ING New York City Marathon 2006 - Women's Race
Deena Kastor, Catherine Ndereba, Jelena Prokopcuka, Rita Jeptoo, Lornah Kiplagat, Susan Chepkemei, Lidiya Grigoryeva - to the initiated, these names are all that need to be said about the depth and strength of the 2006 ING New York City Marathon's women's field. With the exception of Paula Radcliffe, the world record holder who, seven months pregnant, was watching from the sidelines, we can barely think of two or three other women who could run with this crowd....
For those less familiar with the lineup, here was the pre-race rundown:
Given the field and its experience, we all knew that Deena Kastor was the favorite, although Catherine Ndereba might choose to give Kastor a run for it. It seemed that the field knew this as well and that is how the action played out - sort of.
- Deena Kastor: Holder of the American women's record (2:19:36) in the marathon set earlier in 2006. Winner of the her previous two marathons - the most prestigious in the world - Chicago and London. The Bronze medalist at the 2004 Athens Olympics who has just continued to improve each year. Only three women have ever run a marathon faster than Deena Kastor.
- Catherine Ndereba: Nicknamed "Catherine the Great," The first woman to break 2:19, Ndereba's marathon best of 2:18:47 makes her the second fastest woman to ever run a marathon (and one of those who had run faster than Kastor). While her fastest results were achieved in 2001-2003, Ndereba still maintained a streak of placing first or second in every marathon she had run since finishing second at New York in 1999 including the World Championships, Athens Marathon, New York, London, Boston and Chicago Marathons.
- Rita Jeptoo: Twenty-five years old, Jeptoo won the first two Marathons she entered: Stockholm and Milan. She then followed that up with a seventh place finish at the World Championships and a win at the 2006 Boston Marathon where she set her PR of 2:23:28 - slower than the others, but still a threat.
- The Others: Jelena Prokopcuka - defending champion at New York, second place at the 2006 Boston Marathon, PR of 2:22:56 at the marathon (2005 Osaka). Lornah Kiplagat, a perennial top finisher who had set a 20K European record just months before. Susan Chepkemei - third place at the 2006 London Marathon behind Kastor - 2:21:46 best.
From the starting gun, the pacemaker Luminita Talpos jumped to the front to set the pace - but only Jelena Prokopcuka went with her. Within the first 3K, Talpos and Prokopcuka were thirty seconds ahead of the pack. But the pack knew that Talpos was a rabbit who would drop out at 25K and that Prokopcuka was not the strongest in the field. The main field would wait for Kastor or Ndereba to make a move - possibly Jeptoo... Viewers were impressed by Prokopcuka's willingness to run at a strong pace - and she looked good - but the rest of the field was saving their energy for the "real" move in the race.
Oddly, the pacemaker, Talpos, given instructions to run through 25K at course record pace continued to run like an automaton. Prokopcuka was dropped by the rabbit and chose not to run solo and was absorbed back into the pack. Talpos continued on track through 25K and at one point was more than 1-1/2 minutes ahead of the real racers - what a strange situation. But she was ignored by the other runners and eventually ignored by the television cameras who were initially confused by the idea of not covering the front running marathoner.
By mile nine (51:01), the pace being run would bring the women home in over 2:29 and some members of the field were getting a bit restless with this slow pace. Tatiana Hladyr moved to the front of the pack to push the pace slightly as the women spread out to run single file. Having lost its pacemaker who was now out of sight, the pack was happy to have someone lead it at a bit faster clip. We'll note that the women knew that Hladyr would inevitably fade as they remembered Hladyr's eleventh place finish at the 2005 New York City Marathon in 2:29:34 - but Hladyr had improved in her win of the Rome Marathon in 2:25:44.
At the halfway point in 1:13:52, the pace was still slow enough that nine runners remained in the lead group as the women were on pace for a 2:28 finish, which, if it were to be the outcome would be the slowest finish in a decade. At this point, Hladyr decided that it was just time to run a real pace. Prokopcuka, showing the same willingness she had exhibited earlier in following Talpos, tucked in and followed Hladyr. The rest of the pack was keying off the favorite, Deena Kastor, and if Kastor was not going to go with this breakaway, then none of the others seemed to show any willingness to move. Heck, MarathonGuide.com hadn't even bothered to mention Hladyr in its pre-race articles, so how dangerous could she be? And if Deena and Catherine were unconcerned with Prokopcuka getting away with 13 miles still to hunt her down, then there was clearly no need to worry.
But in reality, that was the race. Kastor was not having a good day and did not have the power to join a breakaway or increase the tempo - she was doing what she could to hold the pace that was being held and had no desire to push the pace. The rest of the field mistakenly keyed off a runner who had the potential to win and was a favorite, but it was not her day. Hladyr and Prokopcuka continued to build a lead and not mile 21 - when the main pack was nearly 1-1/2 minutes back did they wake up and start to give chase. 1-1/2 minutes back with 5 miles to go is a formidable lead that can not be overcome unless the pace at the front is unreasonably fast, which it was not on this day. New York Road Runners President, Mary Wittenberg, would say that "it was almost like the runners were paralyzed by the depth of the field." And it seemed that way - or maybe asleep...
Catherine Ndereba and Rita Jeptoo
Finally recognizing that Kastor was not the runner to beat and waking up to the fact that the real race was running away out of sight further down the road, Catherine Ndereba started to chase. Lidiya Grigoreyva and Rita Jeptoo followed Ndereba's lead and also made chase. In the next mile the differential was down to 1:20 - barely a dent in the lead that had been built.
Before mile 23, Jelena Prokopcuka passed Hladyr and proceeded to build a gap on Hladyr and the rest of the field which increased through the finish and a win in 2:25:04, just 25 seconds slower than her winning time in 2005. Hladyr continued strong to the finsh to take second place in 2:26:05 - a minute behind Prokopcuka but safely ahead of Ndereba who finished third in 2:26:58 and Jeptoo who finished just behind in 2:26:59. Grigoryeva, who had joined the chase with Ndereba and Jeptoo finished fifth in 2:27:21. Deena Kastor hung on to finish sixth and as first American in 2:27:54.
The victory at the 2006 ING New York City Marathon went to the brave. Prokopcuka was ready to move at a faster pace from the beginning when she followed the pacemaker Talpos. She was ready to move at the next break at halfway - which is, historically, early for a break on this course. Hladyr deserved her spot. Against the odds and in what really was a superior field, she was willing to take the lead and push for an appropriate pace. The rest of the field was asleep, watching each other and not watching the race. They all knew that New York is not a PR course and that greatness is measured not by the time that it takes to complete the course, but by how well one places - it is a strategic race. Unfortunately, they focused on these lessons too greatly and didn't notice the real race that was taking place around them.
Jelena Prokopcuka 2:25:05 $155,000 + Smart Car
Tatiana Hladyr 2:26:05 $80,000
Catherine Ndereba 2:26:58 $55,000
Rita Jeptoo 2:26:59 $40,000
Lidiya Grigoryeva 2:27:21 $25,000
Deena Kastor 2:27:54 $40,000
Nina Rillstone 2:31:19 $7,500
Lornah Kiplagat 2:32:31 $5,000
Katie McGregor 2:32:36 $17,500
Susan Chepkemei 2:32:45 $1,000
Continuing coverage of the ING NYC Marathon 2006 races:
The Overview - What Happened?
NYC Marathon 2006: The Men's Race
NYC Marathon 2006: The Women's Race
As It Happens:
2006 ING NYC Marathon Live Race Coverage/ Mile-By-Mile
Marathon Elite Lists and Overview
Pre-Race Interviews with top competitors (additional writeups still in progress)
Also, Complete Results of the 2006 ING NYC Marathon