New York, USA - When you start a high-performance car on a cold winter’s morning, it usually takes a few minutes for the engine to prime and the same could be said for Kenya’s Wilson Kipsang at the NYC Half Marathon on Sunday (17).
Kipsang took nearly a half hour to get into top gear on this frigid day but, once he did, the London 2012 Olympic Games Marathon bronze medalist easily cruised past Italy’s Daniele Meucci and local hope Dathan Ritzenhein and sped to victory in 1:01:02.
Bernard Lagat, the 38-year-old middle-distance track veteran, was solid in his debut as at the distance, finishing 12th in 1:02:33. Prior to this, the longest race he had ever run was a 10km cross country almost two decades ago as a student at Washington State University.
On the women’s side, Kenya’s Caroline Rotich was cooking early, breaking from the field three miles into the race and building a sizeable advantage by 15km. She was eventually caught by Burundi’s Diane Nukuri-Johnson of Burundi and Croatian surprise Lisa Stublić but held tough to recapture her 2011 title in 1:09:09.
The Kenyan pair each earned US $20,000 in prize money for their victories.
Cold start, hot finish for Kipsang
With temperatures dipping to 30 degrees Fahrenheit, five degrees below the average low, at the start, the elite men put any thoughts of sub-60-minute times into the deep freeze. The opening mile was covered in 4:58, more than 20 seconds slower than in 2012.
The lead pack was still 20 strong after moving through 5km in 15:03, and remained tightly bunched as they wound their way out of Central Park and onto Seventh Avenue.
It wasn’t until the 10km mark that Kipsang began feeling like he was warmed up and ready to go.
“I think if it could have been a little bit warmer, you find that the guys could really run at a faster pace, but because it was very cold everyone was not comfortable,” said Kipsang. “So if you try to keep a push you really feel like you are running faster, but in a real sense, the time is slow.
“After 10K, I saw that the time was a little bit slow, 29 or so, so I decided to push for the second half to see if I could run a faster time,” he added.
Just before reaching Times Square, Kipsang put on a small surge, which began to string out the leading group. Mexico’s Juan Luis Barrios, Kenya’s Julius Arile, Ritzenhein and Lagat easily covered the move and continued to hang on.
Kipsang slipped back a bit thereafter with Barrios taking the lead as the runners made the turn onto 42nd Street and headed toward the West Side highway.
Running along the Hudson River waterfront, Ritzenhein thought about the track speed of his American Olympic teammate Lagat and made a push to the front in front of Pier 76, covering the ninth mile in 4:34 to further string out the leaders.
It was here that Lagat began to fade, slipping from fourth to 10th. “The race went about exactly how I thought it would be, just a little bit slower,” said Ritzenhein.
“I thought we'd be a little closer to 60 minutes. I still anticipated it being slower early on just because of the park and the cold. I mean, in the cold, it's just hard to get going.
“Bernard is an amazing athlete. I didn't really want him to be there. I think Alberto (Salazar, Ritzenheim’s coach) wanted me to wait a little bit longer, but the pace was really slow. I was like, I'm going to try to get it going, and then Wilson took off and got the pace going fast, so that kind of got rid of him.”
However, Ritzenhein’s lead was short-lived as Kipsang began to impose his will and pace on the field.
Picking up the tempo at the 15km mark, he dropped in a 4:26 10th mile, the fastest of the race, to surge ahead of Ritzenhein and the others. Kipsang covered the next mile in 4:31, continuing to pad his lead. He split 13:58 for the five kilometres between 15km and 20km.
“It wasn’t part of my plan to wait until the 15km, but I think at the start it was not really possible to push too hard because it was very cold,” said Kipsang, who indicated he now feels ready for next month’s Virgin London Marathon. “In the group also, you saw many guys were trying to push but it wasn’t possible.”
Solid first effort for Lagat
Coming into the race, Lagat had hoped to run a time closer 61 minutes, which was rendered unrealistic by the weather conditions. Nevertheless, he was generally happy with his debut.
“I had so much fun today, especially those first miles up to nine,” said Lagat. “I was still enjoying it until like when the pace kind of picked it up a little bit after the ninth mile. That is when I started feeling a little tired over there. I kept trying to see if I could push a little more, but the guys were hammering it up, and I could not get myself moving. I kept digging deeper because I wanted to run a good time.
“I'm pleased with my time, 62. Of course, I wanted to see if I could run something faster than that. For my first experience, it was tough, but now I know how to run a Half Marathon in the future.”
Lagat said he will focus now on his training for the outdoor season, when he will bid to make the US 5000m team heading to Moscow for the IAAF World Championships.
Rotich rules early, rolls late
The women’s race appeared as though it would be a rout. Rotich ran alongside New Zealand’s Kim Smith, the runner-up in this race last year, in the opening miles before Smith, a notorious front-runner, began to fade badly before eventually dropping out of the race on Seventh Avenue.
From three miles in, Rotich was on a solo run through Central Park and through Midtown. When she rounded the hairpin turn onto the West Side Highway, there was not another female competitor in sight and when she hit the 15km mark in 49:17, she had an eight-second cushion.
However, before long, two strikingly different figures came in to view behind Rotich: the 6-foot-tall Nukuri Johnson, who finished 31st in the 2012 Olympic Games Marathon, and the diminutive 5-foot-2 Stublic who was born in Connecticut, ran collegiately in the US at Columbia University but who is the Croatian record holder in the 3000m Steeplechase, 5000m, Half Marathon and Marathon.
Stublić and Nukuri-Johnson continued to close and pulled even with Rotich in the 10th mile. Both Stublic and Nukuri-Johnson then made a push for the lead but neither was unable to drop Rotich. Stublic then began to fade during the 12th mile but eventually finished third in a national record 1:09:18.
Rotich and Nukuri-Johnson ran shoulder to shoulder until the runners made their way down through the Battery Park underpass onto FDR Drive, where Rotich pulled away for good.
“When I took off, I knew it's not over until it's over,” said Rotich. “So when they came, I was like, ‘Yeah, I was waiting for this.’ So I just got back together a little bit. I saw they didn't pass me, so I knew, ‘Oh, I just have to sit with them and see what happens in the finish.”
Nukuri-Johnson, who finished second in a national record 1:09:12, was pleased with her performance even though she was unable to employ the kick she had worked on during the indoor track season.
“I didn't quite catch her, but we started out a little slower compared to her, and we just kind of got closer and closer,” said Nukuri-Johnson. “We started running together for a couple of miles. Then she pulled away once we got in the tunnel. I thought I was going to outkick her in the end, but then she pulled away. I don't know. I did everything I could.”
Joe Battaglia for the IAAF
1. Wilson Kipsang (KEN) 1:01:02
2. Daniele Meucci (ITA) 1:01:06
3. Dathan Ritzenhein (USA) 1:01:10
4. Leonard Korir (KEN) 1:01:19
5. Juan Luis Barrios (MEX) 1:01:21
6. Sam Chelanga, (KEN) 1:01:26
7. Stephen Sambu (KEN) 1:01:34
8. Julius Arile (KEN) 1:01:38
9. Jason Hartmann (USA) 1:01:52
10. Kenta Murayama (JPN) 1:02:02
1. Caroline Rotich (KEN) 1:09:09
2. Diane Nukuri-Johnson (BDI) 1:09:12 NR
3. Lisa Stublic (CRO) 1:09:18 NR
4. Sabriina Mockenhaupt, (GER) 1:09:42
5. Lyudmila Kovalenko (UKR) 1:09:43
6. Madai Perez (MEX) 1:10:27
7. Yolanda Caballero (COL) 1:10:30 NR, AR
8. Tomomi Tanaka (JPN) 1:10:31
9. Stephanie Rothstein Bruce (USA) 1:10:53
10. Sara Moreira (POR) 1:11:03