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2009 Bank of America Chicago Marathon - Men's Race
by John Elliott & Sharon Ekstrom
The story for the 2009 Chicago Marathon was all about Sammy Wanjiru... Would there be a new world record? Would Chicago reclaim its place as the fastest marathon in the world - a title it had held a number of times in the past, most recently with Khalid Khannouchi's world record at Chicago in 1999 (2:05:42).
Wanjiru was a man who could set the world record - and he said he would. Wanjiru had owned the world record in the Half Marathon and in his first marathon won the famous Fukuoka Marathon in 2:06:39 in 2007. He followed that with a 2nd place finish at the 2008 London Marathon in 2:05:24, the Gold medal and Olympics record at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and then a new course record and personal best 2:05:10 at the 2009 London Marathon. The London Marathon race was to be an attempt at a world record, but the combination of a too fast first half, slowing pacers in the second half, and warming temperatures toward the later stages of the race brought that to just a course record. But Wanjiru told us that he learned a lot from that attempt and was ready at Chicago.
Talk about drama and lead-up - world record, world record, world record... At one point the weather was expected to be wet and the questions went flying: "how might the rain affect a world record attempt?" Then there was to be snow and cold - "would that be a problem?"
The Chicago race organizers really wanted a world record and they chose pace setters who could do the work, including Patrick Ivuti, the 2007 champion and a 59:27 half marathoner. A recent champion serving as pacemaker - imagine that!
photo: Scott Winnier for MarathonGuide.com
Patrick Ivuti setting the pace for the men
The plan was to run the first half in 62 minutes exactly. And from the start of the race, the pacemakers were doing their duty as the men ran their pace at metronomic precision. Through 5K in 14:34; 10K in 29:10; 15K in 43:58; 20K in 58:49 and then the halfway point in 62:01 - perfect. Through the first half, the first pacemaker fell off at mile 5, the second pacemaker fell off at about mile 8, but Patrick Ivuti soldiered on. At the half, Ivuti was pulling the pace; behind him Sammy Wanjiru, Vincent Kipruto, Charles Munyeki and Isaac Macharia. Just behind, but clearly off the pack were Tadese Tola in his debut marathon and Benjamin Maiyo.
With Ivuti pacing the first 15 mile splits averaged 4:44 per mile and were very consistent:
4:38, 4:41, 4:41, 4:39, 4:46, 4:44, 4:48, 4:44, 4:46, 4:48, 4:47, 4:45, 4:42, 4:47, 4:45.
Into the sixteenth mile, Ivuti started to falter, but Wanjiru was gesturing to Ivuti asking him to please come back and pace. Ivuti did make it back up, but the mile turned out to be the slowest to that point: 4:52. As we watched, we wondered if this would be a turning point in the race. And soon thereafter Ivuti was out - his pacing duties ended a few miles premature.
By mile 16, with the pacers and followers out, the 2009 Chicago Marathon became both a race for the world record AND a race among men. Vincent Kipruto - the 2:05:47 champion at the 2009 Paris Marathon - assumed the leader position: clearly looking for a huge win, a personal best and seeming to step forward as unofficial pacer. Sammy Wanjiru was looking comfortable. And still in the front pack was Charles Munyeki in his debut marathon. We'll admit we didn't know as much about Munyeki as we should, but we noted that Munyeki might be real: he had a 59:44 personal best at the 2008 Rotterdam Half Marathon and had served as a pacer at the 2009 Rotterdam marathon where three men went under 2:05.
By 30K in 1:28:46 - the mathematicians would say the expected finish time would be 2:05:20. The world record chase was off, but the course record of 2:05:42 was still in jeopardy. The race continued as a three man contest, Wanjiru, Kipruto and Munyeki. But Wanjiru decided it was time to push his pace - and from mile 21, Wanjiru broke away and began to create and extend a lead.
World record - No! Course record - Almost not! Down the final stretch, Sammy Wanjiru was celebrating, slowing and waving to the crowd - he had won. Wanjiru told us after the race that while he expected to set a new course record (and world record), he didn't know what the previous course record was and that lack of knowledge nearly cost him that record and the $100,000 bonus that would come with it. Coming down the final stretch and clearly the winner - Wanjiru waved his arms and slowed to interact with the crowd of fans as the time ticked down and those in the know watched in horror as the clock moved toward the previous record. Luckily, the slowing Wanjiru crossed the finish line in a time of 2:05:41 to set a new course record by a single second, just beating the 2:05:42 set by Khalid Khannouchi in 1999.
photo: Scott Winnier for MarathonGuide.com
Sammy Wanjiru Winning the Bank of America Chicago Marathon
There are two ways to run a marathon: run with the leaders and hope that through attrition you will remain at the front or set your own strategy and run your own race even if that means running alone. One man, Abderrahim Goumri, chose to run his own race and did run alone the entire race. Goumri told us later that this was a new strategy for him - his first time not running with the lead pack, but that he knows that using that strategy he will be able to run well in the future with this tactic. Goumri ran nearly a perfect race on his strategy - the 5K splits showed his consistency: 14:43, 14:54, 14:59, 15:00, 15:03, 14:52, 14:54. His first half split (1:02:50) nearly matched his second half (1:03:14) and this consistency was good enough to propel him to second place. At one point, Goumri was nearly one minute behind the leaders, but he told us that he could always see the lead pack and was always focusing forward and that at the end the spectators helped him alot as they cheered him on and encouraged him by saying he looked stronger than those ahead of him.
Vincent Kipruto, having run marathons for less than a year - followed up his Paris Marathon win of 2:05:47 with a run that began on world record pace and continued through to a 2:06:08 third place finish at the Chicago Marathon - undoubtedly the 62:01 first half was too fast, but the fact that this young runner held onto a 64:07 proves that he is strong and will someone to watch going forward.
Top Ten Finishers:
Sammy Wanjiru (KEN) - 2:05:41 ($75,000+$100,000)
Abderrahim Goumri (MAR) - 2:06:04 ($50,000+$40,000)
Vincent Kipruto (KEN) - 2:06:08 ($25,000+$40,000)
Charles Munyeki (KEN) - 2:07:07 ($15,000+$15,000)
Richard Limo (KEN) - 2:08:43 ($10,000)
Wesley Korir (KEN) - 2:10:38
Isaac Macharia (KEN) - 2:11:09
Sergio Reyes (USA) - 2:15:30 ($10,000+$2,500)
Tadese Tola (ETH) - 2:15:48
Patrick Rizzo (USA) - 2:15:48 ($8,000+$2,500)