Meb Keflezighi Wins 40th ING New York City Marathon
Meb's Win Is Part Of Resurgent Day For Americans, As 6 Place In Top 10
by: Robert Johnson
November 1, 2009 - 27 years of waiting ended on Sunday as American Meb Keflezighi powered away from Robert Cheruiyot at the 24 mile mark and went on to capture the 40th ING New York City Marathon in 2:09:15, and in the process became the first American man to win in New York since Alberto Salazar in 1982.
An emotional Keflezighi got the win in New York as he ran the final few steps with tears in his eyes and then after hitting the finishing tape, Keflezighi did the sign of the cross, dropped down and did a push up and kissed the pavement at the bottom of the push up, got up and re-crossed himself, and pointed to the sky before breaking into sobs of joy.
"Part of it is just visualizing your dream and your dreams have become
reality. You know, also the other part as I'm running is (I'm thinking of) Ryan, Ryan
Shay. That's what I was most crying about was that and how proud he
would have been with me," said Meb when asked to describe his emotions at the end of the race.
In the 25th mile, Keflezighi had passed the spot in Central Park where his former teammate Ryan Shay had died during the Olympic Trials race in Central Park in 2007.
Meb was just the first of several Americans to have successful days in New York, as a record 6 US runners finished in the top 10 on the 5-borough course.
The race featured a modest pace at the start, as a pack of 12 or 13 guys hit the halfway mark in 65:11 (4:58.3 pace). The lead group included 4 Americans in Keflezighi, Ryan Hall, Jorge Torres and Abdi Abdirahman.
As is often the case, the real running didn't start until the runners came into Manhattan and hit 1st Avenue just past the 16 mile mark, but before that had even occurred, three of the biggest pre-race favorites were out of contention. 3-time London and 2-time New York champion Martin Lel had withdrawn from the race just days before the start. Half marathon specialist Patrick Makau of Kenya who had run 2:06 in his marathon debut last Spring and whom LetsRun.com predicted would
win the race in our pre-race preview, dropped out before the 15km mark. And lastly, defending champion and two-time New York winner Marilson Gomes Dos Santos of Brazil started to fade on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge as the lead runners picked up the effort on the biggest hill of the course as they made their way into Manhattan. Dos Santos would end up a DNF himself, as he'd drop out after running a 6:16 23rd mile.
Once on First Avenue, the pace picked up a great deal. After a 4:58.3-paced opening half, miles 15 and 16 had been run in 5:07 and 5:05, but mile 16 features roughly 100 meters of climbing, so the 5:05 15th mile likely equates to probably a 4:50-ish effort. If one needed proof that the runners were exerting more effort as they came into Manhattan, they got it immediately, as mile 17 was 4:42 and mile 18 was 4:39 for the leaders. The 2nd consecutive sub-4:45 mile broke up the lead pack of 11, as
only 6 runners and one American (Keflezighi) were able to stay with the hot pace.
The six still in the lead group at mile 18 were as follows: You had the American Keflezighi, the 2004 Olympic silver medallist who had never won a marathon in his life, two Moroccans in Jaouad Gharib, a two-time world champion and a guy who had run 2:05:27 in London in April, and Abderrahime Bouramdane, a former Boston runner-up,and three Kenyans in Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot, a 4-time Boston champion, James
Kwambai, the Kenyan record holder who had run 2:04:27 in his last marathon and 21-year-old Jackson Kotut Kipkoech, who came into the race largely unkown despite his 2:08:07 PR from January.
It was the novice Kipkoech who had been injecting much of the pace into the race on 1st Avenue, but he soon found himself to be in difficulty. Just before the 20 mile mark, Gharib was the first to crack, as he fell off and by 21, the lead pack was down to four, as Kipkoech couldn't stay with the leaders either. So the race was down to four.
At this point, Keflezighi showed that he meant business, as the pace was ratcheted down to one final mile in the 4:40s, as Meb led the way to a 4:48 22nd mile that ended both Bourmadane and, shockingly, Kwambai's hopes for victory. Yes, an American was pushing the pace and dropping a 2:04 marathoner in the process.
The race was now a one-on-one affair - Keflezighi versus Cheruiyot.
Two Kenyans Really Hit The Wall
Interestingly enough, despite the fact that Gharib was the first to go of the final 6, he would end up beating the majority of the final 6, as the savvy veteran hung in there and rallied to a third-place 2:10:25 finish, whereas Kwambai and Kikpoech would really struggle and both end up totally out of the money (top 10 finishers).
Despite being in the final four, Kwambai was soon of the race. When Meb ran 4:48 for mile 22, Kwambai managed a 5:00 but almost instantly his day was totally done. He barely made it to mile 23 (it took him 17 minutes to do it, so I'm wondering if he was hurt) but no further. Kipkoech would end up 11th in 2:15:10, as his final four miles were run in 5:29, 5:59, 6:14 and 7:09. Bouramdane would end up in 5th in 2:12:44.
Meb v. Cheruiyot The race was down to two, and Keflezighi would make his move just before the 24 mile mark. After likely sensing that Cheruiyot was tiring and that the pace was slowing on the hill that runs from 23 to 23.5, Keflezighi made his move. As he entered Central Park at 90th Street, Meb made his bid for glory. At the 24 mile mark, Cheruiyot was desperately trying to maintain contact with Meb and stay within striking distance, but the gap that was already 4 seconds as they passed the mile 24 and the margin was growing larger and larger with each step.
By mile 25, the gap was up to 12 seconds and it was apparent that an American was finally going to win again in New York City.
With a half mile to go, Meb's lead was large enough that he got to enjoy it a bit. It was
clear that he was having a race for the ages, as he completed his negative-split 2:09:15 (65:11, 64:04) win in style with a 4:57 26th mile, which gave him a new marathon PR, as he'd run 2:09:22 on the pancake-flat London course earlier this year. Of Meb's final 10 miles, all but the uphill 24th mile were under 5:00.
Behind Meb, Cheruiyot was clearly the 2nd best, as he would end up as the only other competitor under 2:10, finishing in 2:09:56.
In third and fourth were two runners who had avoided totally blowing up like some of the runners in the lead group.
Despite falling off the lead group just prior to 20 mile mark, Gharib measured his effort and was rewarded with a 2:10:25 third-place showing.
Coming in fourth in 2:10:36 was a terribly disappointed American, Ryan Hall.
"It was a disappointing day for me to be honest. I felt like I was in
better shape than that," said Hall. "It's really disappointing when you don't feel like you did as well as
you were expecting to do. I was looking at my splits
out there, and I was like, man, I was doing 18-mile tempo runs at
five-minute pace, and (hitting) the same split I hit today at 7,000 feet in
practice in the middle of 130-mile weeks. So when you start to see
that, it's easy to get down on yourself."
Analyzing Hall's Performance
Meb Keflezighi's Final 10 Miles - 4:42, 4:39, 4:47, 4:50, 4:53, 4:48, 4:53, 5:03, 4:50, 4:57
Rob. Cheruiyot's Final 10 Miles - 4:42, 4:39, 4:47, 4:50, 4:53, 4:48, 4:53, 5:07, 5:08, 5:19
Ryan Hall's Final 10 Miles - 4:42, 4:47, 5:00, 5:01, 5:06, 5:00, 5:02, 5:11, 4:54, 4:57
Since Hall was hitting 5 minute miles on 30k tempo runs at 7,000 feet, it's easy to understand why he was upset today. Today's performance clearly shows what Hall thought - he was very fit coming into the race. Despite losing contact with the lead group before mile 18 and before many other runners who would end up dropping out or staggering home, Hall never really blew up in today's marathon and held it together pretty well. He ran a very even 2:10:36 (65:12-65:24). If one looks at his splits more closely, he or
she will see that Hall actually ran his last 17.2 km at a faster average pace than the first 25km, as he was running 4:59.5 pace at 25k but ended up at 4:58.9 pace.
More impressive than that was the fact that Hall had the 2nd-best finish of anyone in the field. Ryan had sub-5:00 minute 25th and 26th miles and he ran his last 5 miles faster than everyone in the field except for Meb. Ryan covered miles 21 through 26 in 25:04 to Cheruiyot's 25:06 to Meb's 24:31. Hall's final 3.2 miles (16:10) were only 15 seconds slower than Meb's (15:55).
Hall seems to very much be a rhythm runner right now and has trouble with sudden pace changes, as the 4:39 18th mile caused him to lose contact with the lead group. A similar thing happened this spring in Boston, as Hall fell off the lead group before many others but rallied to finish 3rd.
Naturally, a runner of Hall's credentials (2:06:17 PR) is going to be disappointed probably every time he doesn't PR or win. But in the end, Hall ended up 4th in a field where he had the 4th best PR of anyone in the field. So sure there were reasons to be upset, but also reasons for optimism.
And despite his own personal disappointment, Hall was very pleased to see his neighbor and occasional training partner Keflezighi win. "Someone yelled to me that Meb was going
to win, I was passing mile like 23 or 24. I was just - I smiled and I
was like, man, that's awesome."
Other Americans Shine
Behind Hall, 2008 Olympian Jorge Torres had a very good debut in New York, as he maintained contact with the leaders past mile 17 before holding on to finish 7th in 2:13:00. Hansons-Brooks runner Nick Arciniaga ran a very smart and even race (66:41 1st half, 67:05 2nd half) and picked off a ton of people to finish 8th thanks to a big PR of 2:13:46 (previous PR was 2:16:58). Abdirahman ended up 9th in 2:14:00 and Jason Lehmkuhle was 10th in 2:14:39.
Two former US Olympians did struggle, as 2004 US Olympian Dan Browne dropped out prior to the 17 mile mark after hitting halfway in 1:10:09. The final competitive marathon of 2008 Olympian Brian Sell's career was a disaster, as he ran 2:24:59 after hitting halfway in 66:46.