2016 Bank of America Chicago Marathon Men’s Preview: Dickson Chumba Goes for the Repeat as Americans Luke Puskedra, Elkanah Kibet & Diego Estrada Do Battle
October 5, 2016
With the Olympics scooping up much of the world’s top talent and Berlin snagging the two best marathoners not in Rio (Kenenisa Bekele and Wilson Kipsang), that doesn’t leave much for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, which will take place on Sunday morning. But there are a few intriguing names who will appear on the start line in Grant Park, led by defending champion Dickson Chumba of Kenya, who will look to become the first repeat winner since the late Sammy Wanjiru in 2009 and 2010. That 2010 race would prove to be the last one Wanjiru would ever run, and his rival in that epic edition, Tsegaye Kebede, will return to the Windy City for the first time since winning the race in 2012. He and two-time world champ Abel Kirui are the chief challengers to Chumba’s repeat bid, though neither man has been in great form over the past two years. One more international name to watch is former University of Arizona star Stephen Sambu, who will make his marathon debut on Sunday.
Luke Puskedra, whose 2:10:24 in Chicago last year was the fastest marathon by an American in 2015, headlines the U.S. field. It’s been quite a journey for Puskedra to get back to the start line after the devastation of finishing fourth in the Olympic Trials and learning that his infant daughter, Penelope, was diagnosed with cancer. But Penelope is now cancer-free and Puskedra is eager to race again. We’ve got a separate feature on Puskedra’s comeback here. In addition to Puskedra, Elkanah Kibet (7th last year) will be in Chicago, as will Diego Estrada, who is here for his marathon debut, take two, after dropping out of the Trials in February.
Conditions look pretty good for marathoning. It’s a windier than ideal (10 mph) but as of Wednesday afternoon, Weather.com was predicting a high of 67 and low of 54 on Sunday, not bad for running at all.
Bewlow we give you the need-to-know details for Sunday’s race below (it starts at 8:30 a.m. ET if you want to watch live) and then preview the men’s race on paper for you. We’ll then give you more info later in the week after we talk to the elites at the press conference on Friday.
Our women’s preview coming tomorrow.
What: 2016 Bank of America Chicago Marathon
When: Sunday, October 9, 8:30 a.m. ET (7:30 a.m. local time)
Where: Chicago, Illinois
How to watch: For Chicago-area residents, the race will be shown live on NBC 5 starting at 7 a.m. local time. For everyone else, you can stream the race live online at NBCChicago.com starting at 8 a.m. ET or watch it live on NBC Sports Network at 8 a.m. ET. It also will be on the NBCSN app.
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. The current series runs from the 2016 Boston Marathon to the 2017 Boston Marathon, and right now Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge is the leader with 50 points thanks to his victories in London and at the Olympics. Kipchoge cannot be caught, only tied, as athletes can only count two marathons per cycle. Since none of the guys entered in Chicago have won a marathon in this cycle, they’d need to win here and in Tokyo or Boston next year just to tie Kipchoge. And even then, they’d still likely lose out on the $500,000 grand prize as in the event of a tie, the WMM race directors hold a vote to determine the champion and no one is topping Kipchoge’s resume (2:03:05 CR in London and Olympic gold).
Men’s elite field
|Dickson Chumba||Kenya||2:04:32||Defending champ was 3rd in Tokyo in February|
|Tsegaye Kebede||Ethiopia||2:04:38||2012 champ was one of world’s best from ’08-’14 but last good marathon was in April ’14|
|Abel Kirui||Kenya||2:05:04||2-time world champ was 5th in Tokyo in February|
|Abayneh Ayele||Ethiopia||2:06:45||Barely edged out by Mo Farah for World Half bronze in March|
|Micah Kogo||Kenya||2:06:56||4th in Paris in April; ’08 Oly. bronze in 10k|
|Paul Lonyangata||Kenya||2:07:14||Won Shanghai in Nov., then 5th in Boston|
|Gideon Kipketer||Kenya||2:08:14||Won Mumbai in January after starting race as a pacer|
|Koji Gokaya||Japan||2:09:21||Ran PR in Tokyo last year but only 47th in 2:21 there in Feb.|
|Takuya Fukatsu||Japan||2:09:31||Coming off 2+ minute PR at Lake Biwa in March|
|Luke Puskedra||USA||2:10:24||5th last year, 4th at Olympic Trials|
|Scott Overall||Great Britain||2:10:55||2012 Olympian dropped out of London in April|
|Elkanah Kibet||USA||2:11:31||7th last year in debut, but struggled at Trials (19th in 2:20)|
|Kazuya Ishida||Japan||2:11:57||PR dates from his 1st marathon finish in 2012 but did run 2:12:25 in February.|
|Ryoichi Matsuo||Japan||2:12:11||25-yr old ran pb in 2014.|
|Tim Young||USA||2:14:40||14th in ’14; 11th at Olympic Trials|
|David Nilsson||Sweden||2:17:19||Ran 29:24 indoor 10k in March.|
|Jose Madera||USA||2:17:25||Ran 29:07 in 2015 for Univ of San Francisco.|
|Tony Migliozzi||USA||2:17:44||Only 23 and he’s got 11 marathon finishes on tilastapaja.org including 3 this year.|
|Jonathan Mott||USA||2:18:12||47th at Olympic Trials.|
|Kevin Havel||USA||2:21:57||Ran 28:56 for Stanford in 2011.|
|Dustin Emerick||USA||2:22:16||28:33.35 10k pb; was 26th at Olympic Trials.|
|Andrew Epperson||USA||2:22:20||29:26 10k pb; was 27th at Olympic Trials.|
|Diego Estrada||USA||N/A||2015 US Half Marathon champ (60:51) DNF’d marathon debut at Oly. Trials|
|Stephen Sambu||Kenya||debut||Former Arizona star won NYC Half in March, ran 26:58 10k in May|
|Tom Anderson||Great Britain||debut||Former Butler runner has run 14:10 and 29:14.|
|Connor McMillan||USA||debut||13:53/29:13 for BYU. 16th at NCAA 10k this year.|
|Kiya Dandena||USA||debut||64:16 half marathon pb, 11th at US 10k in New Haven a few weeks ago.|
|Daniel Wallis||New Zealand||debut||14:06/29:45/65:34.|
Dickson Chumba — Kenya, 29 years old, 2:04:31 pb (2014 Chicago), 60:39 half
Marathons since start of 2015: 3rd 2015 Tokyo (2:06:34), 1st 2015 Chicago (2:09:25), 3rd 2016 Tokyo (2:07:34)
Chumba, a two-time major winner (2014 Tokyo, 2015 Chicago) enters as the favorite in Chicago, almost by default. The defending champion should always be taken seriously, and he finished third in Tokyo earlier this year, the exact same place as 2015 before winning in the Windy City (granted, Chumba was exactly one minute slower in Tokyo in 2016). Tokyo’s not Boston or London, but Chumba beat some solid marathoners there in 2012 Olympic champ Stephen Kiprotich and fellow Kenyan Abel Kirui, who figures to be one of his biggest rivals in Chicago. Chumba only lost to two men: two-time Amsterdam champ Bernard Kipyego (by one second) and Olympic silver medallist Feyisa Lilesa. Chumba hasn’t raced since a so-so 62:12 half marathon back in April in China, but he knows Chicago (in addition to his ’15 win, he was third here in ’14) and is the fastest guy in the field. Assuming he had a decent buildup, he’s the man to beat.
It helps that this field is not particularly strong at the top. Kirui and Tsegaye Kebede, the next two fastest guys behind Chumba, were excellent marathoners in their primes, but they’re not close to PR shape these days. Only one other guy in the field had broken 2:07 (Micah Kogo), and that was three years ago. If this year’s race is anything like last year’s (winning time: 2:09:25), there should be a good pack together through about 20 miles. But Chumba’s class eventually won out in 2015, and it should again on Sunday.
Trying to Return to the Top
Tsegaye Kebede — Ethiopia, 29 years old, 2:04:38 pb (2012 Chicago), 59:35 half
Marathons since start of 2015: 8th 2015 Tokyo (2:07:58), 5th 2016 Rotterdam (2:10:56)
From the start of 2008 to April 2014, Kebede was one of the world’s best and most consistent marathoners. Despite routinely tackling the world’s toughest races, he finished in the top four of 15 of his 16 marathons during that stretch (13 of them majors, including six Londons, two World Champs and one Olympics), claiming victories at Paris, Chicago, Fukuoka (twice) and London (twice). But it’s hard to stay on top for long in the marathon, and since placing third in London two years ago, Kebede has struggled. He was only ninth in Berlin in 2014 (2:10:27) and only ran one marathon last year, taking eighth in Tokyo (2:07:58). His 2:10:56 in Rotterdam in April (in a race won in 2:06) was the slowest marathon of his career; in fact, two of his three slowest marathons have come in his last three races (2014 Berlin, 2016 Rotterdam). Kebede hasn’t raced since Rotterdam in April, so we don’t know what kind of shape he’s in (hopefully we’ll find out when we talk to him on Friday). And we can’t totally write him off; Kebede is almost five years younger than Kenenisa Bekele, who just won Berlin. But once it starts to go in the marathon, it’s very hard to get it back.
Also worth noting: Kebede was involved in one of the greatest finishes in marathon history in Chicago six years ago against the late Sammy Wanjiru, when the two men duked it out over the final mile for the $500,000 World Marathon Majors title. If you haven’t watched the ending of that race, you need to check out the video below, if only to hear Toni Reavis lose his mind (and his voice) on the race broadcast.
Abel Kirui — Kenya, 34 years old, 2:05:04 pb (2009 Rotterdam), 60:11 half
Marathons since start of 2015: DNF 2015 Boston, 10th 2015 Amsterdam (2:10:55), 5th 2016 Tokyo (2:08:06)
Prep race: 46:44 for 5th at Tilburg 10-miler in the Netherlands on September 4
Kirui is five years older than Kebede, but he may have a better chance of resurrecting his career in Chicago. Kirui, the world champ in 2009 and 2011 and Olympic runner-up in 2012, looked to be moving backwards from 2013 to 2015, but took a step in the right direction in February, finishing fifth in Tokyo in 2:08:06, his fastest time since 2012. Encouragingly, he was only 32 seconds behind Chumba in Tokyo, and Chumba figures to be his biggest competition in Chicago. So if Kirui’s in slightly better shape (or Chumba is in slightly worse) or Chumba has an off day, Kirui definitely has got a shot to win on Sunday. It also helps that Chicago no longer has rabbits as historically Kirui is better in non-rabbitted races.
Hoping for a Breakthrough
Abayneh Ayele — Ethiopia, 28 years old, 2:06:45 pb (2016 Dubai), 59:59 half
Marathons since start of 2015: 4th 2015 Rotterdam (2:09:21), 1st 2015 Lanzhou (2:10:10), 4th 2015 Eindhoven (2:07:16), 6th 2016 Dubai (2:06:45), 4th 2016 Hamburg (2:11:49)
This will be the first World Marathon Major for the 28-year-old Ayele. There are reasons to be optimistic, as he has run PRs in the 10,000 (27:35 for 7th at the Ethiopian Olympic Trials), half marathon (59:59 for 4th at the World Half Marathon Champs, the same time as Mo Farah), and the marathon (2:06:45 in Dubai).
Micah Kogo — Kenya, 30 years old, 2:06:56 pb (2013 Chicago), 59:07 half
Marathons since start of 2015: 7th 2015 Hamburg (2:10:37), 10th 2015 Frankfurt (2:10:24), 4th 2016 Paris (2:08:03)
Prep race: 28:58 for 5th at Beach to Beacon 10K on August 6
When Kogo moved to the marathon in 2013, all the signs pointed to a successful career at 26.2 miles. He was (and still is) the sixth-fastest man ever at 10,000 meters (since Kogo ran 26:35 in 2006, only Bekele has gone faster), owned an Olympic bronze medal on the track (10k in ’08) and was coming off a 59:07 half marathon at the Great North Run in 2012. Though he didn’t win either of his first two marathons, he ran well in both: 2:10:27 for second in Boston in 2013, followed by a 2:06:56 for fourth in Chicago that fall. But the breakthrough victory didn’t come the next year. In fact, the opposite took place: Kogo didn’t break 2:10 or place higher than seventh in any of his four marathons from 2014-2015. Like his countryman Abel Kirui, however, Kogo made progress in his most recent marathon, running 2:08:03 for fourth in Paris in April. His 28:58 at Beach to Beacon in August was nothing to write home about, but the talent is there. Paris isn’t a major, but it’s a very solid marathon (nine guys broke 2:09 this year), and if Kogo can produce a performance similar to what he did in the French capital, he has a chance to win on Sunday as this race is wide-open if Chumba falters.
Paul Lonyangata — Kenya, 23 years old, 2:07:14 pb (2015 Shanghai), 59:53 half
Marathons since start of 2015: 1st 2015 Shanghai (2:07:14), 5th 2016 Boston (2:15:45)
Lonyangata has flashed some potential in six career marathons, running 2:07 twice and taking wins in Lisbon (2013) and Shanghai (2015). So far, however, he has not yet shown himself capable of winning a major marathon, though he was much closer this year (5th in Boston) than in his major debut (9th at 2014 Boston). Lonyangata is still just 23 years old and PR’d last fall in Shanghai, so he’s got some upside, but winning in Chicago would require a breakout performance.
Gideon Kipketer — Kenya, 23 years old, 2:08:14 pb (2012 Amsterdam), 59:53 half
Marathons since start of 2015: 5th 2015 Hamburg (2:09:34), 2nd 2015 Seoul (2:09:01), 1st 2016 Mumbai (2:08:35), DNF 2016 London
Kipketer occupies a very similar position to Lonyangata. They were born a month apart, have identical half marathon pbs and have some strong results in non-majors but remain unproven against the very best competition. Kipketer’s best result is his 2:08:35 win in Mumbai in January, which suggested he may be capable of more — especially considering he started the race as a pacer. However, he’s never broken 2:08 in nine marathons starts, and though the winning time in Chicago last year was only 2:09, you generally need 2:04-2:05 ability to win a major marathon. Even in a watered-down field like 2016 Chicago, Kipketer may not be good enough to win.
Fun fact: Kipketer’s sister, Valentine, is a 2:23 marathoner and is also running Chicago.
Stephen Sambu — Kenya, 28 years old, debut, 60:41 half
Prep races: 32:10 for 1st at Falmouth Road Race (7 miles) on August 21; 72:12 for 16th at Rock ‘n’ Roll Philly Half Marathon on September 18
Sambu, a collegiate star at the University of Arizona who still trains in Tucson under college coach James Li, will make his marathon debut on Sunday. Sambu has run fast on the track (he’s twice broken 27 minutes on the track for 10,000 meters) and has developed into one of the world’s top road racers, winning the NYC Half in March and his third straight Falmouth Road Race title in August. While a guy can make a good living on the roads, the best competition is either on the track or in the marathon. Sambu has been thinking about the latter event for the past two years and at age 28 and 10 half marathons under his belt, he believes the time is right to tackle the ultimate distance. Sambu has had success in Chicago before (he’s won the past two Shamrock Shuffles) and chose the Windy City for his marathon debut because of its flat course.
Sambu began his buildup in July in Kenya, where he trained with Kenyan Olympians Wesley Korir and Eliud Kipchoge.
“Wesley told me, ‘When you’re in the marathon, you think the pace is too slow, but you have to be patient and wait. Don’t go in front. At the beginning, you’ll be feeling so good. You’ll be like “This is easy”… Just relax, just wait and just follow the guys,'” Sambu told LetsRun.com.
That will be an adjustment for Sambu, who has won many road races by pushing the pace.
“I always like running in front most of the time,” Sambu said. “When I’m in front, I feel strong, I feel good. I think it’s going to be tough but I will not be leading, I will be following the leader.”
Another adjustment for Sambu is the mileage. Since graduating from Arizona in 2012, Sambu has maxed out at 90 miles per week. But for this buildup, which he’s mostly conducted in Tucson (he returned from Kenya on August 4), 90 miles has been the floor, with Sambu getting up to 110 or 115 miles in his biggest weeks. Prior to this buildup, Sambu had never run 100 miles in a week.
Sambu is cautiously optimistic about his chances in Chicago. A week before he won Falmouth, Sambu ran a 25-mile tempo at 5:30 pace and last month he averaged 4:47 for a nine-mile tempo. The only hiccup was a disastrous 72:12 at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Philly Half Marathon on September 18, but Sambu chalked that up to severe dehydration, saying that he was with the leader through eight miles before his body shut down. Sambu said that he’d like to be close to 2:10 on Sunday and that top five or top six would make him “so happy.”
Before we get to the Americans, we should mention that there are four Japanese pros in the field, two of whom (Koji Gokaya and Takuya Fukatsu) have run faster than any of the Americans entered in Chicago. While Gokaya (2:09:21 pb) and Fukatsu (2:09:31 pb at Lake Biwa in March) are both strong top-10 threats (perhaps even top five on a great day), neither has a realistic shot to win the race.
Luke Puskedra — USA, 26 years old, 2:10:24 pb (2015 Chicago), 61:29 half
Marathons since start of 2015: 6th 2015 Grandma’s (2:15:27), 5th 2015 Chicago (2:10:24), 4th 2016 Olympic Trials (2:14:12)
Prep race: 60:14 for 10th at US 20K Champs on September 5
Puskedra is the top American returner (and the #2 returner overall) at Chicago and is the top American running any marathon this fall. He lost to both Elkanah Kibet and Diego Estrada (both of whom are running Chicago) at the US 20K Champs last month but he says he feels his fitness is close to what it was at this point last year. Puskedra’s track record in the marathon is not extensive, but after struggling with the Nike Oregon Project, he seems to have found a system that fits him in Eugene, where he mostly dictates his own training (though he takes advisement from Andy Powell). For the full scoop on Puskedra and his buildup, check out our feature on him here: The Comeback: How Luke Puskedra Bounced Back from 4th Place at the Olympic Trials and His Daughter’s Cancer Diagnosis to Prepare for Sunday’s Chicago Marathon.
Elkanah Kibet — USA, 33 years old, 2:11:31 pb (2015 Chicago), 64:01 half
Marathons since start of 2015: 7th 2015 Chicago (2:11:31), 19th 2016 Olympic Trials (2:20:10)
Prep race: 59:25 for 4th at US 20K Champs on September 5
Kibet surprised everyone at Chicago last year by leading for five miles early in the race and hanging on to run 2:11:31 in his debut marathon. After relocating to Colorado Springs to train in the Army’s WCAP program under Scott Simmons, he won’t be sneaking up on anyone this time around.
Kibet followed up Chicago by running the Olympic Trials in Los Angeles, where he said he felt really good until mile 19, at which point his body could no longer respond to the moves that were being made and he faded to 19th. Analyzing his training log afterwards, Kibet felt he didn’t do enough long efforts in his buildup and has remedied that by adding more 20+ mile runs this time around. Kibet was very encouraged by his result at the 20K Champs on September 5, as he ran with the leaders almost the entire way before being outsprinted by training partners Leonard Korir and Sam Chelanga.
Kibet said that, unlike last year, he’ll be content to run with the leaders in Chicago on Sunday, even if the pace is slow as it was last year.
“Focus, stay with the guys, don’t get dropped, hang on as much as you can and see where you are at mile 23. You never know what will happen right there,” Kibet told LetsRun.com.
One of Kibet’s main goals will be to run a time to put him on the team at next year’s World Championships in London. What will that require? Well, USATF picks the team based on the three athletes with the fastest times on an IAAF-approved course from January 1, 2016 to April 24, 2017 (the day after next year’s London Marathon). Here’s what the list looks like right now:
- Galen Rupp, 2:10:05 2016 Olympics
- Jared Ward, 2:11:30 2016 Olympics
- Meb Keflezighi, 2:12:30 2016 Olympic Trials
- Luke Puskedra, 2:14:12 2016 Olympic Trials
- Tyler Pennel, 2:14:57 2016 Olympic Trials
This list will change between now and April 24, and there’s a strong chance that several of these guys won’t want to run at Worlds next year. Alberto Salazar has already said Rupp is going back to the track next year, Ward may want to get paid after his stellar 2016 and run a race with appearance fees and Meb will almost certainly run Boston and New York. If Kibet can replicate his 2015 performance (2:11:31), he’ll almost certainly have booked his ticket to Worlds, though he may only need to run 2:12 or 2:13.
For more on Kibet, check out our profile of him from last year: LRC For The Love Of Running: How Elkanah Kibet Went From A Deployment In Iraq To 2:11:31 At The Chicago Marathon In Less Than A Year
Diego Estrada — USA, 26 years old, 60:51 half
Marathons since start of 2015: DNF 2016 Olympic Trials
Prep race: 59:44 for 6th at US 20K Champs on September 5
Transitioning to the marathon is about more than just running more miles and lengthening your long run. It requires a different mindset, and that’s something Diego Estrada learned the hard way at the Olympic Trials in February. After ripping off a 60:51 victory at last year’s US Half Marathon Championships in Houston, Estrada decided to make his marathon debut at the Trials, but was unprepared for the long, slow burn of the marathon.
“I was thinking more like a track race,” Estrada told LetsRun.com. “I kept asking my agent that if, with a mile to go, many guys would be in it and how fast would I have to close and he kept telling me that by mile 20, it would all be decided. I learned that the marathon is so much different han even a half marathon in the sense that the pace doesn’t have to be hard enough, but just the distance itself wears some competitors out. I mean the conditions were very tough, but even a simple surge like the one Tyler [Pennel] put in [at mile 16] can just blow everybody up.”
Estrada ran with the leaders through 15 miles but dropped out less than five miles later. After the race, his hamstrings cramped up badly and he felt a pop in his sacrum. Estrada continued racing this summer but said the hamstring bothered him until mid-August.
Estrada admits that “I’m not a complete marathoner yet,” but he feels he’s closer to being one than he was eight months ago. After finishing his track season at the Olympic Trials (he dropped out of the 10k and finished 11th in the 5k), Estrada’s coach, Joe Vigil, elected to give him a lighter training load heading into Chicago, not wanting to overdo it. Estrada didn’t top 90 miles per week until September, and then he caught a cold after taking sixth at the 20K Champs on Labor Day. The combination of low mileage and illness caused Estrada to doubt himself.
“I was panicking that I wasn’t in good shape,” Estrada said.
So he took a couple days off to recover from the cold and decided to stop stressing out about his training for the rest of the month. The result has been what Estrada calls the best mileage and the best long workouts of his life over the past four weeks. He’s been running 120 miles a week and two weeks ago averaged 5:00/mile for a 16-mile tempo at 3,000 feet. Estrada feels that he’s better served by only a few weeks of high mileage during his buildup rather than risk overdoing it as he prepares for his second marathon.
“I think that I’m undertrained,” Estrada said. “Mentally, I’m looking at this race more as a challenge. In training I’ve done 20 miles at 4:55 [pace] before. Now I feel like I’m in the same boat where I can run that 20-miler but I still haven’t run that 20-miler in training — I’m saving it for the race.”
Estrada is shooting for 2:10 on Sunday, and though he said he’d like to run with the lead pack if possible, he’s prepared to back off and run in no-man’s-land if possible — that’s what he did at the end of the 20K Champs, where he took sixth in 59:44. Estrada has the tools to become an elite marathoner, but he’s still very much a work in progress. His Chicago result will show whether he’s on the right path.
Tim Young — USA, 29 years old, 2:14:40 pb (2014 Chicago), 63:44 half
Marathons since start of 2015: 6th 2015 Pan American Games (2:19:34), 11th 2016 Olympic Trials (2:17:10)
Young’s PR isn’t close to Puskedra’s or Kibet’s, and he’s far less accomplished at the shorter distances than Estrada (14:36/29:21 pbs). But he beat Kibet at the Olympic Trials in February and ran a half marathon pb of 63:44 to take sixth at the US Half Champs in April. Young has run Chicago twice before and he could better his best finish of 14th this year as Chicago no longer has rabbits and he’s done well in his last two marathons, both unrabbitted affairs.
LRC Unofficial Prediction: We’ll make our official predictions after talking to some more of the elites at the press conference on Friday. But on paper, we basically have to pick Dickson Chumba for the win as he’s the only one guy in the field who’s been running like a world-class marathoner over the past two years. Abel Kirui did make some progress earlier this year in Tokyo and may be a factor, but this race is up for grabs if Chumba falters; don’t be surprised if Puskedra or Kibet is still in the mix at 20 miles. We like Puskedra for top American honors. Even though he lost to Kibet and Estrada at the 20K Champs, he was doing more volume than either of them at the time. Tapered for Chicago, we’ll go with Puskedra, though expect a firm challenge from Kibet.