Where Your Dreams Become Reality
LRC: 2008 ING New York City Marathon Women's Top 5 Countdown
1. Paula Radcliffe (Great Britain)
Radcliffe's world record of 2:15:25 is 3:22 faster than the #2 all time of 2:18:47 set by Catherine Ndereba. That's 7.7 seconds per mile, which is almost 24 seconds exactly over 5k. Thus if you have a 14:00 5k and a 14:24 5k runner racing each other, would you ever rightfully pick the 14:24 person to win? Not unless they were injured or out of shape.
Radcliffe's stellar 10 mile run last week proves that she's in shape. Last Sunday, Radcliffe set a British record of 51:11 for 10 miles. 5:07 pace is very fast. She said this week she only took a few days off after Beijing. Thus she's had 2 plus months of good training. 2 months of good training plus a few months of cross training before that are more than enough for Radcliffe. Expect her to win.
We know that Radcliffe didn't do well in Beijing. She finished 23rd in Beijing, while Ndereba was 2nd. But Radcliffe basically tried to run a marathon on close to zero actual running during her training phase. To finish 23rd was a testament to how great Radcliffe really is. She's healthy and very hungry for redemption. Ndereba, on the other hand, took much more time off after Beijing and is probably fairly content given her silver. Tomescu Dita failed to deliever in Chicago after winning Olympic gold in Beijing and we think Ndereba will do the same in New York.
There are a lot of reasons to think that Wami may leave New York $500,000 richer for the second straight year. While her fortune in 2008 hasn't been all that great, Wami has been running well and enters New York in great form. Last year, she was 2nd in London, 1st in Berlin and then 2nd in New York. Those three straight top-2 finishes in the majors earned her the Word Marathon Majors Title and $500,000.
This year, Wami was with the leaders in London before falling in a collision at a water station. She still managed to gamely rally for third there. Recently, she set a personal best in the half marathon when she ran 1:08:51 to win the BUPA Great North Run on October 5th. In that race, despite the fact that it came down to a sprint finish with three people finishing within two seconds of each other, Wami said afterwards that she didn't feel challenged in the race. To run a PR and feel good doing it is certainly a good sign.
So what's there not to like? Well, we did overlook her DNF in the Olympic marathon. However, her DNF doesn't really scare us at all, as it was reported that she had intestinal problems and ended up droppping out before mile 20. If you get out before mile 20, you likely don't need much recovery time. Additionally, she proved last year by winning in Berlin and getting second in New York, that she doesn't need a lot of recovery time between marathons anyway. Even if she had run all of the Olympic marathon, we wouldn't be worried about her current form thanks to her recent half marathon performance.
However, we don't think Wami will win for two reasons. 1) No one in the field (or in women's running in history) has ever been in even the same league as Paula Radcliffe in the marathon and 2) She'll be too worried about finishing second to insure she gets the world marathon majors title that she's unlikely to take a big-time risk that is so often needed to win. But she's certainly a solid pick for 2nd.
It certainly was hard to pick against her but we believe the two women we have ranked ahead of her both have more incentive to do well in this race (we'll let the cat out of the bag and state who we are ranking ahead of her. to prove our point). Paula Radcliffe desperately wants to make amends for her 2nd straight Olympic disaster while Gete Wami is trying to win $500,000.
Additionally, we'd point out that Ndereba hasn't won a world marathon major since Boston in 2005 (although she did win the World Championships last year). Moreover, Ndereba has raced 11 times this year and finished first only twice. She runs well most times out as she's been top three in 8 of her 11 races but winning isn't the norm for her anymore like it once was.
#4 Rita Jeptoo (Kenya)
Jeptoo ran New York one other time, in 2006, and she was fourth, so fourth is an appropriate pick for her in this race.
Jeptoo had one prep race leading into New York and it was a pretty good one. She ran the 2nd-fastest half marathon of her career to get the win in Lisbon in 1:09:48 on September 28th - 4 weeks out from London. That race was very similar to the 1:09:56 she ran 6 weeks prior to her win in Boston.
1:09:48 isn't incredibly fast, but it may be as fast as she wants to be if she's doing proper marathon training. In 2007, she ran 1:07:08 four weeks prior to Boston, yet she was only fourth in 2:33 that year.
We think Jeptoo is a very solid top 5 pick, but don't expect her to challenge for the win. Her Boston win was her only win in the marathon in her last 7 tries at the distance since 2005.
Yes, Kara Goucher has never run a marathon and she is facing a world class field. However, our reasoning for putting Goucher in the top 5 is very simple. Goucher ran a 1:06:57 half marathon last September, defeating Paula Radcliffe in the process. Thus she has the 2nd-fastest personal best in the half marathon of anyone in the 2008 New York field (Paula Radcliffe has run 1:05:40) and she's the only one in the field who is undefeated against Radcliffe in the half marathon.
The half marathon is normally a very good indicator of future marathon success. Don't believe us? Look no farther than our 2008 Chicago Men's Preview when we said that, given his success in the half marathon, Evans Cheruiyot was the man to beat and we were proven correct.
Or better yet, look at the chart below listing the eight women in history who have run faster than Goucher in the half marathon and their marathon PBs. All of the women have run under 2:30 and 7 of the 8 have run 2:25 or better with 6 of the 8 at 2:23 or better.
It's certainly not a guarantee, but history is clearly on Goucher's side. Additionally, Goucher seems to be in good form as she easily won the US Women's 10 mile championships on October 5th, destroying the field by running 53:16 (5:19.6 pace) for the 10 mile race in the middle of a 100-mile week.
She's clearly fit and talented. The only question is how well suited for the marathon is she? Well her coach Alberto Salazar, who was one of the best marathoners in the world in the early 1980s, certainly thinks she's very well suited for it. Salazar recently was quoted in a profile on Kara Goucher on kgw.com saying, "I told her (Kara) that, you know, Kara you have a chance at medaling at the 5 and 10 if you stay there, but in the marathon, you can be the best in the world. I think she is that good and that suited for it."
Note: We will state that we thought long and hard about putting New Zealand's Kim Smith in the #5 spot because Smith has better personal bests at the 5k and 10k than Goucher and Smith is 26 to Goucher's 30. However, Smith has never run even a half marathon, so it's if we put her in the top 5, it would be 100% pure speculation. But don't be surprised if either one of them runs really well on Sunday and becomes a full-time marathoner.