will really be watching (and rooting for) him like ourselves.  We're just a bit superstitious and must admit we are a bit snake-bitten after believing he'd do awesome at world xc in 2005 only to see him bomb so we'll keep the expectations down this time.
1) Hendrick Ramaala 2) Paul Tergat 3) Meb Keflezighi 4) Nyariki 5) Culpepper


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