Albert Korir pulls off upset win at 2021 New York City Marathon in 2:08:22

Kenenisa Bekele finishes 6th (2:12:52), American Elkanah Kibet 4th with 2:11:15 pb

by LetsRun.com
November 7, 2021

NEW YORK —  2019 TCS New York City Marathon runner-up Albert Korir of Kenya left half-marathon world record holder Kibiwott Kandie of Kenya behind in the 20th mile of the 50th edition of the NYC Marathon today and never relinquished it as he went on to take an upset victory in 2:08:22. Morocco’s Mohamed El Aaraby (11th at the Olympics, 2:09:16 pb) was second in 2:09:06.

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Kandie faded over the final 10k as he ended up 9th in his debut in 2:13:43 as Italy’s Eyob Faniel (20th Olympics, 2:07:19 pb) was the only other man under 2:10:00 in third in 2:09:52. 38-year-old American Elkanah Kibet ran the race of his life as he set a personal best of  2:11:15 (his pb of 2:11:31 was from his debut in 2015 Chicago) to grab fourth with Olympic silver medallist Abdi Nageeye of the Netherlands fifth in 2:11:39. The second-fastest man in history, Kenenisa Bekele, was sixth in 2:12:52.

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After the first 10k was hit in 30:43, Morocco’s Mohamed El Aaraby (11th at the Olympics) and Italy’s Eyob Faniel (20th at the Olympics) opened a gap on the field. They hit halfway in 1:03:57, 51 seconds up on the main chase pack which included pre-race favorites Kenenisa Bekele and Olympic silver medallist Abdi Nageeye. In the 14th mile, the chase pack split up as Kandie, Kibet, and Korir left Bekele and Nageeye behind to close the gap on El Aaraby and Faniel.

Kandie and Korir cauight El Aaraby and Faniel on the 18th mile and would start to pull away. Then on the Willis Avenue Bridge on mile 20 Korir pulled away from Kandie and would not be challenged the rest of the way home.

Analysis and athlete reaction below results.

Top 11 Results *More results here

PLACENAMECountryTime
1Albert KorirKEN2:08:22
2Mohamed El AarabyMAR2:09:06
3Eyob FanielITA2:09:52
4Elkanah KibetUSA2:11:15
5Abdi NageeyeNED2:11:39
6Kenenisa BekeleETH2:12:52
7Ben TrueUSA2:12:53
8Nathan MartinUSA2:12:57
9Kibiwott KandieKEN2:13:43
10Jared WardUSA2:14:06
11Patricio CastilloMEX2:14:11

Quick Take: Hats off to Albert Korir for getting the win, but a lot of the top pros didn’t run well and it’s surprising only three men broke 2:10

The point of the race is to win it and Kenya’s Albert Korir did exactly that and beat some studs in the process — Kenenisa Bekele, Kibiwott Kandie, and Abdi Nageeye. 

That being said, it’s surprising that only three men broke 2:10 today. The conditions were ideal for running — 44 degrees, 3 mph wind at the start — and the first half for the main pack was modest by world-class standards, 64:48. Yet, instead of picking it up off that pace, everyone in the pack faded over the second half save for Korir, who had splits of 64:50-63:32.

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Remember, 10 years ago on another great fall day in New York, Geoffrey Mutai ran the first half in 63:18 and came home in 61:48 to run 2:05:06. And that was without super shoes, which most people think are worth 1:30-2:00 in a marathon.

Maybe we shouldn’t have been that surprised by the times today, though. The reality is the New York fields weren’t super deep and a lot of people crater on the hills. Two years ago, the conditions were nearly identical to today as was the first half split, and only four guys broke 2:10.

In 2019, Geoffrey Kamworor had the exact same first half split as Korir today 64:50 and he won in 2:08:13 versus the 2:08:22 today. The biggest difference was how the second halves were run. Kamworor threw down a 29:19 from 20 miles to the finish whereas Korir ran that in 31:03 today.

Quick Take: The big names fizzled today

Going into New York, the three biggest names in the men’s pro field were Kenenisa Bekele, Kibiwott Kandie, and Abdi Nageeye. None of them finished in the top four today — a big surprise considering the elite field was quite shallow behind them.

The fact is, all three failed to live up to expectations today. Nageeye and Bekele didn’t bomb, but fifth and sixth is not what they signed up for. Kandie was the most competitive of the three for most of the race, leading at 30k. But he split 34:00 from 30k to 40k (2:23 pace), fading to ninth.

There are silver linings for all three men, however. Nageeye made a huge breakthrough this year and still has his Olympic medal; his 2021 season was an unqualified success. Bekele didn’t have the fall he envisioned but he can take solace in the fact that his body held up for two marathons in six weeks (he was third in Berlin in 2:06:47 in September 26). Given Bekele’s history of DNF’s in the marathon, the fact that he finished and finished in the top six at both races is a small victory — though Bekele, who measures himself by victories and world records, may not see it as such. And Kandie may have faded late, but he also carried a knee injury into today’s race. He still has massive potential in this event (we saw glimpses of it today as he worked with Korir to reel in Al Aaraby and Faniel) and has a bright future if he can get fully healthy in 2022.

Quick Take: Elkanah Kibet finishes as the top American at age 38

Kibet had the performance of the day by an American man, taking fourth overall in a personal best of 2:11:15. Kibet, who was born in Kenya and came to the US for college in 2006, burst onto the scene in 2015 by running 2:11:31 in his debut to finish 7th in Chicago. Though he had produced a few more decent performances since then (he was 8th in Boston in 2018 and 11th in 2019, running 2:11:51), he never ran faster than that 2:11:31 in 11 attempts.

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Things got tougher for Kibet in 2020. In the years leading up to the Olympic Trials, Kibet has trained as a member of the US Army’s World Class Athlete Program, which essentially allowed him to train as a runner full-time. But WCAP stints are only meant to last three years before the soldier-athlete returns to regular duty. After failing to make the Olympic Team (he was 16th at the Trials), Kibet’s time as a WCAP athlete was up and he spent last year balancing training with his job as a financial management technician in Fort Carson, Colo.

After a year in that role, Kibet re-applied to the WCAP in March 2021 and was accepted. After coaching himself last year, Kibet has largely kept that setup (Scott Simmons no longer coaches him) while working out with Haron Lagat in Colorado Springs, among others.

For more on Kibet, who was deployed to Iraq in 2014, check out this profile on his backstory from 2015: LRC For The Love Of Running: How Elkanah Kibet Went From A Deployment In Iraq To 2:11:31 At The Chicago Marathon In Less Than A Year

Quick Take: Ben True played it safe 

True lasted barely five kilometers in the lead pack today, a surprise given how well he said his training had gone. But he was also worried about going out too hard in his marathon debut, which is why he chose to hang back early.

“I just didn’t know how hard I should be pushing in the early stages,” True said. “Talking with my coach, we really wanted to be running 4:55’s at the most to 5:00 pace for the first half and then try and pick it up.”

As a result, True found himself in 13th at halfway, but was able to pass six people in the second half and finish 7th, one second behind Bekele in 6th.

In retrospect, True said, he probably should have made an effort to hold onto the leaders as he clearly had a lot left at the end of the race. His 5k split from 35k to 40k was 15:38 — the fastest in the field on one of the hilliest sections of the course. At 40k, he was 31 seconds behind Bekele but cut that deficit to just one second over the final 2.2k. This was a learning experience, and now True has a better sense of his capabilities the next time he races a marathon.

“It was fun,” True said. “I’m tired now.”

Quick Take: Where does Bekele go from here?

We caught up with Bekele briefly after the race. When asked how the race was, he could only repeat, “It was tough, it was tough,” and point to his hip.

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He added, “My fitness is not bad, but maybe [I was] a bit unbalanced.”

Bekele’s camp still gives the indication that he can return to 2:01:41 peak Bekele, but at age 39 one has to wonder if Father Time has started to catch up to him.

When we asked Bekele if he could still win a major marathon, there was no doubt. “Of course,” he said.

Quick take: Another strong showing by Nathan Martin

Martin burst onto the US marathon scene with his 2:11:05 9th place finish at the Marathon Project last year. In his first marathon since then, he backed it up with a 2:12:58 8th place finish.

The substitute teacher, who is sponsored by 2XU but does not have a shoe sponsor, said, “It was an awesome race. I was fighting super hard, towards the end. I really want to place a little bit higher, but I kind of cramped a little bit, but I fought through it.”

Martin said his workouts leading up to New York were great, the problem was he wasn’t recovering very well from them, so he was only working out once a week. “I was crushing them,  but we were struggling with recovery… It was almost like my energy system was amazing, but my legs were just dead, like for four or five days afterwards. So normally we’ll go and do a workout every three days. But in this cycle for the last two and a half months, I think we were barely getting in a workout a week.”

We asked the teacher what sort of grade he’d give himself. “A-” he said, but if he was grading super critically, “C+”.  We think he deserves the A-.

Quick take: Jared Ward finished 10th despite thyroid issues

Jared Ward said he was diagnosed with hypothyroidism in the buildup to the race. He said he was feeling low energy, so he got his levels checked. He said he didn’t want to take any medication. “I guess I want to see what I can do with my body,” he said.

He reached out to Meb Keflezighi, who advised him to rest more. So Jared got more sleep and had a decent performance today. When asked what grade he would give himself, he said, “B”.

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