Hellen Obiri Wins New York City Marathon to Complete the NYC-Boston Double

NEW YORK – Kenya’s Hellen Obiri used an incredible 4:52 final mile to prevail in a dramatic kick with Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey and win the 2023 TCS New York City Marathon in 2:27:23. Obiri’s winning time was the slowest in 13 years, the product of a glacial opening pace that saw 11 of the 14 athletes in the women’s elite field still bunched together with just 10 kilometers to run. But once the pace finally got going in the final three miles, the action was thick and furious with 2021 runner-up Viola Cheptoo, 2022 champion Sharon Lokedi, Obiri, and Gidey all trading moves before Obiri finally separated for good with just over 400 meters to run.

Obiri is the first woman to win the Boston and New York City Marathon in the same year since Norway’s Ingrid Kristiansen way back in 1989. In the men’s race, Tamirat Tola ran 2:04:58 to break the course record.

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Despite the pre-race withdrawal of Olympic champion Peres Jepchirchir on Saturday (she injured her calf a week before the race), this was still a very strong field up top. But none of the superstars – Obiri, Gidey, or former world record holder Brigid Kosgei – showed any interest in pushing the pace. That meant almost everyone was still in it at halfway (74:21) – including Americans Kellyn Taylor and Molly Huddle – and ensured that Margaret Okayo’s 2:22:31 course record, which was set in 2003, will stand for at least another year.

Pace lags in Manhattan

Typically, the pace picks up in NYC after 16 miles, when runners enter Manhattan and are spurred along by the screaming crowds on First Avenue. But the pace remained slow. Mile 19 was run in just 6:04 – a shockingly slow split that far into a World Marathon major. As late as 35k, the leaders were still on 2:30 marathon pace.

2023 New York City Marahthon women's race Kevin Morris Photo

Something had to give, and Cheptoo was the first to move, running mile 22 in 5:18 and mile 23 in 5:04 to break things open. The pace would yo-yo a bit from there in the hills of Central Park– 5:19 for mile 24, 5:02 for mile 25, during which time Kosgei and Lokedi would fall off and rejoin the lead pack.

Cheptoo was the first to fall off for good and Kosgei would finally crack just after 25 miles, with Obiri, Lokedi, and Gidey all running together along Central Park South and into Columbus Circle, setting the stage for a dramatic sprint finish. As they re-entered Central Park with just under half a mile to go, Lokedi began to falter and would have to settle for 3rd in 2:27:33 in a gallant defense of her title.

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That left the current/former track stars Gidey and Obiri. Sixteen months ago at Hayward Field, Gidey had topped Obiri in a classic 10,000 meters at the World Championships, edging her out by .08 in a controversial finish that saw contact between the two women just before the finish line. Now the duo would reprise their battle in Central Park.

In the end, it was Obiri, who owns a 3:57 personal best over 1500 meters, who outkicked the 10,000m world record holder Gidey by ripping a 4:52 final mile to Gidey’s 4:58.

Farther back, Taylor would finish as top American in 8th in 2:29:48 with Huddle 9th in 2:32:02.

Analysis and interviews below results

Top Women’s Results

1 Hellen Obiri KEN 2:27:23
2 Letesenbet Gidey ETH 2:27:29
3 Sharon Lokedi KEN 2:27:33
4 Brigid Kosgei KEN 2:27:45
5 Mary Ngugi KEN 2:27:53
6 Viola Cheptoo KEN 2:28:11
7 Edna Kiplagat KEN 2:29:40
8 Kellyn Taylor USA 2:29:48
9 Molly Huddle USA 2:32:02
10 Fantu Zewude Jifar ETH 2:34:10
11 Solange Jesus POR 2:34:37
12 Sydney Devore USA 2:36:01
13 Marie-Ange Brumelot FRA 2:40:22
14 Meriah Earle USA 2:44:11

Quick Take: One year after NYC disappointment, Hellen Obiri is victorious – and is now one of the best marathoners in the world

Last year in New York, Obiri had to be escorted from the finish line in a wheelchair and taken to the medical tent. Today, she was feted as the champion with a gold medal around her neck.

Even before moving to the marathon last fall, Obiri was known as a versatile runner. She is the only woman in history to win world titles indoors, outdoors, and in cross country, and has global medals in the 1500 and 10,000, with two gold medals in the 5,000 to boot. Now it’s clear that Obiri is also a phenomenal marathoner as she is the first woman in 34 years to win Boston and New York in the same year.

Where does Obiri rank among the best in the world right now? Clearly she’s in the conversation, but Sifan Hassan also won two majors this year and Tigst Assefa set a world record of 2:11:53 in Berlin. That race played out totally different to today’s sit and kick affair, which makes it very hard to compare them (though Obiri’s coach Dathan Ritzenhein told us he believes Obiri could run 2:11 in a race like Berlin right now). 

We may get a more definitive ranking next year, either in the spring marathon season or at the Olympics in Paris. Athletics Kenya has said it will pick its Olympic team soon, and considering Obiri has won Boston and New York this year – both of which bode well for the hilly Paris course – it’s hard to imagine she will not be on it. Though you never know with Athletics Kenya.

“I think it would be scandalous if she wasn’t [on the team],” Ritzenhein said.

Quick Take: For Obiri, it’s all about patience, patience, patience

The gameplan for Obiri was the same as last year: wait until the very end of the race before making her move. Last year, Obiri, who likes to be near the front, got antsy and started pushing the pace around 16 miles. She was not going to do the same thing on Sunday even with such a slow pace.

“For me, there are certain points, like 25k, I said, can I try to make a move?” Obiri said. “And I said no. In a marathon, it’s about patience.”

But once it came down to a three-way kick with a mile to go, Ritzenhein wondered whether they had chosen the correct strategy.

“I was actually second-guessing myself quite a bit at the end, just because we hadn’t done that kind of work,” Obiri said. “But she showed she’s still got that talent in there.”

Ritzenhein said another big difference between Obiri’s 6th-place finish in 2022 and her win in 2023 was her fueling: last year, on a warmer day, Obiri barely drank from her bottles. This year was very different – Ritzenhein said Obiri held on to some of her bottles for four or five minutes at a time today so that she could continue drinking.

Obiri settles the debate: Boston vs New York

We asked Obiri which course was harder, New York or Boston? The reigning champion of both races said…..  New York.

“I can say New York is harder than Boston because when you enter Central Park there’s a lot of hills and downhills. In Boston, it’s a little bit flat towards the end.”

Quick Take: Second again for Letesenbet Gidey

In her first marathon, last year in Valencia, Letesenbet Gidey was focused on time: she wanted to break the world record. She wound up missing the world record and not winning the race, though her 2:16:49 was the fastest debut marathon ever.

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Marathon #2 was all about the win for Gidey, and though she came close, she wound up second once again, this time by just six seconds.

Did Gidey make a mistake by not pushing the pace earlier? It’s easy to suggest that now, but with 800 to go, Gidey looked great and the outcome was still very much in doubt. And even if Gidey did move earlier, there’s no guarantee Obiri wouldn’t have come with her and still beaten her in the end. Every strategy carries its own risk, and Gidey can have no shame in losing to an athlete as great as Obiri. 

Gidey said afterwards she wasn’t thinking about making an early move.

“I was thinking let me just learn the New York course and tackle the race at the end,” Gidey said through a translator. “I was focusing on mastering the course.”

Quick take: Sharon Lokedi back on the podium despite not being 100%

Sharon Lokedi, last year’s surprise champion, battled with Gidey and Obiri until Columbus Circle, but then had to settle for third.

However, considering the star-studded field, and the fact  she dealt with injuries this year that caused her to miss the Boston Marathon and caused her to not be 100% today, she was very pleased with the performance.

“I feel like it’s a big win for me.  It’s a big win for everybody that has seen how this year’s been for me. It’s not first, it’s third, but it’s still in the podium. So I’m really, really happy about it. Really looking forward to building from here and hopefully next year is even more and better,” she said.

Up next is taking her mom, who was featured on the ESPN2 broadcast, to Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon. Then later she has her wedding with Edward Cheserek who made his marathon debut today in the men’s race finishing 8th.

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Quick Take: It’s wild that the NYC women’s course record is from 2003

LetsRun’s Robert Johnson guaranteed the women’s course record in NYC would fall on Sunday, but, somehow, Margaret Okayo’s 2:22:31 lives on. Eight of the 12 course records in the World Marathon Majors have been broken since the start of 2022 but Okayo’s record is not one of them. It’s the second-oldest WMM course record; Paula Radcliffe set the CR in London seven months before Okayo’s NYC CR. 

Race Men’s CR Women’s RC
Tokyo 2:02:40, Eliud Kipchoge 2022 2:16:02, Brigid Kosgei 2022
Boston 2:03:02, Geoffrey Mutai 2011 2:19:59, Buzunesh Deba 2014
London 2:01:25, Kelvin Kiptum 2023 2:15:25, Paula Radcliffe 2003
Berlin 2:01:09, Eliud Kipchoge 2022 2:11:53, Tigst Assefa 2023
Chicago 2:00:35, Kelvin Kiptum 2023 2:13:44, Sifan Hassan 2023
New York 2:04:58, Tamirat Tola 2023 2:22:31, Margaret Okayo 2003

Given a woman has now run a 2:11 marathon, the course record in New York should be several minutes faster than 2:22:31. But without pacers, a CR requires someone making an effort to push the pace. And what happened today was a more extreme version of what we have seen in recent NYC Marathons: none of the big stars wanted to be the first to make a move, which means the opening miles are very slow and the CR becomes unattainable.

A race like today can be polarizing. One of the appeals of NYC is that, without pacers, anything can happen – but for two hours, very little did. On the other hand, the final miles were incredibly dramatic and we wound up with defending champ Lokedi duking it out against two of the greatest runners of their generation in Gidey and Obiri. Marathon finishes don’t get much more exciting.

Quick Take: Kellyn Taylor: “It was probably one of the weirdest races that I’ve ever run”

Americans Kellyn Taylor and Molly Huddle both wound up getting far more time on the broadcast than anyone expected because the slow pace allowed them to run with the leaders. Taylor said it was very weird to see no one else take on the pace – Taylor herself was at the very front for many of the early miles and described the experience as “probably one of the weirdest races that I’ve ever run.” But even though Taylor was able to hang with the lead pack for 20+ miles, she felt a faster pace might have helped her finish higher. Before the race, she said she felt she could run 2:23 in NYC on the right day and she still believes that.

“I think I would have had a shot at doing something a little better than 8th place if it had gone out more honestly,” Taylor said.

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