2016 TCS NYC Marathon U.S. Women’s Preview: Molly Huddle Makes Her Long-Awaited Marathon Debut As Does Olympic Champ Gwen Jorgensen

By LetsRun.com
November 3, 2016

If you care about American distance running, 2016 has been a special year. It began with America’s best male distance runner, Galen Rupp, announcing that he would make his marathon debut at the U.S. Olympic Trials, continued with record medal hauls at World Indoors and the Olympics led by Matthew Centrowitz winning USA’s first 1500 gold since 1908, and will conclude with America’s best female distance runner, Molly Huddle, making her marathon debut at the TCS New York City Marathon on Sunday. You could make a convincing argument that there’s never been a better time to be a U.S. distance running fan.

The women’s race in New York should be spectacular. For the third consecutive year, Kenya’s Mary Keitany is the favorite, and she’ll look to become the first woman to pull off the three-peat since Grete Waitz, who won five straight from 1982 to 1986. But Keitany will be pushed by 2015 runner-up Aselefech Mergia of Ethiopia, who beat Keitany earlier this year in London, as well as fellow Kenyan Joyce Chepkirui, the 2015 Amsterdam/Honolulu Marathon champion.

Then you’ve got Huddle, the American record-holder at 10,000 meters, making the most-anticipated marathon debut by an American woman since Shalane Flanagan in 2010. Two-time Olympian Kim Conley will also be making her marathon debut, as will Olympic triathlon champion Gwen Jorgensen. They’ll be joined by Olympic Trials 5th placer Janet BawcomNeely Gracey, Sara Hall and Annie Bersagel.

As always, there are plenty of storylines in New York, so we’ve broken our previews up this year. Below we take a look at the women’s domestic field. If you missed our first three previews, looking at the international men’s and U.S. men’s field plus the international women, you can read them at the links below. We will be on-site in New York starting on Thursday to provide insight from the top pros.

International Men’s Preview: Can Studs Stanley Biwott and Ghirmay Ghebreslassie Bounce Back From the Olympics Against Mr. Consistent (Lelisa Desisa) & Rising Star Lucas Rotich?

U.S. Men’s Preview: What Has to Happen for an American to Win for the First Time Since 2009

International Women’s Preview: Mary Keitany Tries to Embarrass the Kenyan Selectors by Winning Third Straight Title

What: 2016 TCS New York City Marathon

When: Sunday, November 6, 9:20 a.m. ET

Where: New York, New York

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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

1st $100,000 6th $10,000
2nd $60,000 7th $7,500
3rd $40,000 8th $5,000
4th $25,000 9th $2,500
5th $15,000 10th $2,000


1st $25,000
2nd $15,000
3rd $10,000
4th $5,000
5th $3,000

Time bonuses

Sub-2:22:30 $50,000 Sub-2:24:30 $30,000
Sub-2:23:00 $45,000 Sub-2:25:00 $25,000
Sub-2:23:30 $40,000 Sub-2:26:00 $15,000
Sub-2:24:00 $35,000 Sub-2:27:00 $10,000
Additionally, there is masters and NYRR prize money. 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. 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. Since none of the women entered in New York have won a major during this cycle, they would have to win on Sunday and in Tokyo or Boston next year just to tie Sumgong. But 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 Sumgong’s wins in London/Rio would be more impressive.

Important links: LRC 2015 New York City Marathon coverage * Race website

Women’s U.S. Field

Name PB Comment
Annie Bersagel 2:28:59 9th in ’14 (#2 American); DNF at Oly. Trials
Janet Bawcom 2:29:45 38-year-old was 5th at Oly. Trials, 11th at World Half Champs in ’16
Sara Hall 2:30:06 After DNF at Oly. Trials, bounced back to run PR in London 2 months later
Dot McMahan 2:31:50 7th in Chicago in ’12; turns 40 on race day
Esther Atkins 2:33:15 2014 US champ was 11th at Oly. Trials
Brianne Nelson 2:34:24 3rd at US 20k + HM champs in ’16
Hilary Dionne 2:34:45 Dartmouth grad was 23rd in Boston this year
Neely Gracey 2:35:00 9th in Boston (top American) in her debut in April
Sheri Piers 2:37:04   45-year old was 102nd at 2016 Olympic Trials.
Caroline LeFrak 2:38:14 Former Columbia runner (Bierbaum) has no marathon finishes since 2012 but broke 75:00 in a half in May.
Sarah MacKay Robinson 2:42:36  81st at Olympic Trials.
Keely Maguire 2:43:06  Former UNH runner was 24th at Olympic Trials.
Alexandra Niles 2:45:45  PB came in Hartford in 2015.
Kristen Lawrence 2:47:14  43rd place in Boston in 2013.
Megan Foster 2:48:33  PB came in Chicago in 2015.
Dawn Grunnagle 2:49:43  38-year old ran pb in Chicaog last year.
Kim Conley debut Two-time Olympian was US HM champ last year
Molly Huddle debut AR holder at 10,000 profiles as a great marathoner
Gwen Jorgensen debut Olympic triathlon champ has never raced further than 10 miles

The Headliner

Molly Huddle — 32 years old, debut, 67:41 half

Predicting success in the marathon is always difficult, but few athletes in American history have seemed better suited for the 26.2-mile distance than Huddle. Huddle owned the American record in the 5,000 from 2010 to 2016 and is coming off a stellar run at the Olympics, where she broke the American record at 10,000 meters (30:13). In addition, she’s excelled on the roads throughout her career, but especially over the past three years since making her half-marathon debut in New York in 2014. She’s gotten faster at the half every year since, running 69:04 in 2014, 68:31 last year and 67:41 (second-fastest ever by an American on a record-eligible course), winning the NYC Half in each of the past two years.

There are a few runners you can compare Huddle to. One is Galen Rupp, whose transition to the marathon has gone as well as anyone could have imagined. While Rupp, like Huddle, was U.S.’s top 10,000 runner (by a considerable margin) at the time of his debut, the situations are not identical. Rupp had rarely strayed from the track in his professional career before debuting in the marathon, running just two half marathons — one in 2011 (60:30 in NYC) and one a glorified tempo in 2015 that he ran to get a Trials qualifier. Huddle’s extensive experience on the road (including five half marathons) gives her an advantage over Rupp.

But if Huddle had switched to the marathon earlier this year, it’s unlikely she would have earned bronze at the Olympics; heck, there’s no guarantee she would have even made the U.S. team. That’s because Rupp is closer to the top Africans on the track than Huddle is. Rupp has finished in the top five in the 10k at every World Champs/Olympics since 2012, including a silver medal in 2012. Huddle, meanwhile, smashed the American record at 10,000 in Rio and that was only good enough for sixth. She was over 30 seconds out of the medals. What that means is that Huddle has a larger deficit to overcome to be competitive with the world’s top marathoners, one of whom (Mary Keitany) happens to be running New York on Sunday.

A more useful comparison is between Huddle and the two other top U.S. women who have debuted in New York over the past decade: Kara Goucher and Shalane Flanagan.

Athlete Kara Goucher Shalane Flanagan Molly Huddle
Age at debut 30 29 32
Year of debut 2008 2010 2016
PRs at debut 14:55/30:55/66:57 14:44/30:22/68:37 14:42/30:13/67:41
Notable results in debut year 9th Oly. 5k/10th Oly. 10k in 30:55 pb; US 10-mile champ (53:16) in tuneup US HM champ (69:41); 12th World XC; 68:37 at Philly Half in tuneup NYC Half champ (67:41), 6th Oly. 10k in 30:13 AR
NYC result 3rd, 2:25:53 (US debut record) 2nd, 2:28:40 ???

Huddle may be slightly older than Goucher and Flanagan when they debuted, but she has run better this year than either of them during their debut years. That’s extremely encouraging as both Goucher and Flanagan knocked it out of the park in their debuts: Goucher ran the fastest U.S. debut ever while Flanagan wound up second, beating Keitany (who was also making her debut).

We wouldn’t be surprised if Huddle followed suit and finished in the top three. While we don’t doubt that she has the ability to run 2:25 on the right day, the more likely scenario, given the strong headwinds in the forecast, is the one Flanagan faced. In 2010, the race was very slow — over 2:30 pace through 21 miles — before it picked up at the end as the runners turned south back into Manhattan and Central Park. At the time, we thought that style of race — a 21-mile tempo followed by a hard five miles — ideally suited someone moving up from the track like Flanagan, and we’re of the same mind in 2016 with Huddle. Of course, Keitany has improved by leaps and bounds in the marathon since then, and given her course record at Beach to Beacon in August (30:45), she can still move well over the shorter distances. But if Huddle is still with the leaders at 21 miles, we expect her to be able to close well.

The women’s international elite field is similar to the men’s in that there are four proven top-tier runners in the race. In our men’s preview, we made the case that an American has a shot to win on Sunday as there are question marks about several of the top international men. The difference on the women’s side is that there are fewer questions. Keitany is a stronger favorite than any of the men, and both Joyce Chepkirui and Aselefech Mergia are coming off solid spring marathons. Plus none of the top women are doubling back from the Olympics. That means that Huddle faces a tougher path to victory than Dathan Ritzenhein on the men’s side, though LetsRun nation is bullish on her chances.

The biggest problem is Keitany. When she runs well, she’s almost unbeatable (she’s lost a total of 7 races over the last 8 years) and if Huddle is to win on Sunday, she needs to catch a break: either Keitany makes a tactical blunder (which she has done in the past in NYC) or she isn’t 100% during the race. But really, anything in the top three would qualify for a massive success for Huddle, and even if she finishes a few spots lower, it’s not the end of the world.

With that said, however, it would be a big disappointment if Huddle is not the top American. None of the top four from the Olympic Trials are running NYC and the fastest American on paper is Annie Bersagel at 2:28:59. Huddle is far more accomplished than the other Americans in everything but the marathon and we envision a scenario similar to the men’s Olympic Trials, where no one was able to overcome the immense talent gap to beat Galen Rupp.

Talk about Molly Huddle’s debut on our messageboard / fan forum: MB: Molly Huddle WOW!!

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The Other Debutant (Without An Olympic Medal)

Kim Conley — 30 years old, debut, 69:44 half
Prep race: 55:37 for 1st at Bronx 10-Miler on September 25

Like Huddle, Conley is a two-time Olympian and like Huddle, she’s turning it around quickly from the Olympics (less than 12 weeks) to make her marathon debut in NYC. Conley has had her eye on the marathon for a few years now and NYC represents an ideal opportunity to try out the distance. Though she’s only one serious half marathon in her career, she won it (the 2015 US Half Champs in Houston, in 69:44) and she was focused on the 10,000 for most of the year until her shoe came off, at which point she had to pivot quickly to the 5,000 (which she ran in Rio). Conley took only a couple days off after the Olympics (she did not advance to the 5,000 final) and before she had even left Brazil, she had began working towards New York.

This fall has served as one big learning process for Conley and her coach/husband Drew Wartenburg, who has never coached a marathoner before. Wartenburg has studied up on the marathon, but rather than try to piece together an abbreviated buildup based on others’ advice, he’s tweaked what has worked with Conley in the past. He’s adapted workouts that Conley has responded well to, such as fartleks, for the marathon, while lengthening out some of the interval workouts that form the staple of her track training. Instead of running repeat 1ks or miles, those intervals are now 2k or 3 miles.

“Over time we’ll probably progress the way she trains for a marathon, provided this is something that goes on the schedule again in the future, which we think it is,” Wartenburg said. “But [this buildup] is not abandoning the track background and what has made Kim fast and strong.”

Conley’s mileage has jumped, though. In the past, she would hit 100 miles per week once or twice a season. During this buildup, she’s averaged close to 100 mpw over a 10-week span, including a peak of around 112.

As for what to expect from Conley on Sunday, we’re not reading too much into her tuneup race. When Conley visited New York in September, her goal was to see as much of the course as possible and she accomplished that, running about 40 miles total on the course. The 10-miler in the Bronx came on tired legs, and the goal there was to run marathon pace to simulate the final 10 miles. Conley ran 55:37 (5:33 pace), or 2:25:49 marathon pace, which would be a good clocking for her debut. Conley’s not as good as Huddle and she doesn’t have as much experience at the longer distances, particularly on the roads. But she’s still very talented. It will take her a few more years to unlock her true potential in the marathon, but we expect Conley to battle it out for the #2 American spot behind Huddle.

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Four More to Watch

Annie Bersagel — 33 years old, 2:28:39 pb (2015 Dusseldorf), 70:09 half
Marathons since start of 2015:
1st 2015 Dusseldorf (2:28:39), DNF 2016 Olympic Trials
Prep race: 35:39 for 3rd at Stockholm Tjejmilen 10-miler on September 3

Bersagel was 9th in New York two years ago and followed that up with a PR in Dusseldorf in April 2015, setting her up as an intriguing contender at the Olympic Trials. But the Oslo-based athlete underwent knee surgery last summer, which ate into her Trials base phase. She ultimately DNF’d in Los Angeles, but she’s back now and it will be interesting to see what she can do in New York.

Janet Bawcom — 36 years old, 2:29:45 pb (2012 Olympic Trials), 69:55 half
Last two marathons: DNF, 2013 New York, 5th 2016 Olympic Trials (2:31:20)

Bawcom, a 2012 Olympian at 10,000 meters, has finished fifth at the last two Olympic Marathon Trials. A member of Team Run Flagstaff, Bawcom proceeded to finish 11th at the World Half Marathon Champs in March but, perhaps worn down by two high-intensity races, was only 5th at the U.S. Half Marathon Champs a month later. Bawcom’s PR is a little misleading considering she’s only finished two marathons in the past six years (both at the Olympic Trials), but if she’s in the same kind of shape she was in February, she’ll have as good a shot as any American not named Huddle.

Neely Gracey — 26 years old, 2:35:00 pb (2016 Boston), 69:69 half
Prep races: 72:08 for 2nd at Philly Rock ‘n’ Roll Half on September 18; 73:03 for 1st at Staten Island Half on October 9

Gracey made a successful marathon debut in Boston in April, running 2:35:00 on a slow day (only one woman broke 2:30). Though, like most marathoners, she’s suffered a few minor aches and pains during this buildup, her coach Steve Magness believes she’s in a much better spot than she was heading into Boston. She’s averaged 10-15 mpw more than in that buildup, moving from consistent 90-mile weeks to consistent weeks of 100+, and she’s closing faster in her long runs.

Every checkpoint she did in terms of workouts was faster and longer, her weekly mileage was higher,” Magness said. “With Boston, I would consider her trained as [if] she was almost a half marathoner trying to run a marathon off of half-marathon fitness. In this buildup, I would say she trained as an actual marathoner.”

Spence, whose father Steve was the World Championship bronze medallist in the marathon in 1991, certainly has the potential to make the marathon her best distance. She’ll face a much tougher task in New York than she did against the watered-down American field in Boston.

Sara Hall — 33 years old, 2:30:06 pb (2016 London), 70:07 half
Marathons since start of 2015: 22nd 2015 Los Angeles (2:48:02), 10th 2015 Chicago (2:31:14), DNF 2016 Olympic Trials, 12th 2016 London (2:30:06)
Prep races: 72:47 for 2nd at San Jose Rock ‘n’ Roll Half on October 2, 53:33 for 4th at U.S. 10-Mile Champs on October 9

Hall has had a strong 2016 aside from her DNF at the Olympic Trials, running PRs in the half (70:07) and full marathon (2:30:06), and Magness, who works with Hall’s husband, marathon great Ryan, to oversee her training, likes where she’s at.

One of the things we did this year with Sara is back off pushing things as much,” Magness said. “So her workouts have been as fast but she hasn’t needed to go to the well to do it. Which I think is a huge step for her because when you look to athletes who are used to competing on the track, a lot of their workouts are going to the brink of exhaustion and going to the well. Well when we make the transition to the marathon, it’s more of that kind of rhythm, nailing the pace and getting it in as best as you can and sometimes feeling good about it.”

At this point in her career, Hall is what she is — a uniquely versatile runner, though one whose ability doesn’t reach the Huddle/Conley level. Her ceiling’s not as high as Gracey’s, who is still learning the event, but given what Hall has already accomplished this year, expect a solid run from her on Sunday.

The Olympic Champ

Gwen Jorgensen — 30 years old, debut
Prep race: 53:13 for 3rd at U.S. 10-Mile Champs on October 9

Wait a second, there’s an American Olympic champion in the NYC elite field and it’s taken us 2,800 words to mention her? Someone must be asleep at the wheel, right?

Not exactly. Jorgensen is a 2016 Olympic champion, but not on the track; she won the triathlon in Rio. But that doesn’t mean she won’t be a factor in New York. In her prep race at the U.S. 10-Mile Champs last month, she beat Sara Hall, among others, finishing 3rd overall in 53:13.

Jorgensen is a super talent. Her primary athletic focus was always swimming until midway through college but she quickly became very good (she ran a 4:21 1500 just months after joining the Wisconsin track team after the swimming season concluded during her junior year of college), making three NCAA finals for Wisconsin (15:52 5k pb) and finishing 19th at NCAA XC in 2008. Jorgensen is better at running than the two other triathlon disciplines, swimming and biking, but she’s still very good at those two — in addition to her Olympic gold, she won a record 13 straight World Triathlon Series races from 2014 to 2015. The previous longest streak? Three.

Jorgensen has continued to race triathlons since winning gold in Rio on August 20 — in fact, she ran (and won) one last weekend in the Bahamas that included 20 kilometers of running, 3 kilometers of swimming and 80 kilometers of biking over the course of three days. No runner would contemplate such a feat the week before a marathon, but Jorgensen isn’t worried about her lack of taper as she’s only been running 40 to 50 miles per week during her buildup. As Jorgensen said, “I don’t really run enough to have a huge taper.”

Jorgensen’s never raced over a distance longer than 10 miles and has never completed a run longer than 16 miles. She’s mostly stuck to her triathlon training (she’s still biking and running) and she’s doing a similar number of runs per week (between six and nine). The only differences are that she has been running a little more mileage and has added one marathon-specific workout per week over the past couple months.

Because the marathon is so different to anything she’s ever done, Jorgensen doesn’t have a goal in mind, but there are a few markers worth noting. 2008 Olympic triathlon silver medallist Vanessa Fernandes of Portugal ran 2:31:25 last year, though that was in Valencia, not New York, and it came four years after her triathlon career. Switzerland’s Nicola Spirig, the 2012 Olympic champ and silver medallist behind Jorgensen in Rio, ran 2:42:53 in her first marathon in 2014 and lowered that to 2:37:12 four months later. Given that New York is a tough course and Jorgensen is not training as a full-time marathoner, we don’t have great expectations for her — the move up from 10 miles should hurt her more than a full-time runner like Sara Hall. But Jorgensen is supremely talented and a great championship competitor. Predicting a time is silly especially given the windy forecast (ultimately down the road on a flat course, we think she’s a sub-2:30 marathoner), but if Jorgensen runs really well, she could finish among the top five Americans.

Talk about Jorgensen and the marathon on our messageboard / fan forum: MB: Official Jorgensen Marathon debut thread
MB: Molly Huddle WOW!!
MB:  Official 2016 TCS New York City Marathon Live Discussion Thread.

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