2015 TCS NYC Marathon Women’s Preview: Defending Champ Mary Keitany Leads A Loaded Field

By LetsRun.com
October 28, 2015

The men’s field at Sunday’s 2015 TCS New York City Marathon boasts talent at the top but not much depth. The women’s field, however, makes good on both counts: not only does it contain several of the world’s best marathoners, but it also offers impressive depth, with nine women who have run under 2:25.

Among the studs lining up on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge on Sunday morning:

  • Defending champion Mary Keitany
  • The winners of three big-name marathons in 2015 — Dubai champ Aselefech Mergia, Boston champ Caroline Rotich and London champ Tigist Tufa
  • Two-time runner-up Buzunesh Deba, a New York resident who owns a PR of 2:19:59
  • 2013 London/NYC champion Priscah Jeptoo
  • Two-time NYC champ Jelena Prokopcuka, who has finished in the top six five times (including last year)
  • Debutant Sally Kipyego, 2011 World/2012 Olympic silver medalist at 10,000 meters

It’s a tremendous international field and with two 2015 Abbott World Marathon Majors winners in the race, the outcome in New York could go a long way toward deciding who takes home the $500,000 series prize.

Because the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials are just over three months away, few top American women are running New York this year. Eighteen-year-old Alana Hadley, a freshman at UNC-Charlotte, is the fastest U.S. entrant at 2:38:34 while the biggest name is U.S. Cross Country champion Laura Thweatt, who will make her marathon debut in the Big Apple. It is almost certain that, for the 37th consecutive year, the U.S. will be denied a female champion.

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

What: 2015 TCS New York City Marathon

When: Sunday, November 1, 9:20 a.m. ET

Where: New York, New York

How to watch: The race will be broadcast nationally on ESPN2, with coverage beginning at 9 a.m. ET. You can also stream the race online through WatchESPN. Locally, the race will also be shown on ABC7, with coverage beginning at 7 a.m. ET.

Prize money: $100,000 for the winner down to $2,500 for fifth. Time bonuses range from $50,000 for sub-2:22:30 down to $10,000 for sub-2:27. For a full breakdown, go 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. Mare Dibaba, 41 points
2. Birhane Dibaba, 34 points
3. Helah Kiprop, 32 points
4. Florence Kiplagat, 26 points
5. Caroline Rotich, 25 points
5. Tigist Tufa, 25 points
5. Gladys Cherono, 25 points
8. Mary Keitany, 16 points
8. Yebrgual Melese, 16 points
8. Aberu Kebede, 16 points

Three women in the New York field have a legitimate chance of winning the series title. If Rotich or Tufa wins on Sunday, she will clinch at least a share of the series title and will claim it outright unless one of the other athletes with a victory wins Tokyo in February. If Keitany wins, she will draw level with Mare Dibaba (Rotich or Tufa could also tie Dibaba by placing second in New York), in which case it would be up to the AWMM race directors to determine the title since Keitany has not raced Dibaba. If Rotich winds up tied for first with Dibaba after New York, Rotich would win the tiebreaker since she beat Dibaba in Boston.

Important links: LRC 2014 New York City Marathon coverage * Race website

Women’s Elite Race

Below, you will find the elite field for the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon. We break the top contenders down by category so you’ll know who to watch for on Sunday.

We’re still several days out, so the weather forecast is subject to change, but right now Weather.com projects a high of 65 on race day, with a 50% chance of rain and 9 mph winds.

Name Country PB Comment
Mary Keitany Kenya 2:18:37 Defending champ has enjoyed stellar 2015, including win at Great North Run in September
Aselefech Mergia Ethiopia 2:19:31 Dubai champ will run first marathon in U.S.
Buzunesh Deba Ethiopia 2:19:59 Two-time runner-up (’11/’13) was 3rd in Boston in April
Priscah Jeptoo Kenya 2:20:14 ’13 London/NYC champ missed last year’s race due to injury; 7th in London in April
Tigist Tufa Ethiopia 2:21:52 Took down year’s top field to date in London but will have her hands full in NYC; 6th at World Champs
Jelena Prokopcuka Latvia 2:22:56 2-time champ (’05/’06) has 6 top-5s in NY, including a 4th last year at age 38
Caroline Rotich Kenya 2:23:22 Santa Fe-based athlete looking to become the first woman to win Boston & NYC in same year since ’89
Christelle Daunay France 2:24:22 40-year-old European champ has 3 top-5s in NY, most recently in ’13
Sara Moreira Portugal 2:24:49 30-year-old was 3rd last year in marathon debut
Ana Dulce Felix Portugal 2:25:15 12th last year; 8th in London this spring
Anna Incerti Italy 2:25:32 2010 European marathon champion
Changqin Ding China 2:26:54 Top non-African-born finisher at World XC (16th); 16th at World Champs marathon
Marisol Romero Mexico 2:31:15
Jane Fardell Australia 2:37:35
Alana Hadley USA 2:38:34 18-year-old freshman at UNC-Charlotte is the fastest US woman in the field; this will be her 4th marathon
Caroline Wostmann South Africa 2:44:57
Hilary Corno USA 2:47:10
Paula Keating Canada 2:47:26
Clare Geraghty Australia 2:48:35
Cassie Fien Australia 2:54:21
Sally Kipyego Kenya debut ’11 WC/’12 OG silver medalist at 10k will make marathon debut in NYC
Laura Thweatt USA debut US XC champ and 15:04/32:15 performer
Teresa McWalters USA debut
Beverly Ramos Puerto Rico debut

The Defending Champion

Mary Keitany — Kenya, 33 years old, 2:18:37 PR (2012 London), 65:39 half
Last two marathons:
 2nd, 2015 London (2:23:40); 1st, 2014 New York (2:25:07)
Tuneup race: Ran 67:32 to win Great North Run (half marathon) by 3:28 on September 13

Mary Keitany celebrates her win in New York last year *More 2015 TCS New York City Marathon Marathon Keitany celebrates her win in New York last year

Twelve months ago, in her third race back from her second pregnancy, Keitany once again asserted herself as one of the world’s premier marathoners, earning her third major victory by pulling away from Jemima Sumgong to win the New York City Marathon in 2:25:07. Since then, she’s done little to lose that status and enters this year’s NYC Marathon as the favorite to retain her title.

It’s a testament to Keitany’s talent and determination that even at age 33, and after two children, she continues to produce astounding performances. And while the Kenyan should like her chances in New York, the most likely outcome is that she does not win on Sunday. That’s not a knock on Keitany, but rather a reflection of the field she faces — there are simply so many strong athletes that betting any one of them against the field is not logical.

With that said, Keitany has the best chance of any individual on Sunday — perhaps somewhere in the 25-40% range. She opened 2015 by winning the prestigious RAK Half in the United Arab Emirates in a very quick 66:02 and took second at the London Marathon behind Tigist Tufa in April. Since then, Keitany is three for three, winning the New York Mini 10K on June 13 (31:15), the Olomouc Half Marathon a week later (66:38) and the Great North Run on September 13, soloing a 67:32 in a race she won by over three and a half minutes. A win at that race in 2014 preceded her title in New York (granted, she ran almost two minutes faster in 2014).

The fact is, at her best, Keitany is on a different level than the rest of these women. Her 2:18:37 PR is #2 in history behind Paula Radcliffe, and her #2 time of 2:19:19 is still better than anyone in the field. At 33, it’s unlikely Keitany will be able to reach those same dizzying heights, but until she shows signs of slippage, it would be foolish to bet against her. Just check out her track record over the last seven years:

Year Races Wins Notable wins Losses
2009 4 3 World Half Marathon Champs Sunfeat World 10K (2nd by 1 sec)
2010 6 4 Berlin BIG 25K (1:19:53 WR) World’s Best 10K (2nd by 2 secs); NYC Marathon (3rd in marathon debut)
2011 5 4 RAK Half (65:50 WR); London Marathon NYC Marathon (3rd after going out in suicidal 67:56)
2012 3 2 RAK Half, London Marathon (2:18:37) Olympic marathon (4th)
2013 N/A (pregnant)
2014 3 3 Great North Run, NYC Marathon
2015 5 4 RAK Half, Great North Run London Marathon (2nd by 18 secs)
Total 26 20

Since the start of 2009, Keitany has won 77% of her races. Keitany did lose her last marathon, to Tufa (whom she’ll face on Sunday) but Keitany will also be more rested than Tufa, who ran the World Championship marathon ten weeks ago. When her career is over, Keitany will go down as one of the greatest runners in history. Can she add to her legacy with a repeat victory in New York?

2015 Major Winners

Tigist Tufa — Ethiopia, 28 years old, 2:21:52 PR (2014 Shanghai), 70:03 half
Last two marathons:
6th, 2015 Worlds (2:29:12); 1st, 2015 London (2:23:22)

Tufa beat Keitany — and several other big-name stars — in London in April, and though she only has the fifth best PR in the New York field, anyone who wins London has to be viewed as a serious threat to win in New York as well.

The concern about Tufa is that New York represents her fourth marathon of 2015. In January, she went crazy in Dubai, coming through halfway on 2:18 pace only to blow up and drop out with about 5k to go. Three months later, she won a tactical London Marathon in 2:23:22. Most recently, she finished sixth at Worlds on August 30.

If Tufa has anything left for New York, she will be worth monitoring closely as she has a history of going out aggressively. In addition to her blazing first half in Dubai this year, she and countrywoman Buzunesh Deba amassed a lead of 3:23 over the chase pack at halfway in New York two years ago, only for eventual champ Priscah Jeptoo to reel them in over the second half (Tufa wound up 8th).

Perhaps now that she’s found major success with the opposite approach (London went slowly and there were still eight women in contention at 22 miles), Tufa will be content to run with the pack and wait to make her move. We’ll have to see on Sunday.

Caroline Rotich — Kenya, 31 years old, 2:23:22 PR (2012 Chicago), 68:52 half
Last two marathons:
1st, 2015 Boston (2:24:55); 4th, 2014 Yokohama (2:27:32)
Tuneup race: 70:45 for 4th at B.A.A. Half Marathon on October 11 (winner 70:21)

Rotich prevailed in a thrilling Boston Marathon in April Rotich prevailed in a thrilling Boston Marathon in April

Rotich’s dramatic win in Boston in April — where she prevailed by four seconds in a thrilling sprint finish over Mare Dibaba — was a breakout performance for the Kenyan, whose name was barely mentioned in the pre-race buildup.

No one will be overlooking her heading into New York. Rotich executed her race plan to a T in Boston six months ago and will look for the same result in another unpaced race on a technical course.

The Santa Fe-based Rotich trains with American coach Ryan Bolton, who said that her NYC buildup has gone “about as smoothly as it can possibly go.”

“I would say she’s ahead [fitness-wise, compared to Boston], which is good because I think she has to be,” Bolton said, noting the stacked field Rotich faces in New York.

(Related from the LRC Archives: From Santa Fe To Boylston Street: How American Coach Ryan Bolton, An Olympic Triathlete, Helped Caroline Rotich Win The 2015 Boston Marathon)

While Rotich’s workouts have remained similar to the ones she ran before Boston, her mileage increased in the base/strength phase — up to 110-120 miles per week — in order to prepare for the New York course.

“New York is a tougher course than Boston, in my opinion,” Bolton said. “The hills are in the very hard parts of the race. You need to be running strong at mile 22, 23, 24. Even the finish is not the easiest finish in the world either.”

Because Rotich was healthy and strong, Bolton felt he could take a calculated risk by bumping up Rotich’s mileage while still incorporating some intensity. He worried how her body would respond in the late phase of her buildup, but that concern has been nullified as Rotich has knocked several recent workouts out of the park.

Her tuneup race, on paper, is not particularly impressive — 70:45 for fourth at the B.A.A. Half Marathon on October 11 — but Bolton said that Rotich entered the race on very tired legs accomplished exactly what he was looking for there: a hard front-running effort.

One more thing: like LRC, both Bolton and Rotich are glad that the hastily-arranged Kenyan Olympic Marathon Trials are no more.

“Thank God Athletics Kenya finally came to their senses and decided to actually do a real selection process as opposed to a random trials race in February, which is idiotic and I think everyone agrees on that,” Bolton said.

He broke the news to Rotich at practice on Tuesday, and as soon as he did, a wide smile spread across Rotich’s face.

“That’s great news,” Rotich told Bolton.

“Why?” Bolton replied.

“Because New York is this weekend and I’m going to win.”

Rotich knows that NYC is part of the selection process and that Athletics Kenya would be foolish to leave the Boston/NYC champ off its team. Now she just has to get it done on Sunday.

Aselefech Mergia — Ethiopia, 30 years old, 2:19:31 PR (2012 Dubai), 67:21 half
Last two marathons: 4th, 2015 London (2:23:53); 1st, 2015 Dubai (2:20:02)

Mergia’s 2:20:02 in Dubai in January ranks as the year’s third fastest marathon, and while it’s not technically a World Marathon Major, the prize money ($200,000) and quality of competition put it on par with a race like Tokyo or Chicago. Though this is her third marathon of the year — she also took fourth in London — Mergia will be well-rested as it’s been over six months since London and over five months since her last race.

New York will be something different for Mergia as her biggest successes (three Dubai wins, one London win) have all come in paced races. That’s not to say that she can’t handle a championship-style marathon (she earned the bronze medal at Worlds in 2009), but in her last two unrabbitted marathons, she has wound up 42nd (2012 Olympics) and a DNF (2011 Worlds).

New York Veterans

Priscah Jeptoo — Kenya, 31 years old, 2:20:14 PR (2012 London), 65:45 half
Last two marathons: 7th, 2015 London (2:25:01); DNF, 2014 London

When it comes to Jeptoo, the 2013 NYC champ, we don’t have that much to go on. She hasn’t raced since May, and even that was a 15:47 5k road race in Lisbon (she won). She’s completed one marathon since her 2013 New York victory, placing seventh in London this spring. That’s not an awful performance, as the six women who beat her are all very good. Unfortunately for Jeptoo, three of them will be in New York this weekend, and there’s no reason to expect Jeptoo will have closed the gap on them over the last six months.

Jeptoo is a decorated marathoner — wins in London and New York, silvers at Worlds (2011) and the Olympics (2012) — but this field is so stocked with quality that we can’t feel confident backing her against athletes like Keitany or Tufa. Jeptoo will have to run as well as she did in 2013 — and perhaps even better — in order to claim another crown in New York.

Buzunesh Deba — Ethiopia, 28 years old, 2:19:59 PR (2014 Boston), 68:59 half
Last two marathons:
3rd, 2015 Boston (2:25:09); 9th, 2014 New York (2:31:40)

Deba is always in the mix in big races but has frequently come up agonizingly short. In 2011, she and Firehiwot Dado reeled in a fading Mary Keitany in New York, only for Dado to beat Deba to the tape by four seconds. Two years later, Deba was in the opposite situation in NYC: she and Tigist Tufa ran out to a massive lead over the field, only for Priscah Jeptoo to reel her in. Deba had to settle for second once again. In Boston this spring, Deba shared the lead with Caroline Rotich and Mare Dibaba at the 25-mile mark but wound up third. The Bronx resident will take her sixth crack at NYC on Sunday (she was seventh in 2009 and  ninth in 2010 and 2014).

Winning in the Big Apple won’t be easy, but it should be appreciated just how good Deba is. Officially, she has never won a major, but she should be viewed as the rightful 2014 Boston Marathon champion — and course record holder — as the only woman who beat her that day, Rita Jeptoo, was busted for drugs five months later. She has the talent and experience to win in NYC but has to put together a complete race.

The Debutant

Sally Kipyego — Kenya, 29 years old, debut, 68:31 half

Kipyego winning last year's NYC Half Kipyego winning last year’s NYC Half

At the start of last year, Kipyego had never raced anything longer than a 10K. Now the 29-year-old former Texas Tech star will tackle the ultimate distance.

Kipyego has always excelled on the track, racking up nine NCAA titles during her time in Lubbock and continuing on to a stellar professional career in which she earned silver medals in the 10,000 at Worlds in 2011 and the Olympics in 2012. Last year, she began her venture into the longer distances on the roads with a 68:31 win at the NYC Half in her debut at the distance. This year, she returned to that race (taking third in 69:39 behind Molly Huddle and Joyce Chepkirui) before running a full track season, which culminated with a fifth-place finish in the 10,000 at Worlds in Beijing.

We give Kipyego a ton of credit for making her debut in New York. With a tough course and a loaded field, a top-8 finish would be a solid day; top-5 would be very good, especially considering that she spent most of this year (and most of her career) as a track runner. Few professional runners can say they’ve raced a 1500 and a marathon in the same year, but on Sunday, Kipyego will become one of them.

European Threats

  • Sara Moreira, Portugal (2:24:49 PR) — Moreira finished a surprising third here in her debut last year and lowered her PR to 2:24:49 by taking second in Prague in May. She’s been very busy recently, following up a 12th-place finish at Worlds in the 10,000 with three half marathons: a 70:42 for second in Porto on September 20 (okay), a 70:23 for fifth at the Great Scottish Run on October 4 (not bad) and a 76:28 for seventh at the Lisbon Rock ‘n’ Roll Half on October 18 (ugly). The combination of training for two marathons and a track season that stretched from April to August may be catching up to Moreira.
  • Christelle Daunay, France (2:24:22 PR) — The 40-year-old Daunay is the reigning European champion in the marathon and tuned up for New York with a 69:57 half in Copenhagen on September 13. She’s a very long shot to win, but she has finished in the top five three times in New York, most recently 2013.
  • Jelena Prokopcuka, Latvia (2:22:56 PR) — Like Daunay, the 39-year-old Prokopcuka, who won this race in 2005 and 2006, keeps churning out solid results, running 2:24:07 to take second in Osaka earlier this year. Her 71:52 at the Great North Run on September 13 isn’t an incredible time, but it’s actually faster than what she ran in her prep race last year (72:28) when she wound up fourth in New York.

The Americans

The American women’s field in New York is extremely weak, but there’s not much race director Peter Ciaccia can do about it: if the top U.S. women don’t want to run a fall marathon ahead of the Olympic Trials, New York can’t land them, shy of loading up a dump truck with appearance money and parking it in Shalane Flanagan or Desiree Linden‘s driveway.

With Flanagan, Linden and other Olympic contenders such as Amy Cragg and Annie Bersagel (to name a few) passing on a fall marathon, there weren’t many women to target. Deena Kastor decided to run Chicago, but with a more forgiving course and more time to recover before the Trials, the Windy City had a built-in advantage over New York.

That means that the fastest U.S. woman in New York is an 18-year-old college freshman and the likely top American finisher is a marathon debutant who missed the summer track season. Alana Hadley, who began running marathons as a high school sophomore, ran 2:38:34 last fall to win the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon. Now a freshman at UNC-Charlotte, Hadley is the fastest American in the NYC field by PR and is the youngest American to qualify for the Olympic Trials Marathon since Cathy (Schiro) O’Brien in 1984.

Thweatt winning US Cross in February Thweatt winning US Cross in February

Hadley runs up to 120 miles a week under the direction of her father and coach, Mark, and has already turned professional. Though it seems strange that an 18-year-old could finish as the top American woman in New York, if debutants Laura Thweatt and Teresa McWalters falter, Hadley will be favored to do just that: there is only one other American in the women’s elite field, Hilary Corno, and Hadley’s PR is almost nine minutes faster than Corno’s.

Hadley won the hilly Hokie Half Marathon on September 20 in 1:19:39 and wrote in her blog that she has been hitting some of her fastest workouts during her NYC buildup. For more on the Hadley, you can check out her blog here.

Thweatt is the most promising American prospect in New York. She commandingly won the U.S. Cross Country title by 31 seconds in February but developed a stress reaction in April and hurt her knee in a car accident in May, causing her to sit out the track season. With a coach who knows how to coach the marathon (three-time Australian Olympian Lee Troop) and PRs of 15:04, 32:15 and 71:02, Thweatt’s prospects are bright, and her prep race, a 53:14 fourth-place finish at the U.S. 10-Mile Champs earlier this month, was solid.

The Colorado native told Runner’s World she is focused on place, not time — which is the right approach in New York. As long as she runs a smart, patient race, Thweatt should easily finish as the top American on Sunday.

Tell us what you think by voting in the poll below and discussing the women’s race on our fan forum: MB: 2015 NYC Marathon Women’s Race – Who you got in loaded womens’ field led by Mary Ketiany?

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Our Men’s Preview can be found here: LRC 2015 TCS NYC Marathon Men’s Preview: Can Wilson Kipsang Return To The Top Against Boston Champ Lelisa Desisa And World Champs Silver Medalists Yemane Tsegay & Geoffrey Kamworor?



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