Where Your Dreams Become Reality
LRC's Coverage Of 2009 NYC Half Marathon: Tadessa Tola Dominates As Does Paula Radcliffe
8/16/2009 - New York, NY - 2009 has been one of the mildest summers in New York city history, as there were no 90 degree days in Manhattan all summer until earlier this week. However, the forecast for Sunday predicted one of the warmest days of the year in Manhattan with a forecast high of 90 degrees. The weather certainly lived up to it's billing, as when the competitors toed the starting line, the conditions were very poor for distance running - 76 degrees with 80% humidity.
Well, apparently someone forgot to tell 21-year-old defending champ Tadesse Tola of Ethiopia that those type of conditions are less than ideal, as he just totally ignored the weather. Tola did his best Sammy Wanjiru impersonation from last year's Beijing Olympics and hammered from the gun and was rewarded with a comfortable repeat victory in 61:06 over Moroccan Ridouane Harroufi, who outsprinted American Ryan Hall to get 2nd in 62:32 to Hall's 62:35.
On a day when almost all of the competitors must have been assuming the start would be conservative, Tola waited all of 30 or 40 meters before pressing the pace. After making sure he didn't fall in getting off the line, Tola furiously pumped his arms and hammered to the front. Within a minute, Tola had 4 to 5 seconds on the rest of the field. Only one runner would dare to try to come with Tola, who was out on a blistering pace, and that was non other than 2004 New York City marathon winner Hendrick Ramaala of South Africa, who in the pre-race press conference for the NYC Half on Friday went to great length to explain to LetsRun.com how at age 37, he really hoped the start would be conservative as he couldn't handle being "lactic" in the first 5k.
Of course, the fact that Ramaala was the one that tried to go with Tola shouldn't have been a big surprise, as Ramaala is famous for always going for it and he did admit to us on Friday, "It's always better to wait but I'm not the waiting type."
Clearly not, as after 3 minutes, Ramaala caught Tola and the two would pass one mile in 4:23. However, the two didn't stay together for long, as by two miles (8:58), Tola was out front and by 5k (14:09), Tola had 14 seconds on Ramaala (14:23) and 18 seconds on the chase pack (14:27), which included American Abdi Abdirahman. Ryan Hall was just 4 seconds behind the chase pack and would join it just after 5k.
The rest of the race saw Tola's lead just get bigger and bigger. By 10k (28:41), Tola had 41 seconds on the chase pack. At 15k (43:02), Tola led Hall and Abdirahman by 1:09. Just after 15k and just before the 44 minute mark, when it looked like the race was officially over, Tola did encounter some difficulty. He suddenly grimaced and grabbed his left leg before veering off a few seconds later to the water station and grabbing two or three cups of water and dumping them on his leg.
Tola's smooth gait suddenly turned into an uneven limp but his leg pain which he described as being a "muscle" problem never caused him to stop clicking off sub-five minute miles. After the race, it was learned that the runners behind Tola had no idea that he was encountering some difficulty and slowing on the hot and humid day. In reality, even if they had known, it wouldn't have mattered, as only a DNF would have stopped Tola from winning, as the chase pack - led by Hall and Abdirahman - was slowing even more than Tola in the sultry conditions.
Tola's 5k split from 15k to 20k was by far his slowest of the race, 14:54, (particularly when one considers it was a perfectly flat 5k and the first 10k was pretty hilly), but he still ran it 17 seconds faster than Ryan Hall.
With victory easily in hand, almost as just to prove absolutely that there was no doubt on Sunday who was the best runner in Manhattan, Tola even ran his last 1.1k faster than Ryan Hall and Hall was involved in a sprint finish with Harroufi.
In the end, Tadesse Tola had definitely done something special in New York for the third straight time, as in addition to winning the half last year in a sprint finish, he also set a new course record in the Healthy Kidney 10K in April with a 27:48.
After the race, Tola was obviously thrilled to have defended his crown and explained his hammering from the gun with a simple, "I wanted to start fast to claim some space."
Tola said he hopes to be back in New York to for his marathon debut on November 1, but NYRR head Mary Wittenberg said nothing had been confirmed yet and Tola said he'd let his manager ultimately decide what is best for him.
3rd placer Ryan Hall was more than satisfied with his 62:35 effort.
"I was really pleased with the race. My rhythm felt good," said Hall. "(In November) I should be able to run this pace twice over," added Hall, who said that in 2007 when he was 5th at USA cross country for 12k in San Diego, he was able to replicate that same pace for 42.2 km in London just 8 week later when he ran 2:06:17.
Hall's claim that he will be able to replicate this pace over 42.2 km in November might seem a bit incredulous, as that would give him a 2:05:10 and the New York marathon course record is 2:07:43, but the stats do back up Hall's claim 100% about what happened in San Diego. In San Diego, Hall ran 35:50 for 12k, which comes out to 2:59.2 per km. 2:06:17 for the marathon comes out to 2:59.5 per km.
Regardless of whether one thinks a 2:05 is possible in New York (when pressed about his claim, Hall paused and said that he believes anything is possible with God's help), Hall clearly is pleased with where he is training-wise right now. "I think I'm on the right track," said Hall. "I just need to get stronger."
"Today was a big confidence booster. Even if I don't run any faster (in Philadelphia on September 20th), I'll be confident going into the marathon," said Hall who is clearly is a student of the sport and knows that 62:35 in a half in warm conditions is plenty fast enough to win in New York in November.
As he did in his pre-race comments, Hall once again referenced how last year, Marilson Gomes dos Santos won the ING NYC marathon just 3 weeks after running 63:14 for the half marathon at the World Half Marathon Championships.
"The weather was more challenging than I thought it would be. I'm looking forward to those cold days," said Hall.
All together, Hall just seemed extremely upbeat after the race. "I stayed positive out there and I stayed excited about competing."
To get a feel of his mood, please see the video with his full post-race comments on the left. The only negativity he expressed was a slight annoyance with the fact that Harroufi did zero pacesetting work as Hall, Abdi and Harroufi tried in vain to catch Tola. But Hall really enjoyed running most of the race with his fellow American Abdi Abdirahman, who stayed with Hall until the last 1.1km and ended up 4th in 62:51. "It was really fun to work with Abdi and to outnumber the Africans for once," said Hall.
After trying to stay with Tola early, Ramaala ended up with his best finish in three tries at the half distance in New York, as he finished 5th in 64:02. After the press conference, LetsRun.com spoke exclusively with Ramaala - a runner whom Ryan Hall said he has always loved to watch run and whom Hall said he has always found to be inspirational due to his gutsy tactics. Hall said that when he saw Ramaala go after Tola in the opening stages of the race that he "wished him the best of luck."
LetsRun.com asked Ramaala why, after saying it's better to wait during his pre-race press comments, that he was the only guy to try to go with Tola.
"I thought I could maybe sneak away with (Tola)," said the savvy veteran, Ramaala. "I thought he might want some company and I thought we'd help each other. But he didn't want the company. He didn't like it. The guy wanted to run the race alone."
"But I actually enjoyed the race. I was doing very well until I got a stitch at 10k. I felt strong. This is my best (half) so far in New York so I'm improving," said Ramaala who added that he hopes to be added to the ING New York Marathon elite field on November 1st.
But Ramaala's most interesting comments came when we asked him how he thought Tola would do in his marathon debut, considering that Ramaala said prior to the race that the person who won the half wasn't likely to be the person to win in November. Ramaala was surprised to learn that the young Tola was planning on racing a fall marathon.
"He wants to run a marathon? Oh they must bring him here," said an almost giddy Ramaala. "I want to see him try (to run away from the field at the start) in the 'long race.'"
Women's Race: Paula Wins - But Is It Fast Enough?
Even though the women's race featured three of the greatest women's marathoners in history, marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe did what most thought she would do - win the race easily. Radcliffe won in 69:45, just missing the 69:43 course record that Catherine Ndereba ran in 2006.
Despite the win, Radcliffe said she was unsure if she'd run in next weekend's Berlin World Championships. "The time was a little bit slower than I wanted, but I was trying to keep some in the tank (for next week) and run a little controlled," said Radcliffe, who ran with Ethiopia's Mamitu Daska for the first 10k (32:46) before pulling away and earning a comfortable victory, as Daska was 2nd in 71:04. Ndereba ended up 3rd in 71:56.
"Cardiovascularly, I felt pretty comfortable, but my legs felt a little heavier than maybe I would have wanted them to in the last couple of miles. We'll see how my body pulls through the next couple of days. At this stage I'm not really sure (if I'll run in Berlin)," added Radcliffe, who said effort definitely "wasn't eyeballs out" as the goal was to run a "controlled pace" and to "cruise" the last few miles.
"I felt the humidity over the last four or five miles."
While Radcliffe wasn't going all out and while the course was fairly hilly during the opening loop in Central Park and the conditions were extremely hot and muggy, it should be noted as was pointed out by Paula that her time of 69:45 was "probably one of the slowest halves" she's ever run.
The stats actually show that it was the slowest of eight career half marathons for Radcliffe, whose previous slowest half marathon was a 69:37 effort in her debut at the distance in 1999.
Daska, the 2nd place finisher, was thrilled with her showing. "It was wonderful to run with Paula because she is famous and to finish 2nd behind her was even greater, "said Daska, who was hampered by menstrual cramps during the race.
One person who clearly must have been absolutely crushed by her showing on Sunday was American marathon record holder Deena Kastor (2:19:36). On Friday, Kastor talked about possibly setting a new American record when she runs the Bank of American Chicago Marathon in October, but on Sunday, she only managed a 73:48 7th-place showing.
Kastor's showing was so disappointing that no one made her talk to the media even though all of the pre-race press releases stated that no matter where Kastor and Hall finished, they would both make appearances at the post-race press conference.
The race really was an utter disaster for Kastor. It wasn't like her time could be explained by an overly ambitious start. Kastor, who talked about battling with Radcliffe for the win on Friday, was never in the race. Kastor's first 5k was only 16:44 compared to Radcliffe's 16:16, and things got progressively way worse from there, as her next three 5ks were run in 17:20, 17:41, and 18:04.
At the pre-race press conference, Kastor seemed pleased with her training. American distance fans can only hope that it's taking some time for her race performances to catch up with her training.