ING New York City Marathon 2005 - Men's Race
The men's field in the 2005 ING NYC Marathon was as deep as any marathon field ever assembled. Included in the field were the world-record holder Paul Tergat; the 2005 winner and London 2005 third-place finisher, Hendrick Ramaala; the 2004 runner-up and 2004 Olympic silver-medalist, Meb Keflezighi; Hailu Negussie, the Boston Marathon winner; and 13 other runners who had run sub 2:09 in a marathon. Also scheduled to run was Martin Lel, the 2005 London winner, but injuries kept Lel from the field. Paul Tergat likened the field to the Olympics - and indeed the potential was there to create a great race and it did not disappoint.
Paul Tergat had to be the favorite - he was the world-record holder, but his fastest times were on fast/flat courses - London, Berlin, Chicago. Tergat's one marathon in the hills and the heat - the 2004 Olympics - ended in a disappointing tenth place finish. On the other hand, Meb Keflizighi didn't have the times that Tergat had, but had had proven himself a tough competitor through a second place finish in New York in 2004 and by running aggressively and tearing apart the field while grabbing the silver medal at the 2004 Olympics. Hendrick Ramaala ran a great race in London in 2005, but more importantly had proven himself in New York by winning in 2005. The race could and should belong to one of these three, but there were enough wildcards in the field to keep it interesting. One of the most exciting - to American fans, at least - was the American 10,000 record holder Abdi Abdiraman who had run his debut marathon in New York in 2004 and was ready for his second try at the distance - this year with better and more consistent training.
The race was run conservatively and the pack stayed large - 17 runners - through the 14th mile, not an unexpected start in a race where the goal is to win, not necessarily to set any type of record.
The first break came on the approach to the 59th Street bridge, the beginning of one of the hills on the course. Alberico Di Cecco of Italy decided it was time to shake things up and put on a surge. For those readers who are unfamiliar with the NYC Marathon course, you should know that this is earlier than is typically for someone to make a move - and it was clear that the stars in the pack were not quite sure what was happening, not to mention unfamiliar with the man starting the break - someone wearing bib number 22 who can generally be found running in his native Italy. Meb Keflizighi admitted after the race to asking Mark Carroll, another runner in the pack: "who is this guy?" before making a decision whether to cover the break. When Carroll's answer was that Di Cecco had run a 2:08 earlier in 2005, the runners knew Di Cecco might be for real and covered the break. But, Di Cecco's strategy worked and the field was broken apart into a group of seven who had kept with the lead and the rest who were behind. The pack of seven consisted of Alberico Di Cecco, Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot, Hendrick Ramaala, Hailu Negussie, Meb Keflezighi, Abid Abdiraman and Paul Tergat - all of the possible winners were there.
Paul Tergat (l) and Hendrick Ramaala (r)
with 1/2 mile to the finish
On and over the 59th Street bridge that represents the second largest hill on the course - a rise of 100 feet... As the runners are about to come off of the bridge, Hendrick Ramaala puts in a surge - and the pack of seven gets strung out. Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot sticks directly with Ramaala as these two record a mile between mile 16 to mile 17 of 4:22 - incredible at this point in the race. To increase his lead and work to break the pack, Ramaala skips a water stop - this is as aggressive an attack as he can put in at this point. Meb Keflezighi is running comfortably about five seconds behind and puts in a surge to come back up to the lead two. Ramaala surges again and Cheruiyot sticks with him, but Keflizighi continues to move up and it becomes a pack of three. Paul Tergat is next in line, about thirty meters back, but he will come back up and the pack will consist of these four. Ramaala has broken the field into a group of four - now with nine miles to go.
By the twenty-first mile, the four runners are still together: Hendrick Ramaala, Meb Keflizighi, Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot, Paul Tergat - the next runners have reformed a following pack, but they are forty-five seconds behind and can not at this point get into contention. Of interest in the following group is that Abdi Abidraman manages to separate himself from the others and to move up alone in fifth place.
Moving through the hills in Central Park, Ramaala puts in another push and Cheruiyot gets dropped. Tergat has been sitting back behind Ramaala and Keflezighi, watching - to the viewer, it's not clear whether Tergat might be tiring or is just playing this very strategically.
With one mile to go, Ramaala and Tergat surge and Keflizighi can no longer respond. Up Central Park South, Tergat moves ahead of Ramaala and with a half-mile to go, the gap might be two seconds. But turning back into the Park for the final quarter mile, Ramaala has moved ahead. Ramaala knows this course, Tergat probably has the greater speed - at this point the race could go either way. Ramaala has a lead of a couple of steps when the two crest the final rise before the finish and Tergat sees the finish line - the race becomes an all out sprint.
At the finish, Tergat's greater speed gives him the edge by just 0.32 seconds. This becomes the closest finish in New York City Marathon history and a great race for both Tergat and Ramaala. To add to the drama, Ramaala dives for the finish line and collapsed to the ground - although after the race Ramaala would not comment on whether that was a dive or a collapse in exhaustion. When asked if he felt bad finishing in second place, Ramaala would respond: "You can't feel too bad being beaten by Paul Tergat."
As is the practice in scoring these races, fractions of a second are rounded up, so Paul Tergat's 2:09:29.92 is recorded as 2:09:30 and Ramaala's 2:09:30.34 is recorded as 2:09:31. The official record books will not properly describe the closeness of the race - and the excitement of the finish.
Meb Keflizighi finishes in a strong third place in 2:09:56 - there is little he could have done better. Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot finishes in fourth in 2:11:01. Abdi Abdiraman, who at one point was as much as fifty seconds behind Cheruiyot finishes thirteen seconds back in fifth place - a PR by more than six minutes and a fantastic achievement for the young American in only his second marathon.
The final times, and prize payouts:
Paul Tergat, 2:09:30 - $125,000 + a SmartCar
Hendrick Ramaala, 2:09:31 - $70,000
Meb Keflizighi, 2:09:57 - $85,000 (incl. US bonus)
Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot, 2:11:00 - $25,000
Abdi Abdiraman, 2:11:24 - $35,000 (incl. US bonus)
Post-Race Thoughts from the runners:
More interviews being added continuously...
Meb Keflizighi near the finish
What did you think when Ramaala made his move on First Avenue?
I was feeling great the whole way starting, but the best advice I could give to the other guys was to be patient on First Avenue. I was into it, I was feeling good, I didn't want to go, but I had to cover because Hendrick is the defending champion. So he put me in that kind of position where I had to respond. I almost stopped - I had to get my water at 16 because it was right after the turn, and I had 4:23 for the mile on my watch, so it was pretty fast. But the crowd was phenomenal. Every step of the way, it's just amazing feeling. They drive you, give you the energy, they were cheering me on with "Go USA. Go Meb," and that's what carried me through.
Did you think that Hendrick was crazy to make that surge on First Avenue? What about Tergat being behind?
You know, it was kind of hard to judge. This is my second time running with Tergat and he was comfortable where he was. He was more patient than all three of us. I wasn't sure if he was hurting or he'd just been kind of playing it down low. Ramaala kind of made a couple of moves on First Avenue, when I came up to them, as you saw: Hendrick made another move when I caught up to them and that hurt me, but that's part of racing. I did the same thing, trying to shake him off but he was patient and came through Central Park.
When DiCecco broke on the bridge what did it look like?
Well, I guess Di Cecco broke the first one. At that point I said, who is that guy? I didn't know who it was. Part of the strategy is to have a key, if Hendrick made a move or Paul made a move I'm definitely going to respond - but if anybody else made a move I have to know what his credentials are. So I asked Mark Carroll while running who that was making the move, and what was his PR, and Mark told me, 2:08 something, and he said, "You'd better get serious with him."
Because your injury was so well-known, many people thought you would run conservatively did you plan to run that aggressively? Did you surprise yourself?
We talked and the plan was definitely to be conservative, but I'm a competitor. I get in there and do the best that I can. Today, again, I made it an exciting race and a lot of people talk about Kenyans beating us but only one Kenyan beat me today. Just want to get up there and be competitive, and get down to mile 23, and if you're feeling good with two miles to go, make sure you push it. We tried to do that, and they were actually ahead of me, so I just tried to be as competitive as I can.
Was it particularly hot out there today?
It was pretty humid at the beginning. We were sweating a lot. As it went on, for me, I'd rather have it a little warm than be too cold. So in terms of reflecting the time for the half - about 1:05 or 1:05 and change, I knew it was going to be a slow race at that point. I was just thinking in my head, "Get yourself to the finish line in first place, if you can." So time was irrelevant at that point.
Q. When your calf started to hurt in the last couple of miles, did you find yourself thinking or wishing that Ramaala and Tergat might be were hurting or they might come back?
I knew they were not going to come back. I was hurting a little bit, but for me it was, okay. I could get closer in third place, but I was still going to be in third place. I just wanted to make sure that nobody came from behind and got that third spot. To be on the podium is huge. For me to be able to overcome what I overcame this year and to be at the podium again means a lot to me.
Is there anything that separates Tergat from the others?
He has not done a lot of marathons, but he has been successful at what he does. I think he gave me great advice in '98 - he gave me advice when he took me out for a coffee or tea. I said, "I want to be a great athlete like you." He said, "You can do it. You've just got to be patient and make progress in small steps." That was the best advice he could give me. He said, "If you really want, I can give you my workouts but I'm at a different level than you are," and he was definitely at a different level in 2000: he was the silver medalist and I was in 12th place. From what I know, he's just a hard-working guy and disciplined.
What are you going to be doing in the next two weeks between now and your wedding?
I'm getting married to my wonderful fiance in less than two weeks and I'm going to take a vacation. I don't know when my next race is, no rush. I'm not in a rush to get in shape right now. I'm probably going to exercise probably 40 minutes a day and stretch a lot to avoid injuries and make sure I take care of my calves.
Abdi, What did you think of your race and your PR?
It's a good pr for me. I'm happy to run 2:11:20 something, it's better than my pr before, but I was hoping to run something like a 2:10 but I kind of lost momentum. Coming down First Avenue, my plan was just to maintain it, because the Italian guy make a big move at the 15-mile mark, he started to sprint up the hill and the we all sprinted up the hill. Then we were running as a group, and Ramaala made a big move, he put in like a 4:21 mile. I backed off from that one because I didn't want to kill myself. Meb went with him and that's when I couldn't close the gap. I tried, but I didn't have any help so I just ran solo for the last six miles and I ran pretty strong. I feel pretty good.
You had a great year this year: on the track, marathon PR... Going forward, are you going to continue trying to do everything?
You know, I'm still young in the marathon. This is only my second marathon. Hopefully I'm coming back to New York next year and improve my PR and that's my main goal. With the marathon, it takes you a long time until you get a PR. I'm just going to take it step by step. I'm going to keep running track, keep running the 10,000, start shorter distances and hopefully I'll move to the marathon permanently after the 2008 Olympics - hopefully.
Blow by blow coverage of the ING NYC Marathon 2005 races:
NYC Marathon 2005: The Men's Race
NYC Marathon 2005: The Women's Race
As It Happened:
2005 ING NYC Marathon Live Race Coverage
Marathon Elite Lists and Overview
Pre-Race Interviews with top competitors
A special interview with Grete Waitz
Also, Complete Results of the 2005 ING NYC Marathon