I enjoyed watching a great NYC Marathon this morning. Both the men’s and women’s races were close until the late miles, when someone made a big move to take the win.
26.2 miles seems like a long time to run, but watching the race tactically is absolutely fascinating. Going fast early is taking the chance that you won’t be able to hold it together until the end. Holding off until late means you’re potentially letting someone else take charge of the race.
Today’s women’s race saw a great champion hold the lead for a long time, but Paula Radcliffe just could not put her opponents away. It turns out that Paula had been struggling with tendinitis for the past two weeks. Aside from holding to a fairly conservative pace, she never let on that she was in pain. She said "I didn’t want to say too much about it because I didn’t want people to know that they could maybe run away from me".
Their mile splits were upwards of 5:45, with just a few at sub 5:30. Paula was able to hold the lead until about mile 23, when 41 year old Ludmila Petrova picked things up. Derartu Tulu hung with her, running effortlessly until she made her move with just a quarter mile to go. In just a quarter mile, she opened up an eight second lead, after running shoulder-to-shoulder with Petrova and Radcliffe for most of the race. Definitely a striking finish from a woman who had won just one major marathon before (London in 2001). She won Olympic gold for the 10k in the 1992 games in Barcelona.
Most of the men’s race felt a bit closer. A pack of perhaps 10-12 men held together for the first half, until they crossed over into Manhattan, where Robert Cheruiyot and Jaouad Gharib held together pulled away as they ran up First Avenue. Meb tucked in behind them, as he had done in the 2004 Olympic Marathon in Athens. At mile 24, he pulled away and the others couldn’t answer. Meb opened a 41 second lead, and crossed the finish with tears streaming down his face. It was a beautiful moment.
To understand his emotions, read about Meb a bit. His story is the American dream. Definitely a great champion.
There is much discussion now about how Meb winning the first NYC Marathon by an American in 27 years will inspire a new generation of American distance runners. That could very well be. I would submit that we should focus on what makes a champion, rather than where they come from. I’ll grant that some distance runners simply have genetic advantages. But many others simply work hard and focus on running their race. I was speaking to a guy who’d trained in Kenya about fifteen or twenty years ago. To hear him tell it, there was no magic involved. They just worked hard, and focused.
There was a lot of press about the marathon this week. I read an article about kids who’d run the race before there was an age prerequisite. Read about how the Kenyans take on New York. There was another about stars running the race. And there was a great article about the wheelchair racers and legend Joan Benoit Samuelson as well. And many more too.
Today, I reflected about running this race seven years ago myself. This was where I broke four hours for the first time, even taking minute-long walk breaks every mile. Running through my hometown, neighborhood by neighborhood was a great way to experience the city. And that day, I surprised myself a bit – running my race, feeling good most of the way, and exceeding my expectations a bit.
There are so many stories to tell in a race. Today, there were about 42,000 of them. That’s what makes running run, right?