Chicago, Ill. — Kenya’s Dennis Kimetto ran the fourth fastest record-legal marathon in history today at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, taking the win under ideal conditions in 2:03:45, just seven seconds in front of fellow Kenyan Emmanuel Mutai, whose time was the fastest losing time in marathon history and the fifth fastest marathon overall. Kimetto missed Wilson Kipsang’s still fresh world record in Berlin, 2:03:23, by just 22 seconds. Those 22 seconds were lost between 25 and 30 kilometers, the five kilometers after the final pacesetter, Simon Ndirangu dropped away, and over the final 2.2K after Kimetto had pulled free of Mutai.
Under cool, calm, low humidity conditions, the first five 5K splits fell in 14:45, 14:37, 14:39, 14:38, 14:37. You could not script it any better. A big pat on the back should go to American Jason Hartman who took the boys through the first twisty 5K through downtown in exactly the 14:45 that was asked. So, too, was Morocco’s Abdellah Fasil a metronome, taking the next three 5Ks over, and finally Simon Ndirangu of Kenya, the last pacer able to handle the near-world record tempo, managing a 14:37 from 20K – 25K.
But the split between 25K and 30K took 14:48, slowest of the day as the athletes sought for a leader to carry the pace forward. Eventually, after a 4:51 16th, 4:45 17th, and 4:48 18th mile, the battle for the win between Kimetto and Emmanuel Mutai was engaged between 30-35K. That 5K fell in 14:34, the fastest of the day, and dispatched the other contenders, but thereafter the course turned north for the final 7K. It was along that stretch on Michigan Avenue that the slight breeze that had helped through much of the second half turned against the guys.
The run back toward Grant Park along Michigan Avenue from 35 to 40K required 14:40. But it was at the elite aid station just before 40K that Kimetto’s winning margin was made. While he slowed just slightly in order to grab his bottle cleanly from the middle-of-the-road table, Mutai juggled his bottle — which sat just in front of Kimetto’s — and it fell maddeningly to the road. As often happens, that momentary miss was a reflection of the two men’s remaining strength.
Though Kimetto said at the post-race press conference that he didn’t see Mutai miss his bottle, he certainly sensed the consequence, the small gap that formed. And in that moment he pressed the accelerator and opened the margin that remained over the final 2.2 K to the finish.
The time from 40K to the finish required 6:30. Wilson Kipsang’s record run in Berlin two weeks ago took only 6:11. So, those 19 seconds and the few that were lost in the 25 – 30K stretch where there were no pacers, became the difference between a course record and a world record. It’s that fine a line at this world-class level of marathon racing.
NOT WHAT RITZ HAD HOPED
Dathan Ritzenhein was a disappointed fifth in the race, coming home in 2:09:45 in his eighth career marathon. All the pieces seemed to be in place for Ritz today, two years of uninterrupted training, a tenth-place finish at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow over 10,000m, a two-month stint in Park City, Utah as marathon build up. But it didn’t add up to success for Ritz. At the post-race presser he said it wasn’t any consolation to finish fifth after last year’s ninth place finish in 2:07:47.
“Maybe if I ran three minutes faster in fifth,” he mused.
We did find out that Ritz had been suffering from a touchy plantar fascia for the last several months. Perhaps not enough of an injury to compromise him, but enough that the pain never fully went away. Ritz said his hamstring began to tighten after 25K, and keeping that together is what slowed him over the final miles of the race.
Coach Alberto Salazar told me just before the race that Dathan wore a spike plate on his road racing shoes during all his track performances this year to give his feet that extra little protection. Dathan told us the pacing was perfect till 25K, but by 30K he began to “feel it’, meaning the effort of the race. He also said he will change his racing routine for 2014, as 2013 was too full in retrospect.
“Last year worked well to have a full year,” he told the assembly, “because I missed 2011 with injuries, and needed to build up. But this year, though my workouts were good, I was tired on my rest days, so maybe I was tired by the end of the year. Next year I will just have two blocks of training so I won’t be tired the whole year.”
Z-MAN STILL TO GET IT RIGHT
Just after the 15k mark in today’s marathon, world half-marathon record holder and five-time world half-marathon champion Zersenay Tadese faded from view, left behind by the large lead pack. Never seen thereafter, the mercurial Eritrean hero still has found the marathon beyond his talents. This was the fourth marathon of his career and 2:10:41 in London 2012 remains his personal best. With the two best half-marathons ever run, 58:23 and 58:33, a World Cross Country title and a bronze medal over 10,000m at the 2004 Olympics, it would seem obvious that the marathon world record might be in his sights. But evidently not.
One thing I noticed from the lead TV moto was an inefficient, back-and-forth roll to his stride. Perhaps this isn’t critical over the shorter distances, but it may be for the marathon. At the same time it wouldn’t account for him falling off pace at 15K. Merhawi Keflezighi, Meb’s brother, said Zersenay mentioned something of a stomach issue as the cause for his dropping off.
For some, Like Dennis Kimetto, success comes instantly at the marathon. For others, like Tadese, it requires a longer apprenticeship. One still thinks his time may come, but this is why we run the races rather than hand out awards based on the form sheets coming in.
A SAVIOR FROM LUO
It is often a problem getting young men and women from the countryside of Kenya to be articulate spokespeople in front of a hungry gaggle of reporters. As such, the post-race press conference with Dennis Kimetto was turning into a “what did he say” type mangle as moderator Jim O’Brien kept helping Dennis hold the microphone closer to his mouth. At last Jim sort of gave up attempting his own translation from Dennis’ almost inaudible English, and asked if there was anyone in the room who spoke Swahili.
Thank goodness for Don Owino, originally from Luo, Kenya, now living in Chicago. He saved the press conference by striding onstage and interpreting both our questions and Kimetto’s answers. With Mr. Owino’s assistance, Dennis was able to field and answer questions easily and with good humor.
Note to all marathon directors. Please have a person fluent in Swahili and Amharic on hand to help both athletes and the media do their jobs. We already know many athletes speak English quite well, but not all do. By having a competent translator on hand, all, including the sport itself, would be well served.
Flying home to San Diego. More on the blog tomorrow. Cheers from Chicago.