by Mike Knapp, for LetsRun.com
October 9, 2016
CHICAGO – It’s safe to say that heading into Sunday’s 39th Bank of America Chicago Marathon, Abel Kirui’s career was going through a bit of a rough patch.
After winning World Championship titles in the marathon in 2009 and 2011, as well as a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics in London, the 34-year-old Kenyan toed the line on Columbus Drive having finished no better than fifth in his five marathons since London 2012.
But with 10,000 meters to go Sunday, Kirui found himself in a four-man break with compatriots Gideon Kipketer, Paul Lonyangata and defending champion Dickson Chumba. When that whittled down to a head-to-head battle with Chumba with two miles to go, Kirui did the rest, opening up a bit of a gap with 800 meters left and holding off Chumba by three seconds to win his first Abbott World Marathon Major in 2:11:23.
The running community may be a bit shocked by what transpired Sunday, but Kirui was not.
“I got a message (from a friend) that they were dreaming that I won the race,” Kirui said. “We were pushing and I was tired, but my mind kept saying ‘go Kirui, go Kirui, go Kirui, your dream is coming true today.’ And I was able to achieve it.”
Staying Disciplined Was The Key
It takes a little more than dreaming and mantras to get it done at this level, of course, and Kirui entered the weekend finally feeling fit and healthy after battling injuries for most of the last four years. With his success in strategic, championship-style tactical races, Sunday was in his wheelhouse, and he felt like he could do well, so long as he didn’t let the “craziness in his mind” ruin his day.
Kirui feels like he has wrecked several good results in the past because he didn’t stay disciplined. Florence Kiplagat, a friend and training partner, and now a back-to-back champion at Chicago behind her 2:21:32 effort Sunday, told him he would be good enough to win if he focused and stuck to his plan.
“I was really controlling myself,” Kirui said. “I have lost a lot of places in my history because of [bad decisions]. I followed the law and the law proved right.
“I wanted to go (earlier) because I knew this was a good day. But I remembered what coach was telling me and what Florence was telling me, and I went with the group.”
When the group went, they went in a hurry, as Kirui, Kipketer, Lonyangata and Chumba dropped a 4:30 mile at Mile 21 to drop the rest of the challengers and ran the 10k between 30-40K in 29:58 (4:46 pace) and ran the final 10,008 meters (20 miles to the finish) in 29:30.
When Lonyangata and Kipketer – who is Kirui’s roommate here in Chicago– dropped back, Kirui was alone with Chumba, who has podium finishes in all but three of his 13 career marathons. Chumba, who didn’t arrive in Chicago until Friday evening due to visa problems at home, didn’t look to be at all feeling the effects of a long flight from Kenya, as he was running nice and relaxed.
Kirui, on the other hand, had been noticeably grimacing over the last several miles and his form was a shell of its mid-race self. None of that mattered down the stretch, though, as Kirui just kept digging deeper and gritted out a 4:58 last mile while beating back the last of Chumba’s challenges.
“I told myself it was time to run,” he said. “My mind was only on [winning], I can rest after the race is over.”
Along with winning his first major, Kirui also accomplished the goal of winning a race on American soil after failing to win in New York in 2010 and dropping out of the Boston Marathon in 2015. He was so jubilant at winning that he broke into an impromptu dance just after crossing the line.
— Jonathan Gault (@jgault13) October 9, 2016
“It was time for a celebration,” he said with a huge smile. “I had a lot of joy, and when you have joy you have to show it.”
Joy about winning, but maybe also a little joy over possibly getting to the end of a long road in the process.
Florence Kiplagat Goes Back-to-Back
While the men’s race was a crazy mix of slow miles (their Mile 18 split was four seconds slower than the women’s, 5:24-5:20) and surges before a track meet broke out at the end, the women’s race was at a quick, consistent tempo from the start.
By the race’s midway point, five women – Florence Kiplagat, Edna Kiplagat, Valentine Kipketer, Purity Rionoripo and Yebrgual Melese – were working together in a pack on a sub-2:21 pace. While she had waited until after the 40K mark to make her move in 2015, Florence Kiplagat dropped the hammer just past the 30K mark and went on to the win in 2:21:32 to own the streets of Chicago for the second straight year.
“I was feeling confident,” she said. “I told myself that if they were going to catch me they were going to have to catch me at the finish line.
“When I came here I wanted to win because I wanted to win this race twice in a row. It wasn’t easy, but I was confident.”
Kiplagat went from 30-35K in 16:17 to open up a huge 53-second gap, and despite running alone from that point forward, still went on to victory by almost two minutes over Edna Kiplagat. Florence Kiplagat has now finished on the podium in six of her last seven Marathon Majors, but was inexplicably left off the Kenyan team for the Olympic Games in Rio.
While she was gracious in interviews all weekend when asked about the Olympic snub, Kiplagat certainly ran like someone who wanted to make a statement.
While the Kenyans swept the top four places, with Ethiopians rounding out the top 6, Americans took three of the next four spots to wrap up top-10 finishes. Serena Burla ran as the top American all day and was seventh in 2:30:40, while Sarah Crouch (2:33:48) and Alia Gray (2:34:00) finished ninth and tenth, respectively.
More Analysis: *LRC 7 Quick Takes: Two-Time World Champ Abel Kirui Wins After Great Duel With Dickson Chumba; Florence Kiplagat Dominates In 2:21:32
*RRW Full Race Recap
*Full 2016 Chicago Marathon Coverage