2011 ING New York City Marathon Women's Race Recap: Mary Keitany Beats Herself
Keitany Goes Out At Suicidal Pace & Puts Up Heroic Fight But Finishes Third As Unheralded Firehiwot Dado Grabs Win
November 6, 2011
The first sentence in our ING NYC Marathon women's preview said "the women's race is Mary Keitany's to lose."
Make no mistake about it, Mary Keitany lost the 2011 ING NYC Marathon. She did it in dramatic fashion as she set a near world record pace the first half only to have the wheels completely fall off the second half. The big benefactor was unheralded Firehiwot Dado of Ethiopia, who passed Keitany during the 26th mile to get the biggest win of her career by far.
Keitany Running All Alone Like Grete
Keitany, wearing a retro adidas jersey honoring nine-time New York City Marathon champ Grete Waitz, who passed away earlier this year (2 days after Keitany's 2:19:19 win in London), did her best Grete Waitz impersonation early, as she was dominating on the streets of New York. Keitany, the world half marathon record holder, absolutely blitzed the early miles of the course. She ran the first 10k that includes the steep Verrazano bridge hill in 31:54 (5:09 pace) and was nearly a minute up on the field. Never before have we had to think about someone losing a marathon in the first 10k, but in hindsight, Keitany lost the marathon in the first 10k as the pace was too hot. She slowed a little bit the next 10km (32:27) but was still on 2:15 pace.
Keitany Faster At Halfway Than Paula In Her 2:15:25 World Record
Keitany's hit the halfway mark in 1:07:56, faster than the 1:08:02 Paula Radcliffe split in her 2:15:25 World Record on the much easier London course. Keitany was now 2:17 in front of the chase pack of four, which included Rome Marathon champ Dado, Boston Marathon champ Caroline Kilel, former World XC Champ Werkensh Kidane and New York City resident and San Diego champ Buzunesh Deba.
As Keitany started up the Queensboro Bridge at mile 15, her lead was as large as it would get on the day - 2 minutes and 24 seconds.
Keitany ran a 5:47 mile over the bridge and the chasers cut into her lead by 9 seconds by running 5:38. They took off 9 more seconds the next mile and 13 the mile after that. They would have to close the gap quicker than that if they wanted to catch her. However, they didn't start closing any faster. The 19th mile they gained only 5 seconds and on the 20th mile they gained only 11 seconds.
Was Keitany going to hold on?
Chase Pack Down To Two
Keitany's lead at 20 miles was 1:37 as the chase pack became two - Buzunesh Deba and Firehiwot Dado. Keitany was slowing tremendously, but so were the chasers behind her (Keitany ran the 10k from 25k to 35k in 35:24, but the chasers picked up only a minute on her by running 34:23). To catch Keitany, they would have to make up 16 seconds a mile over the final 10k.
Keitany was visibly struggling. She had looked great running 5:09 miles the first 10k. Now, her 21st mile was a 5:45. Her 22nd was a 5:53. The good news for her was her chasers only ran 5:36 and 5:42 these miles. The gap was not closing quite quick enough.
On the 23rd mile, Deba and Dado did a little better, picking up 15 seconds on Keitany as she ran a 5:58. They were still over a minute back (1:02) with 3 miles to go and had only whittled down the gap by 35 seconds the previous 3 miles.
The Central Park Hills
The Central Park hills, however, awaited the struggling Keitany on the 24th mile. She completely fell apart, running a 6:20 mile. The chasers ran their slowest mile of the day at 5:49 but they picked up 31 seconds on her and were now just 30 seconds back.
Being just 30 seconds back was crucial to the chasers because now Keitany was in striking distance and for the first time all day, Deba and Dado saw with their own eyes they could win the New York City Marathon. Rejuvenated, they upped the pace and ran 5:23 on the 25th mile to catch Keitany very quickly. Afterwards, Dado said of first seeing Keitany, "When we did get closer and we saw her, I was very surprised." By 40km (24.85 mi), the 31-second lead was a thing of the past.
Keitany had been hemorrhaging time over the last few miles and nearly everyone in the media room assumed she'd have zero response. Unbelievably, when Deba and Dado, with their newfound sense of pace, caught the fading Keitany, Keitany did not immediately let them pass her. She somehow managed to increase her tempo and briefly took back the lead before running stride-for-stride with the pair for a little while. The ultimate stats will show that she finished third, but she put on a heroic struggle to keep the lead she had held for nearly 24 miles, as Keitany may have run a 6:20 24th mile but her 25th was 5:53 and her 26th was 5:42. But it wasn't enough, for as they ran along 59th street towards Columbus Circle, Dado made one final push for home. Deba, who afterwards would say she was suffering from a cramp, actually cracked before Keitany did.
Dado hit Columbus Circle and re-entered the park seemingly on her way to the biggest victory in her career. At 26 miles, she was 9 seconds up on Deba. With the finish in sight, Deba ignored the effects of the cramp and made a late charge, but it was too little too late as Dado got the win in 2:23:15 to Deba's 2:23:19. Keitany's day ended with a third place in 2:23:38.
Ana Dulce Felix of Portugal, who ran 2:26:30 in her debut in Vienna in April was fourth in 2:25:40, just ahead of Kiwi Kim Smith, who (while not PRing) had her best marathon to date with a 2:25:46.
Keitany Refuses To Question The Early Pace
There is no question Mary Keitany is one of the top marathoners in the world. Her 2:19:19 in London proved that. However, there also is no question in our minds that her fast early pace cost her today's race.
Her fearless (or some might say "reckless") run today may even have won her some admirers, although it did not earn her the laurel wreath. While apparent to us and even casual observers that a more cautious approach would have brought Keitany the victory, Keitany was not second guessing herself after the race. Time and time again, reporters tried to get her to admit in the post-race press conference that she'd gone out too fast, but she was having none of it and said if she came back to New York she would not change her tactics: "I would run the same. I would not change."
Keitany faulted a problem with her right leg as being the reason she could not respond over the final miles.
Did Not Having A Pace Clock Do Keitany In?
We talked to "Dr. of the Marathon" Sean Hartnett, who in the real world is a cartography professor, but in the marathon world is known for his technical analysis of courses and his work with some of the top athletes. Sean also was instrumental in getting the Berlin Marathon and London Marathons to put a special clock on the lead car that shoes the last kilometer split, the total time, and the projected finish time.
New York - with its emphasis on place and not time - does not utilize this clock, and that may have done Keitany in. Sean indicated Mary's coach seemed a bit worried in the technical meeting when he found out there wouldn't be this clock in NY. When Mary dominated in London this spring, they used the clock and her performance was incredible. Here, Mary ran too fast the first 10km and it killed her chances.
Americans Molly Pritz And Lauren Fleshman In Debuts
Molly Pritz in her marathon debut was the top American in 12th place in 2:31:52. Molly ran with Lauren Fleshman for much of the first 15 miles. Fleshman struggled mightily the last 5 miles and finished in 2:37:23 in 16th.
Interviews and results below.
The Americans (Molly Pritz, Lauren Fleshman, Meb Keflezighi And Bobby Curtis)
Firehiwot Dado, Buzunesh Dibaba And Mary Keitany After 2011 ING NYC Marathon