2016 Bank of America Chicago Marathon Women’s Preview: It’s a Clash of the Kiplagats as Florence and Edna Square Off on the Streets of Chicago

By LetsRun.com
October 6, 2016

In some ways, the women’s elite field at Sunday’s 2016 Bank of America Chicago Marathon is the opposite of the men’s. The 2016 Chicago women’s international field is competitive and much deeper than last month’s Berlin Marathon, as defending champ Florence Kiplagat, two-time world champ Edna Kiplagat, Boston champ Atsede Baysa and four other sub-2:25 women will race in Chicago. However, the domestic field isn’t quite as interesting as its male counterpart, however, with Serena Burla (8th Olympic Trials) and Alia Gray (10th Olympic Trials) leading the way.

Kiplagat vs. Kiplagat should be fun, as this is the fifth time they faced each other in a marathon (Edna leads, 3-1, with all four encounters coming in London), though Florence is the defending champion in Chicago. And as Florence didn’t have enough motivation already, she’ll get to face Visiline Jepkesho — aka the woman whom Athletics Kenya chose over Florence (and Mary Keitany) as the final member of Kenya’s Olympic team, a decision which we ripped: Athletics Kenya Does It Again And Butchers Third Selection To Both Men’s And Women’s Teams.

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.

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) followed by a preview of the women’s race. If you missed it, our men’s preview is here.

What: 2016 Bank of America Chicago Marathon

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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.

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 Jemima Sumgong is the leader with 50 points thanks to her victories in London and at the Olympics. Sumgong cannot be caught, only tied, as athletes can only count two marathons per cycle. Atsede Baysa can tie Sumgong if she wins Chicago, but even then, she’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 Sumgong’s wins in London/Rio would be more impressive than Baysa’s wins in Boston/Chicago.

Important links: LRC 2015 Chicago Marathon coverage * Race website * Course map

Women’s elite field

Name Country PB Comment
Florence Kiplagat Kenya 2:19:44 Defending champ and half marathon WR holder
Edna Kiplagat Kenya 2:19:50 4-time major winner still going strong at age 37
Atsede Baysa Ethiopia 2:22:03 2-time champ (’10, ’12) coming off Boston victory in April
Valentine Kipketer Kenya 2:23:02 5th in Boston in April
Gulume Chala Ethiopia 2:23:12 2nd in Paris and Gold Coast so far in ’16
Yebrgual Melese Ethiopia 2:23:23 2015 runner-up was 5th in Paris in April
Visiline Jepkesho Kenya 2:24:44 Paris champ was shock inclusion on Olympic team; 86th in Rio
Purity Rionoripo Kenya 2:25:00 PR’d for 2nd in Prague in May
Meskerem Assefa Ethiopia 2:25:11 PR’d for 6th in Chicago last year, only one race since (no marathons)
Serena Burla USA 2:28:01 10th at Worlds last year, 8th at Olympic Trials
Freya Ross Great Britain 2:28:10 2012 Olympian was 20th in London in ’16
Jessica Draskau-Petersson Denmark 2:30:07 40th at Olympics
Tera Moody USA 2:30:53 This will be her 7th Chicago; best finish of 8th in ’10
Agnieszka Mierzejewska Poland 2:30:55  PRd as 10k (33:00) and 13.1 this year (71:41).
Sarah Crouch USA 2:32:44 12th last year, then 11th in Boston
Alia Gray USA 2:35:47 10th at Olympic Trials
Laurie Knowles USA 2:36:29  38-years old.
Lauren Philbrook USA 2:39:47  29-year old was 31st at Olympic Trials.
Caitlin Chrisman USA 2:40:28  PR dates from 2013 for former Wake Forest runner.
Julia Roman-Duval USA 2:40:55  49th at Olympic Trials.
Rachel Hyland USA 2:41:26  45th at Olympic Trials.
Emma Polley USA 2:42:07  38th at Olympic Trials.
Kristen Heckert USA 2:42:32  27th at Olympic Trials.
Amanda Scott USA 2:44:10  PR came in Houston in January.
Sophie Ryan AUS 2:47:39  29-year old’s PR comes from 2015 Melbourne.
Columba Montes MEX 2:51:45  PR dates from 2009

The Major Winners

Florence Kiplagat — Kenya, 29 years old, 2:19:44 pb (2011 Berlin), 65:09 half (world record)
Marathons since start of 2015: 
5th 2015 London (2:24:15), 1st 2015 Chicago (2:23:33), 3rd 2016 London (2:23:39)
Prep race: 32:27 for 3rd at Tilburg Ladies Run 10K on September 4

Kiplagat, the 2015 champion, enters as the prohibitive favorite. In addition to her Chicago title, Kiplagat placed third in London in April, behind two studs in Jemima Sumgong (who went on to win the Olympics) and Tigist Tufa, neither of whom will be in the race Sunday. Kiplagat has already proven she can handle a fast pace — she’s the half marathon world record holder and has a marathon best of 2:19:44, tops in the field — but she showed last year in Chicago that she can excel in races without rabbits as well, storming to victory over the final two miles.

Kiplagat only ran 32:27 in her tuneup race, a 10k in the Netherlands, which on paper doesn’t look that good for a woman who averaged 30:52 10k pace for more than double the distance in her half marathon world record last year. But check out what she’s done before her last seven marathons:

Tuneup race (date) Result Marathon (date) Result
Tilburg Ladies Run 10K (9/4/16) 32:27, 3rd Chicago (10/9/16) ???
Barcelona Half (2/14/16) 69:19, 1st London (4/24/16) 2:23:39, 3rd
Luanda Half (9/6/15) 69:20, 4th Chicago (10/11/15) 2:23:33, 1st
Barcelona Half (2/15/15) 65:09, 1st (WR) London (4/26/15) 2:24:15, 5th
Nairobi Diamond Run 10K (8/17/14) 31:42, 1st Chicago (10/12/14) 2:25:57, 2nd
Barcelona Half (2/16/14) 65:12, 1st (WR) London (4/13/14) 2:20:24, 2nd
Klagenfurt Half (8/1/8/13) 70:06, 1st Berlin (9/29/13) 2:21:13, 1st
RAK Half (2/15/13) 67:13, 5th London (4/21/13) 2:27:05, 6th

The lesson? A slow tuneup race doesn’t necessarily portend a slow marathon. Kiplagat ran pedestrian half marathons (for her) before Berlin in 2013 and Chicago last year and won both races. When she blitzed a half marathon world record in Barcelona last year, she was only fifth in London two months later. Obviously, the result of a tuneup race is just one variable among many when it comes to running a successful marathon. But we shouldn’t discount Kiplagat on Sunday just because her last race didn’t go that well.

Edna Kiplagat — Kenya, 37 years old, 2:19:50 pb (2012 London), 67:41 half
Marathons since start of 2015: 
10th 2015 London (2:27:16), 5th 2015 Worlds (2:28:18), 3rd 2016 Tokyo (2:22:36)

We just warned about reading too much into tuneup race results, but when you look at what Kiplagat accomplished on the roads this spring and summer, it’s hard not to get encouraged. At 36 (Kiplagat turned 37 last month), an age where most professional runners have forgotten about PRs, Kiplagat ran three of her five fastest road 10k’s ever, including a 31:06 personal best in Boston in June behind Shalane Flanagan‘s American record. Kiplagat’s last great marathon came in her 2014 London victory, and though she slipped a bit after that (12th New York, 10th London in her next two marathons), she was fifth at Worlds last year and put together a solid third-place showing in Tokyo in February in 2:22:36, her fastest marathon since that win in London.

This is Kiplagat’s first time running in Chicago, but don’t expect anything to faze the veteran on Sunday: her last 13 marathon appearances have all come at majors. She’s done London five times (winning in 2013) , New York (winning in 2010) and Worlds three times (winning in 2011 and 2013), and Tokyo, the Olympics and now Chicago once each. If she runs Boston and Berlin next year, she could well be the first person to ever do all eight marathons on the WMM circuit (though we’d have to check on that for sure).

Asking for a personal best out of Kiplagat is a lot — 2:19 is fast — but given her run in Tokyo and her performances on the roads since then, a time in the 2:20-2:22 range would not be a surprise if the pace is honest and Kiplagat is feeling good.

Atsede Baysa — Ethiopia, 29 years old, 2:22:03 pb (2012 Chicago), 67:33 half
Marathons since start of 2015:
16th 2015 Dubai (2:27:24), 8th 2015 Paris (2:28:13), 1st 2015 Saitama (2:25:44), 1st 2016 Boston (2:29:19)

Baysa first broke out with a win in Paris in 2009 and from then through 2013 she was a consistent contender in majors, earning two wins and a third in Chicago and two fourths in London. However, she struggled for most of 2014 and 2015 before getting back on the winning path in Saitama last year and Boston in April. That Boston win proved two things: 1) the world-class Baysa of 2009 through 2013 was back and; 2) Baysa should never be counted out in a race. Baysa entered Boston as a two-time major champ but was overlooked in a deep field. And once the lead pack of four women broke away with a 5:00 16th mile, most observers forgot all about the 29-year-old Ethiopian. Yet despite falling behind by as much as 37 seconds with under five miles to go, Baysa stormed to a big victory, measuring her effort perfectly to win by 44 seconds. Baysa’s speed, tactical chops and Chicago experience make her one of the top contenders in Sunday’s race.

Looking for a Breakout Victory

Visiline Jepkesho — Kenya, 27 years old, 2:24:44 pb (2015 Paris), 69:43
Marathons since start of 2015: 3rd 2015 Paris (2:24:44), 20th 2015 Worlds (2:36:17), DNF 2016 Nagoya, 1st 2016 Paris (2:25:53), 86th 2016 Olympics (2:46:05)

Jepkesho is best-known to most running fans as the woman who kept Florence Kiplagat and Mary Keitany off this year’s Olympic team. That’s not fair to Jepkesho, who shouldn’t be faulted for Athletics Kenya’s boneheaded decision, as she’s a good marathoner — she’s just not in the same league as Kiplagat and Keitany. It is strange, however, to see Jepkesho on the entry list for Chicago. She totally blew up in Rio, struggling to an 86th-place finish, and while it’s not unprecedented for athletes to bounce back from a poor run at the Olympics or Worlds to run a fall marathon, most of the time that athlete will have dropped out of the race to preserve their legs. Jepkesho, admirably, did not do that (now she can always say that she finished the Olympic marathon), but she faces a tough task as she’ll have had just eight weeks between Rio and Chicago.

Even at her best, Jepkesho has yet to show herself capable of winning a major (her pb is just 2:24:44), but logically you’ve got to think that she’s in some sort of shape right now; why else would she join the field as a late addition?

Yebrgual Melese — Ethiopia, 26 years old, 2:23:23 pb (2015 Houston), 68:21 half
Marathons since start of 2015:
1st 2015 Houston (2:23:23), 1st 2015 Prague (2:23:49), 2nd 2015 Chicago (2:23:43), 5th 2016 Paris (2:32:06)

Melese, like Jepkesho, a late addition to the field, ran with Florence Kiplagat for 24 miles in last year’s Chicago Marathon before dropping off just slightly at the end of the race. She wound up second in 2:23:43, 10 seconds back of Kiplagat, and the time made her the only woman in 2016 with three marathons under 2:24 last year (only four other women had even two such marathons). Melese took a step back from those 2:23’s with a 2:32 in Paris in April and hasn’t raced since, so she’s something of an unknown quantity heading into Sunday’s race. But if she can replicate her 2015 form, she’ll give Kiplagat and the others a run for their money once again.

Valentine Kipketer — Kenya, 23 years old, 2:23:02 (2013 Amsterdam), 68:21 half
Marathons since start of 2015: 3rd 2016 Mumbai (2:34:07), 5th 2016 Boston (2:33:13)

Kipketer, whose brother Gideon (2:08 pb) is also running Chicago, ran some impressive times at an early age (68:21 half at 18; 2:23 marathon at 20) before taking time off to have a child last year. She returned slowly, with a 2:34 in Mumbai, but she built on that with a fifth in Boston and will now look to get back under 2:30 for the first time in three years. Kipketer hasn’t raced since Boston, so we don’t know how her fitness rates at the moment, but assuming no setbacks, she should be in the mix for a top-five finish in Chicago.

Purity Rionoripo — Kenya, 23 years old, 2:25:00 pb (2016 Prague), 68:29 half
Marathons since start of 2015: 
1st 2015 Lisbon (2:25:09), 2nd 2016 Prague (2:25:00)
Prep race: 71:56 for 1st at Bogota Half Marathon on July 31

Rionoripo is a name to watch. She won her debut in Lisbon last year in 2:25:09 and lowered her best to 2:25:00 in Prague in May. Most recently, she ran 71:56 at the Bogota Half Marathon on July 31. That may not sound like much, but once you consider Bogota sits at an elevation of 8,600 feet and Rionoripo won the race by almost two minutes (on what was apparently a windy day), it suggests she’s in pretty good shape. Two years ago, doper Rita Jeptoo ran 73:39 in Bogota before winning Chicago two months later. If you want a ‘longshot’ pick, this is the woman.

Best of the Rest

Your winner will likely come from one of the two groups listed above, but we’ll briefly list the other Africans pros below as they have an outside shot at the win if everything breaks right.

  • Gulume Chala — Ethiopia, 24 years old, 2:23:13 pb (2015 Frankfurt): Chala earned her second career marathon victory in Frankfurt last fall, running a six-minute PR of 2:23. She’s since shown that was no fluke, taking second in Paris in April (2:26) and Gold Coast in July (2:27), though she’ll face a step up in competition in Chicago, her first major.
  • Meskerem Assefa — Ethiopia, 31 years old, 2:25:11 pb (2015 Chicago): Assefa finished sixth last year in a pb of 2:25:11. Since then, however, she’s only raced once: 69:39 for second at the Istanbul Half Marathon in April.

The Americans

Serena Burla — USA, 34 years old, 2:28:01 (2013 Amsterdam), 70:08 half
Marathons since start of 2015: 
7th 2015 Houston (2:31:46), 10th 2015 Worlds (2:31:06), 8th 2016 Olympic Trials (2:34:28)

Burla has been a fairly consistent marathoner over the past few years and has displayed an ability to produce solid performances in tough conditions. She’s not going to contend in major marathons, but in a field absent any U.S. Olympians, Burla has to like her chances to finish as the top American on Sunday. The flat Chicago course also represents an opportunity for Burla to dip under 2:30 for the first time since 2013.

Sarah Crouch — USA, 27 years old, 2:32:44 pb (2014 Chicago), 72:10 half
Marathons since start of 2015: 1st 2015 Tallahasse (2:46:59), 12th 2015 Chicago (2:32:51), 11th 2016 Boston (2:37:36)
Prep race: 69:06 for 6th at US 20K Champs on September 5

Crouch battled a hip flexor injury over the winter that kept her out of the Olympic Trials, but she rebounded to finish 11th (second American) at Boston in April. She was also the third American in Chicago each of the past two years, highlighted by a sixth-place finish in 2014. Crouch is coming off a solid run at last month’s 20K Champs, and if she’s fully over the hip injury, she could challenge for top American honors or a PR.

Alia Gray — USA, 27 years old, 2:35:47 pb (2016 Olympic Trials), 72:48 half
Marathons since start of 2015: 
10th 2016 Olympic Trials (2:35:53)

Gray was largely unknown when she finished 10th at the Olympic Trials in February, and even after that race only the most diehard running fans would be able to pick her out of a crowd. But the Chico State grad is better than her 2:35 PR indicates as her three career marathons — California International in 2012 (heavy rain), New York in 2014 (wind) and the Trials in 2016 (heat) — have all come in foul weather. And even that 2:35 came after a tough buildup — she fractured her fibula eight weeks before the race and only ran 20 miles in practice once before the Trials. Sunday’s forecast is looking good, and Gray, who is based in Boulder and coached by Joe Vigil, is shooting for sub-2:30 in Chicago.

For more on Gray, check out this nice profile by Cindy Kuzma of Runner’s World.

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More: Did you read our men’s preview or feature on Luke Puskedra?

LRC Dickson Chumba Goes for the Repeat as Americans Luke Puskedra, Elkanah Kibet & Diego Estrada Do Battle
LRC 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

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