Lelisa Desisa Guarantees Victory, Lemi Berhanu Wants to Run “2:06-2:07,” Wilson Kipsang Explains Berlin DNF & More from NYC
November 3, 2017
NEW YORK — The 2017 TCS New York City Marathon is just two days away and excitement in the city is reaching critical mass. Today, some of the world’s best marathoners assembled at the NYC Marathon Pavilion on a beautiful 70-degree afternoon to address the media for the final time before Sunday’s race. There was a lot of big talk as Ethiopian Lemi Berhanu said he wants to break the field by running 2:06 or 2:07 (only two men have ever broken 2:07 in New York) while his countryman and fellow former Boston Marathon champ Lelisa Desisa guaranteed victory. Meanwhile, the man with the fastest PR in the field, Kenya’s Wilson Kipsang, said he’s recovered great after his DNF in Berlin six weeks ago and is in even better shape than when he won NYC three years ago.
We share everything we learned below, with additional insight on top women Mary Keitany, Edna Kiplagat, and Betsy Saina (who explained her recent split from Bowerman Track Club).
Berhanu entered Boston this April as the defending champion but wound up dropping out as his coach, Gemedu Dedefo, explained that he struggled with the warm, humid conditions (temps and humidity were both in the 60s). If that’s the case, Berhanu may not enjoy the race on Sunday as it’s supposed to be in the 60s with humidity in the 80s (and a 40% chance of rain) when the race begins on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge .
Assuming he handles the weather okay — and we think he will, as conditions at 2017 Boston weren’t that different to conditions at 2016 Boston (Editor’s note: It was 70 at the start of Boston this year and 71 at start last year), which Berhanu won — he is definitely a man to watch.
Why? Because today, Berhanu said today he wants to run “2:06 or 2:07” on Sunday.
How fast is that? Here are the top five times ever run in New York, for context.
Five fastest times ever at NYC Marathon
- 2:05:06 Geoffrey Mutai (2011)
- 2:06:28 Emmanuel Mutai (2011)
- 2:07:14 Tsegaye Kebede (2011)
- 2:07:43 Tesfaye Jifar (2001)
- 2:07:51 Ghirmay Ghebreslassie (2016)
So yeah, 2:06 is pretty damn fast. If Berhanu is truly committed to running that fast, it will make for a very interesting race. Apart from the first mile on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the first half isn’t too hilly, so it’s definitely possible to go out in 63:00 (see the course elevation profile here). But one of the hardest parts of the NYC course is the final portion on the Central Park hills. If they go out chasing 2:06, Berhanu (and anyone who follows him) may regret their early aggression by the time they hit those hills.
Kipsang is the most intriguing man in Sunday’s race as he tries to bounce back from a failed attempt at breaking the world record in Berlin six weeks ago. Kipsang said that “all was well” and that there was no injury in Berlin. He blamed the weather (high-50s, rain) on his poor performance, saying his body “failed to respond,” adding that he began to have stomach problems at 27 kilometers. He tried to give his stomach time to work itself out, but the issue did not improve.
“I thought maybe it would be okay, but by 30 kilometers, I felt it was not going well,” Kipsang said.
Kipsang said he took one week off after Berlin before adding some hill work over the last five weeks (something he did not do before running Berlin’s flat course). Kipsang does not feel he did much damage to his body since he dropped out early and thinks that he’s been able to hold his fitness since then.
“It wasn’t difficult to recover because the preparation, I was very ready to run a fast race. I just took it like a training session…I was preparing myself to run a world record [in Berlin]. [My fitness] didn’t come down. I’m still feeling the same. So compared to 2014 (when Kipsang won NYC), I think I’m a bit stronger this time.”
Talk is cheap, however. Go to a major marathon and almost everyone will tell you they’re 100% healthy and coming off a terrific block of training. It is only after the race is over that the truth starts trickling out. As fans of the sport, we hope Kipsang ready to roll on Sunday as he’s magnificent to watch at his best. But the last time he tried something like this — he ran New York in 2015 10 weeks after dropping out at Worlds — he could only manage 4th in NYC.
After his runner-up finish to Mo Farah in the 2015 World Championships 10,000m, Geoffrey Kamworor was seen as the heir apparent to Farah. However, after a subsequent 11th-place finish at the Olympics and 6th-place finish at the last World Championships, some wondered if Kamworor was done with the track.
Kamworor said that’s not the case, and he intends to defend his World Cross Country title in two years and to run the World Championships on the track.
“I can run a marathon, but I still can run track and cross country,” he said. Kamworor, still only 24, is one of the more versatile runners on the planet, with two world half marathon titles to his name, a runner-up finish in New York and a 2:06:12 marathon PR.
“All the surfaces are my favorite, it depends on my preparation,” he said.
Kamworor is still viewed as a neophyte of sorts in the marathon, but his marathon PR comes from his debut over five years ago in Berlin. This will be Kamworor’s first marathon since his runner-up finish two years ago in New York.
Kamworor is coached by Patrick Sang, and trains with marathon legend Eliud Kipchoge. Kipchoge is the best marathoner on the planet, but Kamworor says there are no workouts that Kipchoge does that he cannot do. If Kamworor breaks through for the win in New York, will he put his track days in the rearview mirror?
Lelisa Desisa is a two-time Boston Marathon champ, and he said he is fitter in advance of New York than before either of his Boston wins and guaranteed a victory on Sunday.
When asked if he’d win on Sunday Desisa said, “Yeah. I’ll win.” When we followed up and asked if he was sure, he said, “Yeah.”
Desisa’s last attempt at the marathon attempt was the Nike Breaking2 exhibition race where he ran a very modest 2:14:10. Desisa, however, said he learned a lot from working with the Breaking2 team and that it showed he knew almost nothing about how to prepare for a race. Desisas said despite his two Boston wins, prior to Breaking2, he was training like “a junior athlete” and a “beginner because I didn’t know how to prepare” saying he didn’t know anything about proper pacing, hydration, or what to do pre- or post-workouts.
Desisa clearly was not in great shape heading into Breaking2 as he only ran a 62:55 half marathon in the test event on the course two months prior. It will be interesting if his new knowledge from the event pays off with a result on Sunday. By selecting him for the Breaking2 event Nike’s scientists presumably believe he has great talent.
Defending champion Ghirmay Ghebreslassie said he’s in the same shape as when he won last year. Ghebreslassie, who has only gone sub-2:08 three times in his life and most recently ran just 2:09:57 in London in April, said not to let his London result fool you; he’s in great shape and was in great shape before London. The only problem was in London he went out too fast and paid the price the final 5-7 kilometers.
“In London, I was in good shape, but why I didn’t do well in London, was [because], together with Bekele, we were pushing too much with the pacemakers, till 15k we were running under two hours [for the pace],” he said. (Editor’s note: He was on 2:02:50 pace at 15k)
His training for New York has gone very well. We asked Ghebreslassie about being on the NN Running Team and if there was any group training done with the group, but he said he doesn’t train with the other guys, they’re just all part of the same club organized by his agency.
Supercoach Gemedu Dedefo gives us the real story behind Guye Adola’s debut and shares his thoughts on Wilson Kipsang
Dedefo, who is coaching Berhanu and Switzerland’s Tadesse Abraham in NYC, is one of the world’s premier marathon coaches as he also boasts Dubai champs Tamirat Tola and Tsegaye Mekonnen and Berlin runner-up Guye Adola among his pupils.
Adola shocked the world by running 2:03:46 in Berlin in September, the fastest debut marathon of all time, and after the race, he told LetsRun.com that he had done so despite only finding out that he was running Berlin four days earlier.
Today, Dedefo explained that that was not exactly true.
“Guye [was] afraid to run [the] marathon,” Dedefo explained, adding that the initial plan was for Adola to debut at Dubai in 2016.
“He was preparing for the race,” Dedefo said. “After two weeks, everyone know Guye [was going to] run Dubai. In the last preparation, one day he feel not comfortable. Immediately, he cancel.”
So even though Adola had known he was supposed to run Berlin for over a month, he did not want to commit 100% until he was sure that he was going to be able to make it to the start line.
“He know it but he did not decide it,” Dedefo said. “[During] the last weeks, he say, Maybe, maybe. Four days [before the race], he say he willing to try.”
Dedefo was also asked what it would be like if one of his marathoners was in a similar situation to Kipsang — doubling back from a failed marathon on short notice. Dedefo said that the mental after effects of a DNF may be more difficult than the physical after effects. Kipsang was all-in for the world record in Berlin and to have to bounce back from the disappointment of not just missing the WR, but failing to finish the race, and then turn around and run another marathon six weeks later is tough.
“To recover from, mentally, it is not easy job,” Dedefo said.
If you’re looking for a darkhorse in New York, we’ve found him: Switzerland’s Eritrean-born Tadesse Abraham. The 35-year-old Abraham didn’t race a spring marathon as he suffered a sacral stress fracture in March, but his two marathons in 2016 (2:06:40 pb in Seoul, 7th at the Olympics) both went very well. Abraham, who trains with Berhanu under Gemedu Dedefo, said he’s been hanging with Berhanu in workouts.
He’s also got an interesting backstory as he was born in Eritrea, trains in Ethiopia, and lives in Geneva when he is not in a marathon buildup. As a result, he said he can speak six languages: English, German, French, some Italian, plus local languages in Ethiopia and Eritrea (each country has multiple languages; he did not specify which ones he speaks).
It may be hard to believe for someone as well-traveled as Abraham — who has run marathons in South Korea, Brazil, China, Switzerland, Canada, Japan, and Germany — but this is his first trip to New York.
We asked him what he was most excited about in New York, and apart from being healthy again for his first marathon in over a year, he said, “To see the crowd. I just hear about the big crowd in New York, especially arriving at the finish line. I’m really excited to see.”
(Note: Abraham said that this was his first time in the U.S. He may not have realized it, but he’s been here before: he ran Peachtree in 2010 and the Honolulu Marathon in 2013.)
Keitany has won three straight New York City Marathons, and her 2016 victory was by a monstrous 3 minutes, 35 seconds, the largest winning margin in 32 years. Keitany’s not going to eclipse Grete Waitz’s record of nine NYC victories (she would need to win every year until age 40 just to tie it), so the one achievable record remaining for her is Margaret Okayo’s course record of 2:22:31 (set in 2003).
But Keitany said that she’s not aiming for the CR on Sunday and that her priority is simply to win the race. She said that without pacemakers, it will be tough for her to run the CR alone — though it wasn’t much of a problem for her in London. That race was technically rabbitted, but Keitany was the one pushing the tempo and would likely have run just as fast without a pacer.
If Keitany wins on Sunday, it will be the cherry on top of the best year of her career, which has already seen her set PRs in the half marathon (65:13) and marathon (2:17:01). We asked Keitany how she continues to improve at age 35 and she said she’s motivated by her children, nine-year-old Jared and four-year-old Samantha. The two of them have been familiar sights in New York over the past few years and it was just delightful to watch Samantha, decked out head-to-toe in adidas gear (Keitany’s sponsor) playing with Jared in the NYC Marathon Pavilion as they waited for mom to wrap up her media responsibilities.
Note: We did record an interview with Keitany, but she is very soft-spoken so it was difficult to hear her answers. The video is here if you want to try your luck.
At age 38, two-time world champion Edna Kiplagat has revived her career. She won Boston in April and then nearly won the World Championships in August, but had to settle for the silver. Usually, that resume would make her the heavy favorite for Sunday, but she finds herself a huge underdog to her neighbor, good friend, and maid of honor, Mary Keitany. (At the time of writing, 95.6% of LetsRun.com visitors in the NYC Running Warehouse Prediction Contest had picked Mary Keitany to win)
The one thing Kiplagat, is not, however, is intimidated by Keitany. Kiplagat laughed and said no, when she was asked if she was intimidated by the Keitany’s time in London.
“In London you have to prepare yourself physically and mentally that London is a fast course. You have to train to be under 2:20,” she said, noting that Keitany may have been in shape to break the world record in London.
Worlds were two and a half months ago, so Kiplagat had to compress her training for New York but said it has gone well. At 38, with years of experience under her belt, she is used to adapting and changing things and her results this year have shown it. She said she can’t train like she once did but now trains smarter.
“It takes a lot of time for me to recover, I have to reduce my mileage, I have to reduce my speed so I can recover,” she said.
2013 was the only other year Kiplagat tried to run three marathons in a year. She was second in London, and then won the Worlds, but only could manage a ninth in New York.
New York will be Saina’s second attempt at the 26.2-mile distance. She debuted at Tokyo in February and though her training had gone very well, she developed a case of Achilles tendonitis a few weeks before the race. With most of the training done, she decided to give it a go anyway, and though she said she felt great going through the half marathon in 70 minutes, ultimately the Achilles pain became too great and she had to drop out.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t know that the distance is too long that you can’t fake anything,” Saina said.
Saina decided that for marathon #2, she wanted to return to her native Kenya, and confirmed that she is no longer a member of the Bowerman Track Club, where she was previously coached by Jerry Schumacher. Back in Kenya, she’s been training under Patrick Sang and said she has five male pacemakers that help her in workouts. She’s also taken advice from Edna Kiplagat and Mary Keitany — both of whom she’ll face on Sunday.
Saina said there were two big appeals about returning to Kenya to train for New York – she gets to see her family and she also gets to train on soft surfaces. Saina has two younger sisters that also live in the U.S., but Saina said they barely ever return home to Kenya, whereas Saina loves returning to her homeland as she’s a “daddy’s girl”.
One other benefit: she can stay on soft surfaces. Saina has battled Achilles problems ever since her first full year as a pro in 2014 and did a lot of her marathon training on the roads before Tokyo. Back in Kenya, all of her longer sessions have been on dirt.
“I used the dirt track all the time for all my longer stuff and I feel like my legs [handled it] with no problems and I don’t have any injuries,” Saina said. “So that’s the main reason that I like to be in Kenya when I’m training for the marathon…I love[d] being in Jerry’s group, but I just want to be home for the marathon buildups.”
We also asked about the differences between Schumacher’s system and Sang’s. Saina said both systems are similar, but said she’ll usually run three hard sessions per week under Sang (track on Tuesday, long run on Thursday, fartlek on Saturday) whereas under Schumacher it was usually only two (track on Tuesday/Wednesday, long run on the weekend).
Talk about the race on our fan forum: MB: Official 2017 NYC Marathon Discussion Thread.