Tamirat Tola Runs 2:04:58 Course Record to Dominate 2023 New York City Marathon
Tola's win margin of 1:59 was the largest for the men since 2000By Weldon Johnson , Robert Johnson , and Jonathan Gault
NEW YORK – 2022 world champ Tamirat Tola of Ethiopia pulled away from countryman Jemal Yimer on the Willis Avenue Bridge during mile 20 and cruised to a 2:04:58 course record victory at the 2023 TCS New York City Marathon, removing eight seconds from Geoffrey Mutai’s CR, which had stood since 2011. Weather was near-perfect for running in New York on Sunday (52 degrees, sunny, 2 mph wind at start) and Tola took full advantage to break one of the most hallowed course records in the sport. His margin of victory today was an astronomical 1:59 – the largest in NY since 2000.
Yimer, the former Ethiopian half-marathon national record holder, would fade to 9th in 2:11:31.
The men wasted very little time in attacking the course as they hit halfway in 62:45 thanks to some very strong running from miles 8 to 12 (4:40, 4:30, 4:37, 4:48, and 4:35). At that point, the lead pack was down to five: Tola, Jemal Yimer (4th at the World Half for Ethiopia last month), 2021 NYC champ Albert Korir, 2021 Olympic silver medalist Abdi Nageeye, and Morocco’s Zouhair Talbi, who finished 5th in his debut in Boston in April.
Tola was doing most of the work and gradually whittled down the lead pack until only he and Yimer remained at 16 miles. Then, the racing really began. Tola went 4:28-4:46-4:26 for miles 17-19 – two of the three fastest miles of the race – and that was enough to finally break Yimer.
The only questions over the final miles seemed to be how much would Tola break the course record by and could he possibly catch the women’s leaders, who were running shockingly slow for much of the race. Despite starting 25 minutes behind them, Tola came within a mile of them and would ultimately break the tape just two minutes and 29 seconds after women’s champion Hellen Obiri.
Tola, who was on 2:03:59 pace at 35k, faded on the way home but still got the course record in 2:04:58, nearly two minutes up on 2021 champ Korir, who took second in a big pb 2:06:57 (previous pb of 2:08:03) — his third top-two finish in New York. Shura Kitata, who had been dropped before halfway, rallied back for 3rd in 2:07:11. Edward Cheserek, making his marathon debut, was 8th in 2:11:07. Futsum Zienasellassie finished as the top American in 10th in 2:12:09. North American record holder Cam Levins of Canada surprisingly dropped out just before 20k.
Analysis below results.
Quick Take: Tola was brilliant as Geoffrey Mutai’s course record finally falls
Before we discuss Tola, let’s take a second to appreciate Geoffrey Mutai’s 2:05:06 time from 2011, which is no longer the course record but remains one of the most impressive marathons ever run. Running in an era before supershoes, Mutai took a monstrous 2:37 off the previous record held by Tesfaye Jifar.
How ridiculous is that? At the time, 2:05:06 was the 15th-fastest marathon ever run. If Tola had run the 15th-fastest marathon ever today, he would have run 2:03:00. That’s how good Mutai was.
Even with supershoes, Mutai’s record remained unchallenged in recent years. To break the course record in New York, you need good conditions and a fit, fearless runner who is not afraid to push the pace early even with the bridges and hills to come over the second half.
Tola hit all three checkmarks, going out quickly in 62:45 and closing even harder in 62:13. His time of 2:04:58 was actually one second faster than he ran to finish 3rd in London in April.
Tola had finished 4th in his previous two appearances in New York in 2018 and 2019 and complained both times of leg pain after 35k, attributing it to his shoes. Of course, leg pain in the final stages of a marathon is part of the deal – 26.2 miles of racing, particularly on a course like New York’s, can beat you up. But shoe technology has advanced even since Tola last ran the race four years ago. He said his adidas shoes today were “nice” with his legs feeling better late in the race.
As for his strategy, Tola said he felt a fast race would be his best shot at victory.
“I did not think about course record,” Tola said. “I think about to win, how can I win?”
Quick Take: Albert Korir is made for New York
It’s pretty wild that in the year 2023, you can be a three-time top-two finisher at the NYC Marathon with a pb of just 2:06:57. But that is the case for Albert Korir, whose pb was actually even slower before today – 2:08:03.
But NYC is not a fast course, the fields were not super strong today or in 2021 (when Korir won), and Korir does not run on many fast courses. In the last four years, he’s run NYC four times, Boston twice, and Eldoret once. He could be a 2:04 guy on a fast course. Or he could just be made for NYC.
Quick Take: Edward Cheserek debuts in 2:11:07
Cheserek was viewed as a potential wild card in a fast race – the big question was whether he would be strong enough to hang around until the end. He received a baptism by fire today as neither Cheserek nor anyone else was strong enough to hang with Tola today.
Cheserek, who elected not to stop in the mixed zone after the race, decided to hang back when Tola and Korir began their push at eight miles but still went through half pretty quickly in 7th place in 63:30. Though Cheserek closed his second half much slower (67:37), he was not the only one to struggle to hold on after the hot early pace and would only move down one spot at the finish, taking 8th. Not an amazing debut but not an awful one, either.
Quick Take: Cam Levins said he was not hurt, he just felt “crummy”
Levins was coming off back-to-back pbs at Worlds last year and Tokyo this year but had an off day and wound up dropping out early.
Quick update from today: not injured or anything just felt real crummy from the start and things didn’t improve. Will take some time to rest and reevaluate training then get back and be better!
— Cam Levins (@CamLevins) November 5, 2023
Futsum Zienasellassie pleased to hang on for top-10 finish
HOKA NAZ Elite’s Futsum Zienasellassie was the first American in 10th place in 2:12:09 after going out in 63:56. He didn’t get the top-5 finish that would have guaranteed the Americans three spots at the Olympics, but he was pleased with how he hung on at the end of the race after going out aggressively.
“I was falling apart the last three miles of the race, but I stayed strong mentally, and physically tried to really stay within the race. So, to be able to finish and be first American sub-2:12, I think I’m very happy with that performance,” he said.
Zienasellassie was the #5-ranked American on the Road to Paris list (just ahead of 63rd overall when limiting to three athletes per country) but his result today will not improve his ranking. His two best performances before today were his 2:11:01 win at CIM last year (worth 1175 points) and his 2:09:40 in Rotterdam this year (1166 points). Zienasellassie earned 1160 points today (1125 for running 2:12:09, plus 35 bonus points for finishing 10th) so it will not factor into his ranking. The US is still likely to send three male marathoners to the Olympics, but only 2 spots are guaranteed as of now.
Sydney Gidabuday ready to focus on Olympic Trials
Sydney Gidabuday is another runner thinking about the Olympic Trials after he finished as 3rd American in 14th place overall in 2:14:34. It wasn’t the overall result he wanted, but like Futsum, he went out hard (64:24) and hung on.
At the Trials, Sydney knows he’ll need to raise it to another level. “I’m a 61-low guy (for the half marathon). I think in the best conditions on a flat course, I think that’s 2:08,” he said.
Sydney knew one thing for certain. The Olympic Trials are 91 days away.
Israel’s Maru Teferi 6th: “I represent Israel, so it’s a responsibility for me”
Lots of runners take pride in running for their country, but Israel’s Maru Teferi, the World Championships silver medalist, said he felt a special responsibility to represent his country today, less than a month after more than a thousand civilians in his country were slaughtered by Hamas terrorists on October 7. Teferi ended up 6th in 2:10:28.
“I feel like I run for the flag, I represent Israel, so it’s a responsibility for me,” he said. Teferi said there were people with Israeli flags on the course cheering for him.
Teferi did most of his buildup in Italy, but the last week before the race he was training in Israel and said it wasn’t easy.
“The last three weeks, the last 30 days, it was hard to focus on training with what is going on in Israel with the situation, but I tried to focus on training more, but it was disturbing,” he said.
He now goes back to Israel to be with his family before figuring out what is next prior to the Olympics.
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