ING New York City Marathon 2004 - Men's Race
The men's field in the 2004 ING NYC Marathon was so deep that we refused to make any predictions. We knew/hoped that Meb Keflezighi would do well, being strong and confident coming off a silver medal performance at the Olympic Marathon - a race in which he was the athlete who pushed the pace and caused others to wilt. Besides Meb, there were any number of runners who could figure in the race. The 2003 champion, Martin Lel, and runner-up, Rodgers Rop (who was also 2002 champion and course-record holder) were not returning this year, but Christopher Cheboiboch, who was third in 2003, did arrive on the starting line with a desire to improve his finish. Michael Rotich, who might have figured in the competition and had the fastest PR among the elites, scratched prior to the race, helping to even the field. An amazing cast of Americans was assembled: Keflezighi's fellow Olympian Dan Browne, superstar Ryan Shay, and 10,000 meter wizards/marathon debutantes Bob Kennedy and Abdi Abdiraham - with some luck, any of these men might've factored in the top five finishers as well.
At the start, the pack remained as huge as we might have expected. Through the first three miles, 22 runners remained in the pack. At mile 11 the pack retained 18 runners, and by the halfway point 15 runners were still in the group, including most of the favorites - it was anybody's race. To make matters more interesting the day was a bit warm, and yet at the halfway point the runners were only 23 seconds behind the pace that was maintained when the course record was set.
At the halfway point, the pack consisted of this large group of fourteen men: Laban Kipkemboi (Kenya), Timothy Cherigat (Kenya), Enos Kibet Ketter (Kenya),
Joseph Ngolepus (Kenya),
Hendrik Ramaala (South Africa),
Paul Kirui (Kenya),
Christopher Cheboiboch (Kenya),
Meb Keflezighi (USA),
John Kagwe (Kenya),
Benson Cherono (Kenya),
Abdihakim Abdiraham (USA),
Benedict Kimondiu (Kenya),
John Yuda (Tanzania),
Ottavio Andriani (Italy),
El Arbi Khattabi (Morocco) - wow! At least six of these men were serious contenders.
As usually happens in New York, the race began in earnest on the 59th Street Bridge - the largest hill on the course - strategically placed at the 15/16 mile point on the course. As expected, the pack began to separate slightly and by the time the runners exited the bridge, the pack was down to 10 runners. Heading up first avenue just shy of the 17 mile mark, things started to get interesting. Out of nowhere, little known runner Enos Kibet Ketter led a charge, and Hendrik Ramaala and Timothy Cherigat answered. Within seconds those three had built a twenty yard lead which expanded with every step. Journalists everywhere were asking the same question: "who is Enos Kibet Ketter???"
At Mile 20, Meb Keflezighi began pushing hard to catch back up to the leaders and by mile 21 he had reached them. Meanwhile the rest of the field faded behind. The mysterious Ketter fell back to fifth and the lead pack continued to thin. Finally three runners remained in contention - Cherigat, Ramaala and Keflezighi. This was the race, but who would be the strongest over the final 5 miles?
The three leaders ran lockstep together until mile 24 at which point Ramaala made his move. He declined to stop for water and used the opportunity to open a small gap which he continued to extend. It was believed that Ramaala had the slowest sprint of the three and needed to choose an early point to make his move, but Keflezighi and Cherigat did not charge - they seemed content to let Ramaala go and battle it out for second place.
At the finish, it was Hendrik Ramaala alone to become champion of the ING New York City Marathon in 2:09:28. Meb Keflezighi showed his strength to finish in 2:09:53, a personal record - having outsprinted Cherigat who finished in third position in 2:10:00. Patrick Tambwe of France was fourth in 2:10:11 and Benson Cherono took fifth in 2:11:23. In ninth place was the second American finisher, Ryan Shay in 2:14:08.
Post-Race Runner Comments:
Asked why he didn't take the final water: "I was feeling very well and didn't need to drink at that time. I remember watching some races, like the 1996 Atlanta Marathon, where the winner skipped the final water station and went on to win, so I thought I should do that."... "
At 400 meters to go, I was still scared. I thought, the finish is too far away. Only with 100 meters to go and I turned around and saw that the other guys were not there, I said - "this is mine."
Asked about his lack of success in marathons: "Yes, like in Amsterdam three months ago when I pulled a hamstring muscle. I'm notorious for hurting myself in the marathon - people say, you're good in the half-marathon... I am coaching myself and the question is can you be patient? Some people it takes five years, six years, seven years to succeed."
Asked about his training: "I didn't finish in Athens. I trained like a dog before that race, I was in the best shape of my life, but it didn't work. That training came in useful. My longest run since then has been 140 kilometers per week. For me, 160-180 kilos is long, if I go 200, I get too tired and things start breaking.
Asked about the pace that he was running and the large Kenyan pack in the race: "The Kenyans were talking among themselves and I don't know what they were saying, but I had to stay prepared. I didn't see all of the mile markers, so I didn't even know what my pace was. I saw the 15 mile mark and I hadn't even seen my halfway split, so I didn't know what pace I was at... Sometimes I run for a place and sometimes I go for a time. In this race I was running for a place."
Asked about the gap that formed at mile 16 and why he fell behind: "At mile 16/17, they pulled on a surge and I had a cramp at that point. It took a lot of work for me to catch up with them. For the statisticians, this is the worst I finished all year, I've just finished first or second in every race this year and I fell confident that I could do that here."
About letting Ramaala go at mile 24: "We were exchanging leads. Ramaala didn't take the last water stop and he made a move. He made such a big gap that there was just nothing I could do."
Ryan Shay, the second American finisher:
Asked whether he did as well as he expected: "I expected to do better. You know, I was hoping around 2:12 time-wise. But my other two goals were to finish in the top ten and in the top three Americans, so I made two out of three.
About running a good portion of the race alone: "This was the first race I've run in with a rabbit. At one point, mile 17, it was just me and the rabbit. At one point I thought of passing the rabbit, but knew that if I did that I'd pay for it later. I was running by myself after the rabbit dropped off and then I felt my pace beginning to slip. I was thinking of trying to entice the rabbit to continue on to mile 20..."
Blow by blow coverage of the ING NYC Marathon 2004 races:
MarathonGuide.com - 2004 ING New York City Marathon Pre-Race Interviews
MarathonGuide.com - 2004 ING New York City Marathon Elite List
NYC Marathon 2004: Men's Race
NYC Marathon 2004: Women's Race
NYC Marathon 2004: The Wheelchair Race
Also, Complete Results of the 2004 ING NYC Marathon