In its five years, the NYC Half Marathon has emerged as one of the top Half Marathons in the world, but with the 2011 - 6th Annual race - the New York Road Runners pulled out all of the stops. With a date that moved through the calendar, the schedule in past years made it difficult for some of the best to make it to New York with other committments. But the NYRR says the March date is where the race will stay and with the new date and increased recruitment, the NYRR pulled out all stops to bring the best ever fields to New York.
The Men's Race
For the 2011 NYC Half Marathon, the NYRR brought back many old favorites who have done well in New York and for America: Ryan Hall (the USA Half Marathon record holder), Abdi Abdirahman (the American who had run the fastest Half Marathon in New York) and Meb Keflezighi (the 2004 Marathon Silver Medalist and 2009 New York City Marathon winner). All of these men were expected or hoped to do well - but to spoil the story, we'll say that did not materialize. Others who had emerged at New York in the last two years figured to do well: Peter Kamais surprised everyone at the NYC Half Marathon in 2009 when he ran away from Haile Gebrselassie to win in a sub-60 59:53; and Gebre Gebremariam set a Central Park record at the Healthy Kidney 10K and then came back to win the 2010 New York City Marathon in his debut. And of special note were newcomers to roadracing: Mo Farah of Great Britain (the British 5000m record holder) and Galen Rupp (the USA indoor 5000m record holder). Rupp was originally scheduled to run a 10,000m race in Christchurch, but with that canceled and needing a race Rupp decided to come to New York.
The start was very cold at 35 degrees - ultimately too cold for some who were not prepared for that weather. But from the beginning, the pack was huge... After a slow first mile (5:01), Moses Kigen picks up the pace and runs away and at at first only Galen Rupp seems concerned as he and then the rest of the field reabsorbs Kigen and runs a fast 4:36 for the second mile - but the field remained large at 16. By mile 6, our sentimental favorites had fallen off the pace, Ryan Hall backing off by mile 4, Abdi Abdirahman back by mile 5 and Meb Keflezighi struggling by mile 6. A few others also were off, but the pack remained large at 12 with Rupp, Kamais, Cragg, Marilson Gomes and Mo Farah all taking turns at the front.
After 10K, we saw two men go down briefly: Peter Kamais and Galen Rupp collided and Kamais dropped first and Rupp went down - but both were up quickly and Rupp, especially, pushed back toward the lead. By the time the field left Central Park at mile 8, there were still nine men together: a marked contrast to past years when we would see just one, two or three men begin the run down 7th Ave. toward Times Square and the heart of Manhattan. The last 3.5 miles of the course are flat along the Hudson River and as the men reached the point, there were seven men still together: Mo Farah using his speed to try to break the pack apart, followed in order by teammate Galen Rupp, Gebre Gebremariam, Tesfaye Girma, Moses Kigen, Alastair Cragg and Peter Kamais. Cragg and Kamais fell off the pack, followed by Girma and then Kigen and it was down to three.
The three who would compete for the win made an interesting trio: Gebre Gebremariam had emerged as one of the strongest and most accomplished distance runners - after setting a record for a lap of Central Park while winning the Healthy Kidney 10K, Gebremariam had an amazing debut to win the New York City Marathon in 2:08:14. Now Gebremariam was focusing solely on the marathon distance, using the NYC Half Marathon as a test and preparation for the Boston Marathon. The other two were using the NYC Half Marathon as a different sort of test: testing a distance that was beyond anything they had ever done before as both were focusing on the 5,000m and 10,000m track distances. Rupp had run just one road race in his life, a 5K; and Farah had never raced further than 10miles - a distance he ran once in 2009. Each was at the NYC Half Marathon for a different reason.
Coming into the final stretch, Farah put in the first surge but was quickly met by Gebremariam who surged and seemed to have a strong lead. But with 200 yards to go, Farah pushed hard and ran by Gebremariam as if he were standing still... Rupp, who trains with Farah under Alberto Salazar at the Oregon Project told us later that every time it comes to a one-on-one sprint with Farah, Farah wins - and whether that was a foregone conclusion or not, Rupp drifted back to third place. Farah continued on to victory in 1:00:23 with Gebremariam just behind in 1:00:25. We noted that Gebremariam seemed to have a smile on his face at the finish line - not what one might expect after a close loss. Afterward Gebremariam told us that he knew who Farah was and was not worried about losing to him. With his focus on the Boston Marathon, Gebremariam knows that his performance - in all ways - was strong and that he will be unlikely to lose a close kick at Boston against a sprinter with Farah's credentials. Rupp was more than happy with his debut Half Marathon in 1:00:30. - and if he were not so strong on the track we wouldn't be surprised if he started running on the roads right away; but with the Olympics coming up, any jump to the roads will need to wait until after 2012.
In the past five NYC Half Marathons, eight men in total had beaten 1:01 - an average of 1.6 per year. But in 2011 six men bested that mark: the top three and Tesfaye Girma (1:00:35), Peter Kamais (1:00:31) and Alistair Cragg (1:00:49).
The Women's Race
The NYC Half Marathon had seen some famous women compete, with Catherine Ndereba setting the course standard in her first outing in 2006; Paula Radcliffe missing the record by three seconds in 2009 and Mara Yamauchi setting the most recent record of 1:09:25 in 2010. What made the 2011 race interesting is that only one woman who had podiumed in the first five races - Madai Perez - scheduled to return. At the last moment, one other race veteran, Yuri Kano coming to run after her originally scheduled race, the Nagoya Marathon, was canceled due to the effects of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
Kara Goucher seems to be a story whenever she runs - and one of the lead stories for the 2011 NYC Marathon was that Kara Goucher would be her return to road racing after having a child and her preparation leading to the Boston Marathon - hoping to better her third place finish at Boston in 2009. Edna Kiplagat, the 2010 New York City Marathon champion, chose to run the NYC Half Marathon instead of returning to Los Angeles to defend her 2010 win at the Los Angeles Marathon. Worknesh Kidane, the multiple world cross-country championship and wife of men's favorite Gebre Gebremariam; and Jo Pavey, the 3-time 5,000m and reigning 10,000m British champion, would round out the field.
The women started on a strong, but not record-shattering pace and seven women were together through the first half of the race: Caroline Rotich, Edna Kiplagat, Shewarge Alene Amare, Werknesh Kidane, Kara Goucher, Jo Pavey and Jessica Augusto all together. Through 10K, the average pace suggested a 1:10:20 finish; by 15K, the pace had quickented to suggest a 1:09:48 pace and the pack still held six women - only Augusto had fallen off. Caroline Rotich continued to push the pace and soon the race was down to three: Rotich, Kiplagat and Alene Amare. Goucher was struggling to maintain contact, falling back and surging to close the gap somewhat.
Rotich continued to put in strong surges and truly controlled the race from the beginning. Pushing hard in the last mile, Rotich gained a convincing lead and would win in a great personal best of 1:08:52. Kiplagat continued forward, finishing second in 1:09:00 - but was nearly caught by a charging Goucher who seemed to gain a second wind and took third in 1:09:03 after passing the slowing Alene Amare who would finish fourth in 1:09:25. Kiplagat, despite finishing second told us she was very happy with her race - knocking nearly 30 seconds off her personal best at the half marathon.
Despite the absence of many returnees and some of the best known women - as in past years - the 2011 NYC Half Marathon saw the top three women all run faster than the previous course record.
Click an image below |
for more and larger photos
Near the Start, the favorites lead out the masses
Front pack (l to r):Marilson Gomes dos Santos, Galen Rupp, Moses Kigen, Gebre Gebremariam, Alistair Cragg, Mo Farah
The leaders lap the masses at mile 7, Kamais - after falling - is off the pack
Mo Farah sets the pace down 42nd St.
Rupp - without mask - takes his turn at the lead as Kigen and Girma struggles to hand on
Mo Farah victorious, outsprinting Gebremariam just behind and Rupp
Caroline Rotich was more than happy with her day
The women's top three