New York Marathon Women’s Preview: Mary Keitany (2nd-Fastest Marathoner Ever) Takes on 2-Time World Champ Edna Kiplagat and a Slew of Challengers

October 29, 2014

Despite the withdrawal of defending champion Priscah Jeptoo, the women’s field at the 2014 TCS New York City Marathon still boasts plenty of quality, with four sub-2:20 women and three former NYC champions. The second-fastest woman of all time, Mary Keitany (2:18:37 pb) will race her first marathon since the 2012 Olympics after taking time off to have a baby. She’ll be challenged by former New York champs Edna Kiplagat (also the 2-time defending World champ), Jelena Prokopcuka (3rd last year) and Firehiwot Dado. Last year’s runner-up Buzunesh Deba, 2013 Rotterdam champ Jemima Sumgong and World/Euro silver medallist Valeria Straneo of Italy complete a stacked international field. Top Americans include Olympians Desiree (Davila) Linden (2:23:54 for 10th in Boston in April), Kara Goucher (running her first marathon in over 18 months) and Deena Kastor (fresh off a 69:37 master’s world record in the half marathon in September). We preview the race below; check back later this week for interviews and insight from the pre-race press conferences in New York.

Key facts

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Start time: Sunday, 9:10 a.m. ET

TV/Streaming: National TV coverage on ESPN2, starting at 9 a.m.  You can also stream it on or the WatchESPN app (online streaming coverage begins at 7 a.m. ET). In the NYC area, TV coverage will be on ABC7 starting at 9 a.m. NYC-area residents can also stream it on WatchABC and (online streaming coverage begins at 7 a.m. ET).

Prize money: $705,000 total (plus time bonuses)

1st, $100,000
2nd, $60,000
3rd, $40,000
4th, $25,000
5th, $15,000
6th, $12,500
7th, $10,000
8th, $5,000*
9th, $3,000*
10th, $2,000*
11th, $1,500*
12th, $1,000*
*reduced by half for times slower than 2:39:00

Time bonuses range from $60,000 for a sub-2:22 to $10,000 for a sub-2:27 (course record is 2:22:31)

World Marathon Majors: Rita Jeptoo already locked up the 2013-14 WMM title and $500,000 prize with her victory in Chicago. She’ll be in New York on Sunday, but only to receive her award after the race.

The Favorite

Mary Keitany – Kenya, 32 years old, 2:18:37 pb (2012 London), 65:39 half

Last two marathons: 4th, 2012 Olympics (2:23:56); 1st, 2012 London (2:18:37)

Prep race: 1st at Great North Run (half marathon) in 65:39 on September 7

Keitany celebrates the first of her two London Marathon titles in 2011

Keitany celebrates the first of her two London Marathon titles in 2011

With Jeptoo out of the race, Keitany becomes the favorite in New York. If you took the whole NYC field to Chicago or Berlin and ran the race there, we’d say Keitany would be a near-lock for the win, but the New York course — and a few other factors — mean that Keitany is not a heavy favorite.

Before we get to why Keitany might not win, let’s remind you why she could. First, she has some incredibly fast pbs. Here is the complete list of women who have a faster marathon pb than Keitany:

Paula Radcliffe.

That’s it.

Keitany’s 2:18:37 in London in 2012 made her the second-fastest marathoner of all time (doper Liliya Shobukhova ran 2:18:20 but that time was stricken from the record books); she’s also the second-fastest half-marathoner of all time, with a 65:39 pb (65:50 on a record-eligible course). That 65:39 is the best evidence that Keitany is ready to win New York. She ran that time at the Great North Run on September 7, where she broke the course record set by Radcliffe in 2003. If you break a record set by Radcliffe in the same year she ran 2:15:25, you’re in good shape. Furthermore, Keitany laid waste to a strong field in that race, defeating Beach to Beacon champ Gemma Steel, Olympic marathon champ Tiki Gelana and one of her rivals in New York, 2-time defending World champion Edna Kiplagat. Keitany’s time of 65:39 was 2:34 better than Steel, 3:06 better than Gelana and 4:58 better than Kiplagat. Finally, Keitany rarely runs a bad marathon; the last time she finished lower than fourth in a major was when she DNF’ed London in 2007.

You’d think that Keitany’s performance at the Great North Run would make her unbeatable in New York, and that could well be the case on Sunday. There are a few reasons why another woman could break the tape in Central Park. First and foremost, the Great North Run was only Keitany’s second race since the 2012 Olympics, as she took time off after that race to have a baby. She hasn’t run a marathon since and while a dominating victory in a half marathon is a good sign, the marathon is a different beast. Additionally, Keitany has been exceptional on flat, fast courses (she has won London twice) but on more technical layouts like New York, she isn’t quite as good. In two cracks at NYC, she’s finished third both times (2010 and 2011) and was fourth at the London Olympics.

Then there is how Keitany lost New York in 2011. She beat herself by going through half way in a ridiculous 1:07:56 on the difficult New York course before blowing up big time and losing the race in the second half. The 1:07:56 is faster than that 1:08:02 split that Paula Radcliffe ran in her world record.

Keitany is as close to a Paula Radcliffe type talent as there is in women’s marathoning, but her two years away from the marathon, and her past history in New York open the door to others. With excellent championship marathoner Edna Kiplagat in the field, Keitany could have her hands full.

The Two-Time World Champion

Edna Kiplagat – Kenya, 35 years old, 2:19:50 pb (2012 London), 67:41 half

Last two marathons: 1st, 2014 London (2:20:21); 9th, 2013 New York (2:30:04)

Prep race: 1st, Great Scottish Run (half marathon) in 67:57 on October 5; 5th at Great North Run (half marathon) in 70:37 on September 7

Edna Kiplagat wins 2014 London Marathon

Edna Kiplagat in London this year

Keitany is our favorite, but double World Champion Edna Kiplagat has been brilliant over the past two years. After she won London in April, we wondered whether Kiplagat was the #1 marathoner in the world. Last year, she finished second in London and won Worlds and also has big wins from Worlds in 2011 and New York in 2010. Yet it’s hard to ignore the fact that Kiplagat was smoked by Keitany two months ago at the Great North Run — she lost by almost five minutes. Can Kiplagat possibly make up all that ground in New York on Sunday?

Of course she can; the real question is will she? We’re afraid we can’t answer that definitively until Sunday. Recent evidence suggests that Kiplagat has already started to close the gap in fitness to Keitany. In many ways, Kiplagat is actually the anti-Keitany. While the case for Keitany winning New York basically boils down to her winning the Great North Run and her record from two years ago — the case for Kiplagat is everything she’s done apart from the Great North Run. Obviously there’s her wins at Worlds (2013) and London (2014) but she also ran well at the Great Scottish Run (67:57) earlier this month. In that race, she beat Caroline Kilel and Tiki Gelana by a combined 3:36; at the Great North Run a month earlier, she lost to them by a combined 3:19. Either she’s a lot fitter than she was at the start of September or the Great North Run was simply a bad race. Either way, that’s a good sign for Kiplagat’s chances in New York.

Whether Kiplagat can defeat Keitany — and everyone else — on Sunday could come down to the weather. The current forecast for New York on Sunday (as of Tuesday afternoon) is for a high of 48 degrees but winds of 19 mph. The wind slowed things down last year and if that’s the case again in 2014, Keitany might be hurt as she excels in fast conditions.

Any of These Women Could Realistically Win It

Buzunesh Deba – Ethiopia, 27 years old, 2:19:59 pb (2014 Boston), 68:59 half

Last two marathons: 2nd, 2014 Boston (2:19:59); 2nd, 2013 New York (2:25:56)

Prep race: none

While Deba isn’t quite Emmanuel Mutai (six runner-up finishes in majors), she’s been the bridesmaid of women’s marathoning for the past few years. And unlike Mutai, she doesn’t have a major victory to dull the pain; all she has is second-place finishes from New York (2013 & 2011) and Boston (2014). If there’s a silver lining for the Ethiopian, it’s that she keeps improving — her 2:19:59 in Boston this April would have beaten the old course record by 46 seconds had Rita Jeptoo not beaten her to the punch.

Deba has been agonizingly close in her last two races in New York. In 2011, she finished just four seconds behind champion Firehiwot Dado. Last year, she and Tigist Tufa built up a lead of 3:28 over the chase pack at 14 miles before a guy on a bike told Priscah Jeptoo how far she was behind; Jeptoo picked it up and reeled Deba in over the second half of the race.

Deba’s 2:19:59 on Boston clearly shows that she’s in shape to win a major, but overcoming Keitany and Kiplagat to do it will be a tall task.

Firehiwot Dado – Ethiopia, 30 years old, 2:23:15 pb (2011 New York); 68:35 half

Last two marathons: 1st, 2014 Prague (2:23:34); 3rd, 2014 Dubai (2:25:53)

Prep race: none

Dado was only 14th in NYC last year but she’s run well so far in 2014, taking third in Dubai in January and then winning the Prague Marathon by almost four minutes in May. Dado hasn’t raced since Prague so it’s difficult to gauge her current fitness, but a win in a spring marathon is always a good sign. She’s familiar with the course in New York, having raced it twice already, including a victory in 2011. Her resume is less impressive than the women above her in this preview, but a recent victory at New York means she can’t be ignored when assessing the contenders for Sunday.

Jelena Prokopcuka – Latvia, 38 years old, 2:22:56 pb (2005 Osaka), 68:43 half

Last two marathons: 2nd, 2014 Nagoya (2:24:07); 3rd, 2013 New York (2:27:47)

Prep race: 1st at Tallinn Half Marathon on September 14 in 72:28

Prokopcuka is now eight years removed from her last marathon victory, which just so happened to come in New York (she also won the 2005 race). Prokopcuka has never been a blazing-fast marathoner but her smarts and toughness have allowed her to amass nine top-four finishes in majors, all on U.S. soil (4 in New York, 4 in Boston, 1 in Chicago). That experience and her familiarity with the New York layout was good enough for third last year; and while she’s a long shot for the victory, we can’t totally rule it out in some sort of Meb Keflezighi type scenario.

Jemima Sumgong – Kenya, 29 years old, 2:20:41 pb (2014 Boston), 68:32 half

Last two marathons: 4th, 2014 Boston (2:20:41); 2nd, 2013 Chicago (2:20:48)

Prep race: 68:32 for 2nd at Luanda Half Marathon on September 7

Sumgong, the 2013 Rotterdam champ, had the misfortune of lining up against Rita Jeptoo in her last two races, overshadowing two fine performances. Her 2:20:41 in Boston in April was under the old course record and her 2:20:48 in Chicago last year was almost two minutes ahead of the next finisher (though 51 seconds back of Jeptoo). 2014 has been a good year for her so far, as she’s PR’d at both the half marathon and marathon; another PR in New York is unlikely, but challenging for a top-three spot is not.

Worth Mentioning

Valeria Straneo – Italy, 38 years old, 2:23:44 pb (2012 Rotterdam), 67:46 half

Last two marathons: 2nd, 2014 European Champs (2:25:27); 5th, 2013 New York (2:28:22)

Prep race: 32:36 for 1st in a road 10k in Paris on October 5

Straneo is an example of a runner who peaked later in her career. In the last three years, from age 36 to 38, she’s won silvers at Worlds and Europeans, taken 8th at the Olympics and the World Half Marathon Championships and set pbs for 10,000 (track) and the marathon. Normally a runner in Straneo’s position would have a tough time bouncing back from a summer marathon (she ran Europeans 11 weeks ago) but she did pretty well coming back from Worlds last year to take fifth in New York.

The Americans

Desiree Linden – 31 years old, 2:22:38 pb (2011 Boston), 70:34 half

Last two marathons: 10th, 2014 Boston (2:23:54); 5th, 2013 Berlin (2:29:15)

Prep race: none

Keith Hanson, Desi (Davila) Linden, Kevin Hanson at yesterday's media event

Desi Linden and coaches Keith and Kevin Hanson before April’s Boston Marathon

Linden spent much of 2013 working to get back in the kind of shape that saw her take second at the Boston Marathon in 2011 and make her first Olympic team in 2012. She DNF’ed the Olympic marathon due to a femoral stress fracture and didn’t race again until last June; she only ran 2:29 in Berlin last fall. 2014 has looked more promising, however, as Linden ran 2:23:54 in Boston in April — the second-fastest time of her career by over two minutes, behind only her wind-aided 2011 Boston performance. It was a fast day in Boston this year, so Linden only took 10th overall (second American), but Linden’s time suggests that she’s on the right track back to making Olympic team #2 in 2016.

New York will be a new challenge for the 31-year-old, as she has never run this race before. Linden told Runner’s World last week that she put off her New York debut until she felt comfortable enough with the event to run the challenging NYC course. Linden has now run nine marathons in her life and the time is right for NYC.

Her goals, as stated to Runner’s World, are as follows:

I would love to be top five, top three. You can’t control the field. But I’m pretty dialed in to 5:30 [per mile] marathon pace. That translates to 2:24 and change, maybe. Which is respectable on the New York course. It puts you in the hunt.

2:24 would indeed put her in the hunt; it would also make her the fastest American woman ever in New York (the current best is 2:25:53 by Kara Goucher in 2008). It’s an ambitious goal, but it makes sense given her performance in Boston in April. Unless Linden blows up, she’s going to be the top American on Sunday. Kara Goucher isn’t ready to compete with Linden, and Deena Kastor, while fit, hasn’t broken 2:30 in five years. Lauren Kleppin and Annie Bersagel aren’t on Linden’s level yet.

Deena Kastor – 41 years old, 2:19:36 pb (2006 London), 67:34 half

Last two marathons: 9th, 2013 World Championships (2:36:12); 3rd, 2013 Los Angeles (2:32:39)

Prep race: 69:36 for 3rd at Philly Rock ‘n’ Roll Half on September 20 (world master’s record)

It’s a bit absurd that, at 41, Kastor is still in the conversation for being the top American at a major marathon, but that is the case in New York on Sunday. Indeed, if Linden falters, Kastor is probably the best bet for top American finisher in New York. Her 69:36 half from six weeks ago is faster than any other American in this race has ever run, save for Goucher (whom Kastor beat by 2:03 in that race). It’s also faster than Shalane Flanagan ran two months before Berlin and isn’t that far off Molly Huddle‘s U.S.-leading time of 69:04 for 2014. Huddle and Flanagan have both enjoyed spectacular 2014 seasons; if Kastor can run in the ballpark of what they’ve done for a half, odds are that she can put together a pretty solid performance in New York.

Kastor is banking on that. Initially it wasn’t even clear if Kastor was going to run a fall marathon, but her performance in Philadelphia made it an easy choice. Now she’s aiming high in New York, with the goal of finishing in the top five and running 2:25. That’s a lot better than her previous best time in New York (2:26:58) and would be her fastest marathon since her American record of 2:19:36 from 2006. It would also be close to the world master’s record of 2:24:54 set by Germany’s Irina Mikitenko (the U.S. master’s record is 2:28:40 by Colleen de Reuck). 2:25 is certainly optimistic for Kastor, but the world half marathon master’s record also seemed optimistic before Philly and she broke that by 20 seconds. At this point, Kastor knows her body and what it is capable of; if she thinks she can run 2:25, it is a real possibility.

Kara Goucher – 36 years old, 2:24:52 pb (2011 Boston), 66:57 half

Last two marathons: 6th, 2013 Boston (2:28:11); 11th, 2012 Olympics (2:26:07)

Prep race: 71:41 for 6th at Philly Rock ‘n’ Roll Half on September 20

Goucher in New York after the 2011 NYC Half

The Goucher family in New York after the 2011 NYC Half

Unlike Linden and Kastor, Goucher isn’t entering New York with high expectations. Her goal is to run 2:28 on Sunday, which could put her in the lead pack (NYC was won in 2:28:20 in 2010 and 2:28:52 in 2009) but could also see her running behind the main pack for much of the race. Though Goucher has run well in New York before (she was third in NYC in her debut in 2008), she’s spent a long time coming back from a sacral stress fracture and her 71:41 in Philadelphia demonstrated that she’s nowhere near her peak shape (her pb is 66:57).

The good thing is, Goucher knows this. She hasn’t raced a marathon since finishing sixth at Boston in 2013, and New York is merely a starting point in a journey that Goucher hopes will culminate in Rio in August 2016. There have been a lot of moving pieces in Goucher’s life over the past year — signing with Skechers and Oiselle, changing coaches to Mark Wetmore and Heather Burroughs, moving back to Boulder. Now she’s been able to get in some training — she told Competitor that it wasn’t an ideal full buildup but that she feels great and is healthy. Goucher doesn’t need a huge result on Sunday for New York to be a success; making it through 26.2 miles in one piece and running 2:28 or thereabouts would both be good indicators that Goucher’s plans for another berth on an Olympic team are on schedule.

Lauren Kleppin – 25 years old, 2:28:48 pb (2014 Los Angeles), 70:15 half

Last two marathons: 3rd, 2014 Los Angeles (2:28:48); 1st, 2013 Green Bay (2:47:20)

Prep race: none

Annie Bersagel – 31 years old, 2:28:59 pb (2014 Dusseldorf), 70:09 half 

Last two marathons: 1st, 2014 Dusselfdorf (2:28:59); 1st, 2013 Twin Cities/U.S. Champs (2:30:53)

Prep race: 33:30 for 2nd in road 10k in Norway on October 18; 73:19 for 11th at Great North Run on September 7

Kleppin and the Oslo-based Bersagel are two very similar runners both hoping to move one step closer to the Olympic team in New York. The favorites for those three spots right now would have to be Flanagan, Linden and Amy Hastings (after New York we’ll know where Goucher and Kastor stack up), but Kleppin and Bersagel are leading the charge of the next crop of runners. Both have improved by leaps and bounds in the past 13 months — Bersagel has improved her pb by over 15 minutes and won two marathons (U.S. Champs and Dusseldorf) while Kleppin has gone from a pb of 2:42:17 to 2:28:48. Both also ran well at the World Half Marathon Championships in March (Bersagel was 13th in 70:09, six seconds ahead of Kleppin). Now they’ll be battling it out on the streets of New York. If either can manage a PR in New York, it will be a big boost to that woman’s Olympic hopes, especially if she is close to Linden or Kastor.

Women’s elite field

Name Country PB Comment
Mary Keitany Kenya 2:18:37 2-time London champ won Great North Run in September; first marathon since 2012 Olympics
Deena Kastor USA 2:19:36 41-year-old set world master’s record for half marathon in September (69:36)
Edna Kiplagat Kenya 2:19:50 2x World Champ/2010 NYC champ coming off victory in London in April
Buzunesh Deba Ethiopia 2:19:59 The Emmanuel Mutai of women’s marathoning? 2nd in last 4 marathons, including ’11, ’13 NYC
Jemima Sumgong Kenya 2:20:41 2013 Rotterdam champ was 2nd at ’13 Chicago, 4th at ’14 Boston
Desiree Linden USA 2:22:28 2012 Olympian was 10th in Boston in April
Jelena Prokopcuka Latvia 2:22:56 2-time NYC champ was 3rd last year at age 37
Firehiwot Dado Ethiopia 2:23:15 2011 champ was 3rd in Dubai in January, won Prague in May
Valeria Straneo Italy 2:23:44 Silver medallist at 2013 Worlds/2014 Europeans
Kara Goucher USA 2:24:52 36-year-old 2x Olympian running first marathon since taking 6th at 2013 Boston
Ana Dulce Felix Portugal 2:25:40 2012 Euro 10k gold medallist was 8th in London in April
Lauren Kleppin USA 2:28:48 25-year-old PR’d by almost 11 minutes in LA in March; 14th at World Half Champs 20 days later
Annie Bersagel USA 2:28:59 2013 US Marathon champ won Dusseldorf Marathon in April
Blake Russell USA 2:29:10 2008 Olympian was 3rd at US 20K Champs on 9/1
Michelle Lilienthal USA 2:34:50
Hilary Dionne USA 2:35:08
Marci Gage USA 2:35:40
Jane Fardell Australia 2:37:35
Alia Gray USA 2:44:22
Emily Kurian USA 2:45:35
Kate Pallardy USA 2:48:51
Sara Moreira Portugal Debut 2-time Olympian has 70:08 half pb
Rkia El Moukim Morocco Debut Set half marathon pb of 70:03 in Marrakech in January
Ana Maria De Vries Colombia Debut 78:20 half pb
Rocio Cantera Peru Debut 75:53 half pb


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