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LRC: 2008 ING New York City Marathon Women's Preview
by LetsRun.com
October  31, 2008

ING New York City Marathon race director Mary Wittenberg says the 2008 women's race features the greatest field in the race's history and we're certainly not going to argue with her, as the amount of talent amassed on the women's side is impressive. The days where a world marathon major only has one or two truly elite women in the women's field are officially over.

The field features the two fastest women in history in Great Britain's Paula Radcliffe and Kenya's Catherine Ndereba. Throw in last year's world marathon majors champion Gete Wami, 2008 Boston champion Dire Tune, 2006 Boston Champion Rita Jeptoo, 2008 Rotterdam champion Lyubov Morgunova, plus the debuts of American Kara Goucher and New Zealand's Kim Smith and you have a remarkable field. And we haven't even mentioned past champions Tegla Loroupe (1994 and 1995) and Ludmila Petrova (2000) or 2000 Olympic champion Lidia Simon, who we think are past their primes.

We'll break the field down in order of who we view as most likely to win on Sunday. Undoubtedly, we're starting with Paula Radcliffe. Radcliffe comes into New York after suffering her 2nd straight Olympic Games disappointment. In our minds, her Olympic Games disappointment makes us actually more bullish about Radcliffe's prospects as we know she's very hungry and motivated for redemption.

When she is on her game, Radcliffe has proven during her career that no one is close to her in the marathon. We think she'll be on her game on Sunday in New York and thus we expect her to win.

Radcliffe's world record of 2:15:25 is 3:22 faster than the #2 all time of 2:18:47 set by Ndereba. That's 7.7 seconds per mile, which is almost 24 seconds exactly over 5k. Thus if you have a 14:10 5k and a 14:34 5k runner racing each other, would you ever rightfully pick the 14:34 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. Her pace of 5:07 per mile is very fast. She said this week she only took a few days off after Beijing. Thus she's had two-plus months of good training. Two months of good training plus a few months of cross training before that are more than enough for Radcliffe. Expect her to win.

Ethiopia's Gete Wami is our second choice for Sunday. We're picking her 2nd because her motivation to finish 2nd is huge. She has 500,000 reasons to finish 2nd or higher because if she does so, she will take home the World Marathon Majors title and $500,000 for the 2nd straight year. 
While her fortune in 2008 hasn't been all that great, Wami has been running well in all of our most recent world marathon majors. Last year, she was 2nd in London, 1st in Berlin and then 2nd in New York.

This year, Wami was with the leaders in London before falling in a collision at a water station. Yet she still managed to gamely rally for third. 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, so far we have overlooked 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 dropping 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.

Catherine Ndereba, our third choice, comes into New York on a high after her 2nd straight silver medal performance in the Olympics in Beijing. Recently called by Chicago Tribune writer 
Phil Hersh as the greatest marathoner in history, Ndereba certainly can't be discounted.

We're not picking Ndereba for a top two finish for a number of reasons. First of all, we think the emotional and physical letdown after a taxing Olympic performance is significant. Remember, the Olympic champion Constantina Tomescu Dita was only a distant fourth in Chicago on October 12th. Secondly, we think both Wami and Radcliffe have more motivation to do well here.

But Ndereba very well could end up in the winner's circle. She's proven that she's recovered nicely from the race as she was 2nd in the ING Philadelphia Distance Run on September 21st in 1:10:51.

27-year-old Kenyan Rita Jeptoo, the 2006 Boston winner, has only the sixth-best personal best in the field at 2:23:38, but in our mind she definitely deserves to be ranked in our top five because she's in the prime of her career. 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 second-fastest half marathon of her career to get the win in Lisbon in 1:09:48 on September 28th - four weeks out from New York. That race was very similar to the 1:09:56 she ran six 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 that year in 2:33. We think Jeptoo is a very solid top five pick, but don't expect her to challenge for the win. Her Boston win was her only win in the marathon in her last seven tries at the distance since 2005.

American marathon debutante Kara Goucher is our #5 pick. Even though she's never run a marathon, Goucher can't be taken lightly as she's the 9th-fastest in history at the half marathon. Goucher 
ran a 1:06:57 half marathon last September, defeating Paula Radcliffe in the process. 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.


Half Marathon PB

Marathon PB

Paula Radcliffe



Susan Chepkemei 



Lornah Kiplagat



Ingrid Kristiansen



Masako Chiba



Elana Meyer



Mary Keitany 



Esther Wanjiru-Maina



Kara Goucher



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 is she for the marathon? 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 as 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."

That's a pretty nice compliment.

Former Providence Friar Kim Smith of New Zealand is another rookie marathoner who can't be overlooked. Smith has better personal bests than Goucher at both the 5k (14:45.93 vs. 14:55.02) and 10k (30:35.54 vs 30:55.16). Moreover, Smith is 26 to Goucher's 30. However, Smith has never run even a half marathon, so we really are just speculating how she'll be able to handle the 26.2 mile distance. It certainly wouldn't surprise us to see her do amazing and never look back and become a full-time marathoner.

Russian Lyubov Morgunova, who was the winner in Rotterdam this year in a PR of 2:25:12 at the age of 37, is another runner that can't be totally ignored.

In addition to Wami, there is one other strong Ethiopian entrant in the field. Dire Tune, the only Ethiopian to finish the Olympic marathon (she was 16th), was the winner of the Boston marathon this spring, so we're sure most media outlets are picking her for the top five. We aren't, though, because she seems over-raced. This is her fourth marathon of the year and we think that's too much to handle. She's only 23, so if anyone in the field could handle four marathons within 10 months it would be her.

While we are picking Wami second, we are a bit worried about both her and Tune's chances. A source that we trust, but who wishes to remain anonymous, wrote us earlier in the week saying "the Ethiopians were trained into the ground by the Federation" leading up to the Olympics and would be unlikely to run well in New York. To support his point, he pointed out how Ethiopia's third entrant in the marathon in Beijing for marathon, Berhane Adere, bombed in Chicago in early October where she was just 10th. So don't be surprised if both Ethiopians struggle on Sunday.

One person who we don't think will struggle will be Radcliffe. Look for the fastest marathoner in history to add another significant chapter to her already impressive marathoning resume.

LetsRun.com Predictions: 
#1 Paula Radcliffe, #2 Gete Wami, #3 Catherine Ndereba#4 Rita Jeptoo#5 Kara Goucher

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