2015 Bank Of America Chicago Marathon Men’s Preview: Will Sammy Kitwara Arrive As An Abbott World Marathon Major Winner?

By LetsRun.com
October 7, 2015

Perhaps fittingly for the “Second City,” Sunday’s Bank of America Chicago Marathon doesn’t have the same star power as next month’s TCS New York City Marathon. But Chicago still boasts top international talent — three men with PRs under 2:05, including Tokyo Marathon champion Endeshaw Negesse — and, for the first time since race director Carey Pinkowski took over in 1990, the race will be run without rabbits. The lack of pacemakers means the recent trend of blazing times is likely to end (average winning time from 2012 to 2014: 2:04:11) but the upshot is, ideally, a race with much more drama as the drama should begin at the starting gun as opposed to midway through the race when the rabbits drop out.

“We have always tried to blend pace and competition,” Pinkowski told the Chicago Tribune in August. “But the athletes relied too much on the pace up front, and the chemistry of the competition has become too much about settling in behind the rabbits.

“Without the rabbits, the leaders need a much greater level of concentration. That will allow us to see more tactics, strategy and competition throughout the race.”

2014 champion Eliud Kipchoge will not return to defend his crown (he ran Berlin instead, winning that race two weeks ago) but second and third placers Sammy Kitwara and Dickson Chumba — both of whom set personal bests here a year ago — will be in the field to tackle Negesse, Rotterdam Marathon champ Abera Kuma and 2012 Boston Marathon champ Wesley Korir. With the Olympic Trials four months away, the American professional field is small — 2:11 man Fernando Cabada and former Oregon star Luke Puskedra are the headliners.

We give you the need-to-know details for Sunday’s race below followed by a preview of the men’s race.

What: 2015 Bank of America Chicago Marathon

When: Sunday, October 11, 8:30 a.m. ET (7:30 a.m. CT)

Where: Chicago, Illinois

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How to watch: NBC5 Chicago will air the race live on television. NBC5 will also stream the race online starting at 8 a.m. ET and we will once again embed their player on LetsRun.com so you will be able to watch it here. Click here for details on how to watch.

Prize money: $100,000 for the winner down to $10,000 for fifth. American prize money ranges from $10,000 for the first American down to $1,000 for the fifth American. Time bonuses range from $75,000 for a course record (2:03:45) down to $5,000 for sub-2:08. For a full breakdown, go to page 14 here.

Abbott World Marathon Majors

The Abbott World Marathon Majors consists of eight major marathons – Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, New York, the World Championships and the Olympics – with the winner of each series taking home $500,000. Starting this year, the AWMM changed its format so that each series lasts a year plus one race. So the current series began at the 2015 Tokyo Marathon and will conclude at the 2016 Tokyo Marathon.

The scoring is as follows:
1st: 25 points
2nd: 16 points
3rd: 9 points
4th: 4 points
5th: 1 point

Athletes can only score in two events per cycle. If there’s a tie for first, the tiebreakers are, in order: 1) Head-to-head record in AWMM events; 2) Most wins. If they’re still tied after that, the race directors of the AWMM will vote for the champion, though they can choose to split the title if they feel that’s fair (we assume that’s what they’ll do if two athletes finish with the maximum 50 points).

The current standings are as follows:
1. Eliud Kipchoge, Kenya, 50 points
2. Yemane Tsegay, Ethiopia, 32 points
3. Ghirmay Ghebreslassie, Eritrea, 25 points
3. Endeshaw Negesse, Ethiopia, 25 points
3. Lelisa Desisa, Ethiopia, 25 points
6. Wilson Kipsang, Kenya, 16 points
6. Stephen Kiprotich, Uganda, 16 points
6. Eliud Kiptanui, Kenya, 16 points

Kipchoge secured the maximum 50 points with his win in Berlin two weeks ago but he hasn’t locked up the entire $500,000 prize yet. Tsegay, Ghebreslassie, Negesse and Desisa can all tie him by winning either a fall marathon or 2016 Tokyo. Tsegay and Ghebreslassie both raced well at Worlds in August and aren’t racing a marathon this fall, but Negesse (Chicago) and Desisa (New York) both still have a chance to equal Kipchoge. If they pull off a 2nd win, then it will be up the WMM to award the winner as the second tie-breaker (after wins which would be equal at 2) is head to head matchups and none of them will have raced each other except Ghebreslassie beat Desisa at Worlds. After that, the AWMM race directors vote and they can award a sole winner or split it. It’s going to be hard to top Kipchoge’s two big wins so he’s likely to win regardless of what happens.

Important links: LRC 2014 Chicago Marathon coverage * Race website

Men’s elite field

Name Country PB
Sammy Kitwara
Dickson Chumba
Endeshaw Negesse
Abera Kuma
Wesley Korir
Sammy Ndungu
Lucas Rotich
Satoshi Yoshii
Fernando Cabada
Hiroyuki Yamamoto
Rob Watson
Liam Adams
Shogo Kanezane
Luke Puskedra
Malcolm Richards
Scott MacPherson
Nicholas Hilton
Ethan Shaw
Tony Migliozzi
Ryan Cosens
Christopher Pannone
Jesse Davis
Brandon Mull
Dan Kremske
Christian Thompson
Elkanah Kibet
Mitch Goose
Brandon Lord
Sean Keveren
Mohamed Hrezi

One of These Four Should Win It

Sammy Kitwara — Kenya, 28 years old, 2:04:28 PR (2014 Chicago), 58:48 half
Last two marathons: 
6th, 2015 London (2:07:43); 2nd, 2014 Chicago (2:04:28)
Tuneup race: Won Luanda Half Marathon on September 6 in 60:25

Check out Kitwara’s progression since finishing his first marathon in Chicago three years ago (his debut at Rotterdam in 2012 resulted in a DNF after a blistering 61:38):

2012 Chicago Marathon: 4th in 2:05:54
2013 Chicago Marathon: 3rd in 2:05:16
2014 Chicago Marathon: 2nd in 2:04:28

Kitwara at the Philly Half in 2011, where he ran his pb of 58:48 Kitwara at the Philly Half in 2011, where he ran his PR of 58:48.

Kitwara, still relatively young by marathon standards at 28, is trending upwards and approaching the lofty standard many thought he’d achieve when he debuted in the marathon in 2012 as a 58:48 half-marathoner. The lack of pacemakers may prevent him from PR’ing in the Windy City for the fourth consecutive year, this is his best shot yet to earn the elusive title. Every year he’s come to Chicago in good shape only to lose to some outstanding performances.

In 2012, the top three finishers all broke the course record. Kitwara was fourth.

In 2013, the top two guys both smashed the course record — Dennis Kimetto ran 2:03:45 and Emmanuel Mutai ran 2:03:52. Kitwara was third.

In 2014, Eliud Kipchoge won the race in 2:04:11 (the third-fastest time in course history). Kitwara was second.

Kitwara enters 2015 as the top returner and also boasts the fastest PR at 2:04:28. He’s very familiar with the layout and has been running well in 2015. In March, he took down a loaded field (Stephen Sambu, Paul TanuiBen True) to win the World’s Best 10K in Puerto Rico and he was a respectable sixth against an extremely strong London Marathon field. Most recently, he spanked the field at the Luanda Half Marathon on September 6, defeating runner-up (and Beach to Beacon champStephen Kosgei by 44 seconds in 60:25.

Kitwara hasn’t run a bad marathon since he DNFed his debut in Rotterdam in 2012 (in addition to his Chicago results, he was third in Rotterdam in 2013 and third in Tokyo in 2014) and with no big guns like Kimetto or Kipchoge in the field, the stage is set for him to win his first major marathon in Chicago.

In 2009, we called Kitwara “The Best Runner You’ve Never Heard Of”; he may be much more well known on Sunday afternoon.

Dickson Chumba – Kenya, 28 years old, 2:04:32 PR (2014 Chicago), 60:39 half
Last two marathons:
3rd, 2015 Tokyo (2:06:34); 3rd, 2014 Chicago (2:04:32)

Chumba finished just four seconds behind Kitwara in Chicago last year to cap a year in which he broke the course record in Tokyo (2:05:42) and finished sixth in LRC’s Year-End Marathon Rankings. Along with Negesse and Korir, he’s one of only three men in the field to have won a major in the past. Chumba could not defend his title in Tokyo this year (he finished third — one second out of second — in 2:06:34 in February) but the result was his third consecutive top-three finish at a major marathon — no small feat. Aside from Tokyo, Chumba has raced just once in 2015 (he was seventh in the TCS World 10k in Bangalore in May, running 28:51) so we don’t have much to go on, but given his recent marathon form, Chumba is likely to be in the lead group for some time on Sunday. Hopefully, we’ll find out more about his current fitness at the pre-race press conferences on Thursday and Friday.

Endeshaw Negesse – Ethiopia, 27 years old, 2:04:52 PR (2013 Dubai), 63:32 half
Last two marathons: 
1st, 2015 Tokyo (2:06:00); 4th, 2014 Shanghai (2:09:47)

Update: Negesse is out as he was unable to secure a visa in time for the race as explained here.

Negesse is what you’d call a “pure marathoner.” Since completing the Barcelona Half Marathon in February 2012, Negesse has run six races (per All-Athletics.com), all of them over the 26.2-mile distance. That makes it tough to judge his current fitness, but considering his won his last race, February’s Tokyo Marathon, he should be viewed as a serious contender in Chicago. Tokyo’s field was not as strong as Boston or London’s, but it’s still a World Marathon Major and Negesse did defeat Olympic champion Stephen Kiprotich and Chumba, who will be one of his top rivals on Sunday.

Negesse’s victory in Tokyo was a major breakthrough. Entering the race, he had never run a WMM event and though he owned a strong 2:04:52 PR, it came on Dubai’s famously quick course — his next-fastest time was 2:08:32. Negesse responded by dropping a 2:06:00 for the win in Tokyo. Was that performance a flash in the pan, or can he build on it and work his way into the upper echelon of global marathoners? A win in Chicago would tie him with Eliud Kipchoge atop the WMM standings and make him an intriguing Olympic prospect in 2016.

Abera Kuma — Ethiopia, 25 years old, 2:05:56 PR (2014 Berlin), 60:19 half
Last two marathons: 
1st, 2015 Rotterdam (2:06:47), 3rd, 2014 Berlin (2:05:56)

Kuma at the Pre Classic in 2013 Kuma at the Pre Classic in 2013

Twenty years ago, Kuma wouldn’t be running the Chicago Marathon. A stud on the track (PRs of 13:00/26:52), Kuma was 5th at the World Championships in the 5,000 in 2011 four days after turning 21 years old. Two years later, he was 5th again at Worlds in Moscow, this time in the 10,000. But it can be hard to eke out a living as a 10,000 runner if you’re not medaling at major championships, so Kuma turned to the marathon last year.

After two races, it looked as if Kuma may have made a mistake (2:09:53 for 11th in Dubai in January 2014; 2:14:52 for 3rd in Kunsan, South Korea, in April 2014) but his last two marathons have gone much better. He was third in Berlin last fall in 2:05:56, where it took historic performances from Dennis Kimetto and Emmanuel Mutai to beat him. Most recently, he won the Rotterdam Marathon in April in 2:06:47. Several top marathoners have used Rotterdam as a springboard to major success (Patrick MakauEliud Kipchoge and Tiki Gelana have all won there recently) and Kuma has the talent to follow in their footsteps. He’s probably not ready to mix it up with the Kipchoges and Kipsangs of the world, but against this field in Chicago he has a good shot to win the race.

He’s another guy we hope to talk to at the press conferences as he hasn’t raced since a 64:17 half marathon in June.

Other Sub-2:10 Guys Who Have An Outside Chance

Wesley Korir – Kenya, 32 years old, 2:06:13 PR (2012 Chicago), 61:19 half
Last two marathons: 
5th, 2015 Boston (2:10:49); 8th, 2014 Chicago (2:11:09)

Korir has run Chicago six times, with a best finish of second in 2011, and three of his four fastest marathons have come on this course. He should also benefit from the removal of pacemakers as he may have had trouble sticking with the leaders in a 2:04/2:05 race (his 2:06:13 PR is fifth-best in the field). The problem with Korir is that while he hasn’t run any terrible races recently, he also hasn’t finished in the top three of any marathon since winning Boston in 2012. Part of that is due to his race selection (his races during that span: 2012 Chicago, 2013 Boston, 2013 New York, 2014 Ottawa, 2014 Chicago, 2015 Boston) and part of that may be the fact he’s now is a member of Parliament in Kenya and not totally devoted to training. Regardless, it makes him a less appealing candidate than the guys listed above him, who have all run faster and placed higher than Korir over the past few years.

One thing that could help Korir is if the temperature is really hot on race day. When he won Boston in 2012, the temperature reached the upper 80s and the high in Chicago on Sunday is forecast to be 75 degrees, per Weather.com. However, Chicago starts much earlier than Boston (7:30 a.m. local time compared to 10:00 a.m. local time) which means that the temperature may not become a factor until late in the race.

Sammy Ndungu – Kenya, 27 years old, 2:07:04 PR (2012 Otsu Lake Biwa), 60:55 half
Last two marathons: 
1st, 2015 Otsu Lake Biwa (2:09:08); 1st, 2014 Lisbon (2:08:21)

Ndungu has won each of his last two marathons, but considering those are the only races he’s run since the start of 2014, he’s a bit of a question mark in Chicago. His winning margins (2:12 in Lisbon, 2:02 in Otsu over European marathon champ Daniele Meucci) are very impressive so the question becomes how those performances will translate against a (relatively) big-time field in Chicago. He was only seventh here three years ago, but Ndungu has clearly made progress since then and the time is right for another bite at the major marathon apple. Anywhere from 10th to 1st is in play.

Lucas Rotich – Kenya, 25 years old, 2:07:17 PR (2015 Hamburg), 59:44 half
Last two marathons: 
1st, 2015 Hamburg (2:07:17); 2nd, 2014 Amsterdam (2:07:18)

This will be Rotich’s fourth career marathon, and he’s gotten progressively better each time out. He debuted with a 2:09:22 in Hamburg in May 2014, finishing 8th, before improving to 2:07:18 and 2nd in Amsterdam last October. Most recently, he won Hamburg in May 2015, shaving one second off his personal best to run 2:07:17 (the runner-up in that race was Ghirmay Ghebreslassie, who became the world champion four months later in Beijing). Like Ndungu, he’s been running well over the past two years but is unproven in majors (this will be Ndungu’s second major and Rotich’s first). It would be a surprise if Rotich wins in Chicago, but as the man he conquered in Hamburg — Ghebreslassie — showed, surprises happen all the time in the marathon world.

Americans Of Note

Fernando Cabada – United States, 33 years old, 2:11:36 PR (2014 Berlin), 62:00 half
Last two marathons: 
25th, 2015 Boston (2:22:05); 11th, 2014 Berlin (2:11:36)

Cabada’s last marathon in Boston was a disaster as he chose not to go with the lead pack early on, a decision that backfired.

“Boston obviously didn’t go well,” he told Flotrack. “I was very devastated. What I took away from that experience is to never let a big pack of runners of that caliber get too far ahead, especially with headwinds. I was all alone in the beginning of the race, fighting the wind, being calculated to keep 5:00 mile pace. I wish I could have just raced and went with everyone else and rode that train. I just had very bad tactics on the day, it won’t happen again.”

Cabada told Flotrack doesn’t have a specific time/place goal in mind for Chicago, and it’s clear that his focus is on the Olympic Trials in Los Angeles in February. Cabada, who ran his PR of 2:11:36 in Berlin last fall, is a contender for one of those spots but has yet to post a performance that sets him apart from the rest of the men chasing favorites Meb Keflezighi and Dathan Ritzenhein.

A strong showing in Chicago would certainly be a boost to his candidacy, and without rabbits the focus should be on place, not time, despite Chicago’s fast course. Anything other than top American would be a disappointment from Cabada. Finishing in the top 5 would be a great race; a top-10 finish would be average, while anything below that would be a bad sign.

Cabada’s most recent race was an encouraging eighth-place finish at the US 20k Champs on September 7 (60:16). Last year, before PRing in Berlin, he only ran 63:18 in New Haven. His success on Sunday will depend on what group he elects to run with. If he can find a group coming through halfway somewhere between 65:00 and 66:00, that’s a good spot for him to be in, assuming he has the strength to hold on in the second half of the race (he told Flotrack he thinks he’s in sub-2:11 shape right now). If he’s forced to run with a group significantly faster or slower than that, his performance could suffer.

Luke Puskedra – United States, 25 years old, 2:15:27 PR (2015 Grandma’s), 61:36 half
Last two marathons: 
6th, 2015 Grandma’s (2:15:27); 36th, 2014 New York (2:28:54)

Puskedra's debut in New York last fall did not go according to plan Puskedra’s debut in New York last fall did not go according to plan.

Puskedra has flashed potential on the roads (61:36 HM PR; 4th at the US 20k Champs last monthin 59:30) but has so far failed to live up to it in two career marathons. His debut in New York last fall was rough as he wound up 36th (women’s champ Mary Keitany was almost four minutes faster) and though marathon #2 went better (2:15:27 at Grandma’s Marathon in June), Puskedra is still capable of more.

One example Puskedra can look to is Matt Llano. Like Puskedra, Llano ran a quick half that suggested strong marathon potential (Llano beat Puskedra by one second in running his 61:47 PR in Houston last year) but struggled in his first attempt at the distance before posting a good, but not great, showing in his second. Things clicked in Llano’s third career marathon (he ran 2:12:28 in Berlin last month) and Puskedra will be hoping to follow suit in Chicago. After all, Puskedra was a far more accomplished runner than Llano in college, and he was only 21 years old when he ran his 61:36 PR. It sometimes takes time for an athlete, especially a young one, to learn how to succeed at the marathon. Is the time right for Puskedra in Chicago?

However, it could also be the case that Puskedra, like many Americans, is just physiologically much better suited for the half marathon than the marathon (we hope you’re not reading this, Luke). As we’ve been pointing out for a long time now, there simply aren’t many super-fast marathoners over 6′ (1.83m) tall. How tall is Puskedra? 6’4″.

Related: MB: Fastest Marathoners over six feet tall (1.83m or taller)

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LRC Prediction: Based on stats, we’d say Kitwara earns his first major win on Sunday in Chicago but we don’t want to make an official prediction until we get a chance to talk to the pros on Thursday and Friday.

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