The 14th edition of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon was the biggest event in its history. Over 24,000 runners took to the streets of New York City last Sunday. There were also 9 Olympians on show as they made their way from Brooklyn to Manhattan.
Despite the chilly early morning conditions, the racing was set to be hot as the winners would be bagging $20,000 each. The current world record holder for the half marathon, Kenya’s Joyciline Jepkosgei, was looking to dominate the American field. This included 2018 Boston Marathon champion Des Linden.
The men’s race was more open, with quality American track runner, Paul Chelimo, debuting at the distance and pitting himself against relatively unknown East African distance runners.
Believe you’re Untouchable
Jepkosgei’s pedigree is well-known. She reigns supreme over this distance, so no one expected the undulating course to pose much trouble for her. She was looking to replicate the superior performance that Mary Keitany produced to win the NYC Marathon late last year.
Her relaxed, bouncy stride appeared comfortable as she kept in the lead pack for the first 10k. When she broke away, her strong arm swing helped make the most of her substantial power-to-weight ratio. She kept her focus and eyes on the road ahead, and easily took victory by 60 seconds in 1:10:07.
Don’t Look Back in Anger
After a relatively slow start, Eritrea’s Daniel Mesfun forged ahead after the first mile. The 31-year-old had already won two half marathons in 2019 and has said he is looking to win the Boston Marathon next month. He made his intentions very clear after less than 10 minutes.
His short, powerful, flat-footed stride and bared teeth suggested that Mesfun was close to his limits. His lead was healthy, which built to as much as 22 seconds at the 15km mark. But he could not disguise his constant looking over his shoulder and several clutches of his stomach. It appeared that he was hoping to hold on to his lead by sheer determination and grit. In the closing stages, as Mesfun inevitably slowed, his rivals prepared their moves.
Many thought it would be the 5,000m specialist, Chelimo, who openly admitted that his recent 100+ mile weeks, and 22-mile long run had prepared him for victory. Although Chelimo did finish strong he could only finish third. Instead it was Belay Tilahun of Ethiopia, who stole the show. Not originally included in the elite field, it was a surprise to find him beside Mesfun with half a mile to race. Then the Ethiopian powered forward, winning by 6 seconds in 1:02:10.
The race illustrated how crucial it is for training to be targeted to the race (unless the race is being used as a tune-up for a more important upcoming race). Outward confidence, from Chelimo and Mesfun, is not always enough if the race strategy doesn’t take into account other astute competitors. Still, as Jepkosgei showed once again, when an athlete focuses on one distance, the outcome can be richly rewarding.