2019 NYC Marathon Women’s Preview: Will the Course Record Finally Go Down? Who Will Be the Top American: Sara Hall, Des Linden, or Kellyn Taylor?

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By Jonathan Gault
October 30, 2019

Mary Keitany has owned the TCS New York City Marathon in recent years. She’s claimed the title at four of the last five editions, in the process delivering some of the most impressive performances in NYC history. In 2016, she won her third title by a ridiculous margin of 3:35. Last year was even more impressive as she obliterated the field with a 66:58 second half — at the time, the fastest ever in a marathon — to win by 3:14. Keitany may never eclipse Grete Waitz‘s record of nine NYC victories, but in the 21st century, she has been the unquestioned queen of New York.

Yet for all of Keitany’s dominance, the course record has eluded her. Margaret Okayo‘s 2:22:31 CR has stood for 16 years, which makes it the second-oldest CR of the six World Marathon Majors now that Brigid Kosgei has erased Paula Radcliffe‘s Chicago CR from the books.

Race Men’s course record Women’s course record
Tokyo 2:03:58 (Wilson Kipsang, 2017) 2:19:47 (Sarah Chepchirchir, 2017)
Boston 2:03:02 (Geoffrey Mutai, 2011) 2:19:59 (Buzunesh Deba, 2014)
London 2:02:37 (Eliud Kipchoge, 2019) 2:15:25 (Paula Radcliffe, 2003)
Berlin 2:01:39 (Eliud Kipchoge, 2018) 2:18:11 (Gladys Cherono, 2018)
Chicago 2:03:45 (Dennis Kimetto, 2013) 2:14:04 (Brigid Kosgei, 2019)
New York 2:05:06 (Geoffrey Mutai, 2011) 2:22:31 (Margaret Okayo, 2003)

Sunday could represent Keitany’s last shot at the mark; she’s 37 years old, and even someone as great as Keitany can’t stay in CR shape forever. Really, her best shot at taking it down was last year — which she almost did, even after hitting halfway in 75:50 (Keitany wound up clocking 2:22:48 to miss it by 17 seconds). But with great weather in the forecast (high of 52, 6 mph wind as of Wednesday), the record is there for the taking if the top women get after it early.

If the record does fall on Sunday, however, Keitany may not be the one to break it. Ethiopian Ruti Aga has been on fire of late, earning four straight top-two finishes in major marathons before dropping out of the World Championship marathon a month ago. With a 2:18:34 pb, Aga is the 9th-fastest marathoner in history, which means Keitany will have to be at her best to prevail on Sunday.

Aside from a potential course record chase, there are a few other storylines of note. Half marathon world record holder Joyciline Jepkosgei is slated to make her marathon debut. And the battle for top American honors should be fierce, with Sara HallDes Linden, and Kellyn Taylor all in the field. An American woman has finished on the podium in the last three NYC Marathons, and given the talent of Hall, Linden, and Taylor and the lack of depth in the international field, that streak could very well continue on Sunday.

Race details below; read on for an in-depth preview of the women’s race. Men’s preview can be found here: LRC Men’s Preview: After an Epic Year of Marathoning, What Does NYC Have in Store?

What: 2019 TCS New York City Marathon

When: Sunday, November 3, 9:10 a.m. ET (elite men start at 9:40 a.m. ET. Reminder that US clocks go back one hour on Saturday night).

Where: New York, New York

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. International tv partners are listed here.

Important links: LRC Full 2019 NYC Marathon coverage * 2018 NYC coverageRace website

Need a hotel? Where to stay in New York marathon weekend

Women’s elite field (sub-2:30 pbs)

Name Country PB Note
Mary Keitany KEN 2:17:01 4-time champ delivered one of the all-time great NYC performances in ’18
Ruti Aga ETH 2:18:34 Earned first major win in Tokyo in March; DNF at Worlds on Sep. 28
Nancy Kiprop KEN 2:22:12 40-year-old has run PR to win Vienna 3 straight years
Sara Hall USA 2:22:16 Coming off 4-min PR in Berlin on Sep. 29
Desiree Linden USA 2:22:28 6th NYC, 5th Boston in 2 races since winning Boston
Sinead Diver AUS 2:24:11 42-year-old led London at halfway & ran PR of 2:24 there
Kellyn Taylor USA 2:24:29 Seems primed for big marathon after taking 3rd in USA 10k
Ellie Pashley AUS 2:26:21 Coming off big PR in Nagoya in March
Belaynesh Fikadu ETH 2:26:41 Runner-up in Houston in Jan.
Aliphine Tuliamuk USA 2:26:50 Ran PR in Rotterdam in April
Yinli He CHN 2:27:35
Buze Diriba ETH 2:28:06
Allie Kieffer USA 2:28:12 5th & 7th in NYC the last 2 years
Mary Ngugi KEN 2:28:33 2-time World Half champs medalist
Roberta Groner USA 2:29:09 41-year-old was 6th at Worlds on Sep. 28
Joyciline Jepkosgei KEN Debut HM WR holder won the NYC Half in March

Two-Horse Race?

On paper, there is a huge gap between the top two women — Keitany and Aga — and everyone else. Keitany has run 2:17, Aga 2:18, and no one else faster than 2:22. The third-fastest woman is 40-year-old Nancy Kiprop, who is making her World Marathon Major debut. The fourth-fastest is 36-year-old American Sara Hall, who ran the Berlin Marathon just five weeks ago. Half marathon world record holder Joyciline Jepkosgei is making her debut, but she hasn’t shown the same form as when she set that record two years ago. And no woman has won NYC in their debut since Tegla Loroupe in 1994. Mary Ngugi, who medalled at the World Half champs in 2014 and 2016 and has run 66:29 for the distance, is also entered, though she has only run one career marathon (7th in Boston in April).

So yes, this should be a two-horse race between Keitany and Aga. Let’s take a look at each of them.

Mary Keitany — Kenya, 37 years old, 2:17:01 pb (2017 London), 64:55 half
Last three marathons: 
5th 2018 London (2:24:27), 1st 2018 New York (2:22:48), 5th 2019 London (2:20:58)
Tuneup race: 67:58 for 4th at the Great North Run on September 8

Mary Keitany was amazing in New York

Keitany has won four of the last five NYC titles

Keitany owns this course and is just 12 months removed from one of the most dominant performances in NYC history, so she’s obviously a serious threat to win. But if you’re looking for signs of slippage, they’re there.

Keitany was only 5th in London this spring, but that’s not a huge concern; she still ran 2:20, and 2019 London featured the greatest women’s marathon field ever assembled. She was only 9th in London in 2016 and 5th in 2018 yet bounced back to win NYC in both of those years.

Rather, the concern is Keitany’s recent performance at the Great North Run. In a race won by Brigid Kosgei in 64:28, Keitany was well back in 4th in 67:58. Beating Kosgei is a tall order, but even compared to past versions of herself, Keitany didn’t look great. 67:58 was her second-slowest time in a half since 2010, and the only time she ran slower (68:53 in 2016), she won the race by 3+ minutes. Keitany ran the Great North Run before her NYC Marathons in 2014, 2015, and 2017 and ran 65:39, 67:32, and 65:59 (each time, she won). 67:58 for 4th isn’t great by comparison.

Keitany will decline eventually, but those who have bet against her in NYC in the past have been made to look foolish. And honestly, Keitany’s recent form is still good enough to beat everyone in the field except for Aga. But if Aga brings her A game, it could be too much for Keitany to handle.

Aga, as a Nike athlete, will also be able to race in the Vaporflys, but adidas may have its own trick up its sleeve for Keitany as she was recently spotted training in an adidas prototype:

Ruti Aga — Ethiopia, 25 years old, 2:18:34 pb (2018 Berlin), 66:39 half
Last three marathons: 
2nd 2018 Berlin (2:18:34), 1st 2019 Tokyo (2:20:40), DNF 2019 Worlds

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The letters DNF always look ugly on a marathoner’s resume, but in the case of Aga, you can probably ignore it. Even though she was announced for NYC months ago, she was added to the Ethiopian World Championship roster and then started the race in Doha five weeks ago, which was held in some of the worst conditions ever seen at a major marathon. Aga didn’t even make it 15k before dropping out, so the effort shouldn’t have taken too much out of her.

Ignoring Doha, Aga’s recent marathons have been terrific as she has shown consistent improvement. She ran a PR of 2:20:41 in Berlin in 2017 to finish second; a year later, she lopped over two minutes off that to clock 2:18:34, again for second. In Tokyo in 2018, she ran 2:21:19 for second; at 2019 Tokyo, she ran 2:20:40 in bad weather to win her first major. Remember, Birhanu Legese, who won the men’s race in Tokyo, ran 2:04:48 there; this fall, he ran two minutes faster in Berlin. So Aga’s 2:20 in Tokyo may have been worth around a 2:18 on a fast course in better weather.

Obviously there are some differences between Tokyo and Berlin and New York, and that’s something Aga will need to adjust to — when she ran Boston in 2017, she could only manage 2:33 for 10th place. But Aga is also a far better marathoner than she was two years ago.

***

The Debutant

Joyciline Jepkosgei — Kenya, 25 years old, debut, 64:51 half

Embed from Getty Images

Normally, it would be a huge deal for the half marathon world record holder to make her marathon debut. So why does it feel like Jepkosgei’s not getting much buzz?

Well, for one, there’s a lot going on in the marathon world right now. Between Kosgei’s WR in Chicago and incessant shoe talk, Jepkosgei’s debut may have slipped through the cracks. Plus, Jepkosgei hasn’t been in her best form recently.

If Jepkosgei were making her marathon debut in 2017, it would have been a huge deal. After breaking the road 10k and half marathon (twice) records that year, we named Jepkosgei the LetsRun.com Runner of the Year. But last year, though she was by no means awful — she still earned silver at the World Half champs — she won just one of her eight races. Five of those were half marathons, and in only one of them did she manage to come within two minutes of her pb (66:46 at the RAK Half).

Jepkosgei has returned to the winner’s circle in 2019, collecting wins at the NYC Half, Bix 7-miler, and Beach to Beacon, but the gaudy times from 2017 are gone.

The other concern about Jepkosgei is whether she’ll actually make it to the start line. She was slated to debut last December in Honolulu but withdrew with a foot injury. Then, in April, she was entered at the Hamburg Marathon, only to withdraw at the last minute to pacing the London Marathon instead.

Still, with her HM pb, Jepkosgei offers an upside that few in this field can match. She’s one of the most intriguing entrants in the field and bears watching on Sunday.

***

The Americans

Sara Hall — USA, 36 years old, 2:22:16 pb (2019 Berlin), 69:27 half
Last three marathons: 
DNF 2018 Frankfurt, 15th 2019 Boston (2:35:34), 5th 2019 Berlin (2:22:16)
Tuneup race: 53:11 win at US 10-mile champs on October 6

Embed from Getty Images

Until a month ago, Hall had been a jack of all trades: competitive in every event from the 1500 through the marathon, but not world class elite in any of them. That changed when Hall dropped a 2:22:16 in Berlin to shave four minutes off her pb and become the sixth-fastest American of all time. With Shalane Flanagan retired, Des Linden hinting that she may skip the Trials entirely, and Jordan Hasay and Amy Cragg battling injuries in recent years, Hall is a bona fide contender for the 2020 Olympic team.

But first, New York. It may seem crazy that Hall, after the best marathon of her life, is running another one five weeks later, but she has always recovered well. In 2017, she ran a PR in Frankfurt and won the US marathon title in Sacramento five weeks later. And just one week after Berlin, she won the US 10-mile champs in St. Paul. She should be okay for New York.

Moreover, running both Berlin and NYC was always the plan for this fall.

“The reason why we chose to do both is because I really wanted her to tick two boxes before she went to the Trials,” said Ryan Hall, Sara’s husband/coach (and a 2:04 marathoner himself). “I wanted her to have a fast time under her belt, [which] had kind of been eluding her with injuries. And I just knew if she goes into [the Trials] as a 2:23, 2:22 marathoner, she’s gonna feel like, I should be on this team…But then I also felt it was important, having looked at the Trials course and how hilly that’s gonna be, to have her just have a positive experience on a hilly course. So that’s where New York comes in. We’re not looking to go hit a home run, run super fast. We just want her to have a good, confident experience.”

Ryan Hall said Sara’s recovery from Berlin has gone well and that they’ve tried simply to maintain fitness, rather than build it. He feels that they’ve done that. If they have, and Hall is still in 2:22 shape in NYC, she is as good a bet as anyone to finish as the top American.

(Editor’s note: We have published a feature on Hall here: For Sara Hall, A Dream Deferred Led to a Passion Realized 10 years ago, Sara Hall did not love running but felt obligated to do it even though she finished last at USAs as her husband Ryan was a star. Now, at age 36, the mother of 4 is the star and loving the sport more than ever and thriving with Ryan as her coach. *MB: Jonathan Gault takes a look at the incredible resurgence of Sara Hall. Better than ever at age 36!).

Des Linden — USA, 36 years old, 2:22:38 pb (2011 Boston), 70:34 half
Last three marathons: 
1st 2018 Boston (2:39:54), 6th 2018 New York (2:27:51), 5th 2019 Boston (2:27:00)
Tuneup race: 76:08 for 13th at Rock ‘n’ Roll Philly Half Marathon on September 15

Linden is as consistent as they come in the marathon. She’s lined up for 11 World Marathon Majors this decade and has recorded an average finish of 4.3, never dropping lower than 8th. The 4th-8th range feels right for Linden again in 2019. Barring some major blowups up front, she’s not going to win, but she’s definitely not going to beat herself.

Her 76:08 at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Philly Half in September is concerning — it’s over three minutes slower than she’s ever run for a half, and she’ll get smoked if she runs 76:08 pace in New York. But Linden has earned the benefit of the doubt at this point. Hall, Kellyn Taylor, and the other women vying for top American honors can’t make any mistakes if they want to beat Linden on Sunday.

Kellyn Taylor — USA, 33 years old, 2:24:29 pb (2018 Grandma’s), 70:16 half
Last three marathons: 
DNF 2018 Boston, 1st 2018 Grandma’s (2:24:29), 4th 2019 Prague (2:26:27)
Tuneup race: 54:14 for 7th at US 10-mile champs on October 6

Kellyn Taylor and Ben Rosarsio after last year’s Grandma’s Marathon

Two years ago, Taylor ran with the leaders in New York through 20 miles but wound up 9th, over three minutes back of eventual winner Shalane Flanagan. Losing to Flanagan is nothing to be ashamed of, but the hope is that in 2019, she can repeat that and close a little harder.

“Going into the segment, it reminded me a lot of how we went into the segment with Scott Fauble before Boston, which was: hey, look, we’re just trying to get as fit as we possibly can so we can run up in the front,” said Ben Rosario, who is Taylor’s coach at NAZ Elite. “If you get that fit, it’s actually a lot easier. There’s a lot less to think about, because you’re just covering every move. I’d like to believe that we have gotten that fit. However, we also can’t live in fantasyland. There’s probably a certain pace that would be too hot.”

Rosario said that Taylor’s workouts in September were as good as anything she’s ever done. While she ran poorly in her tuneup race at the US 10-mile champs, Rosario admitted that Taylor shouldn’t have even been on the start line — she picked up a stomach bug the week before which caused her to scratch from the Chicago Half; they tried to race in St. Paul a week later, but it was clear to him that she still wasn’t over the illness.

Still, Taylor’s overall body of work in 2019 is solid: 2:26 in Prague in April and a third-place finish in the 10,000 at USAs on the track stand out as the highlights. Now it’s about running well and closing hard in New York, and to that end, Rosario and Taylor have changed things up a little. Rather than running 15 x 1k or 10 x mile in her long interval sessions, Taylor has run fewer reps — 12 x 1k, 8 x mile — and added a hard 5k at the end, to simulate the hard close she’ll need in New York. The hope is that those sessions pay off for her in Central Park this weekend — and perhaps in Atlanta in February.

“We wanted to push the envelope quite a bit in the New York segment and really try some new things and test the limits of what she could accomplish in workouts so that the Atlanta segment could actually be a bit simpler,” Rosario said. “Because with her, she’s so experienced we definitely know what works. So if we were gonna try something that didn’t work, I’d rather try it now than before Atlanta.”

***

Other Americans of note

  • Aliphine Tuliamuk, 30 years old, 2:26:50 pb: Tuliamuk is coming off a femoral shaft stress fracture that cost her almost three months of running in the summer, and Rosario said she’s not as fit as Taylor right now. Though she did run 2:26 this spring and won the US Half champs last year.
  • Allie Kieffer, 32 years old, 2:28:12 pb: Kieffer came out of nowhere to place 5th in New York in 2017, then ran faster in 2018 (2:28:12) to finish 7th. However, she hasn’t raced since February and is battling a hamstring injury right now.
  • Roberta Groner, 41 years old, 2:29:09 pb: Groner has already had quite a year for herself, breaking 2:30 for the first time in Rotterdam in April and grinding out a sixth-place finish in the stifling heat of Doha just five weeks ago. There’s no doubting Groner’s toughness, but she’s outclassed by the likes of Hall, Linden, and Taylor.

We also previewed the women’s race in this week’s NYC Marathon Preview podcast. Listen in the player below. Women’s preview starts at the [31:38] point.


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