Despite overcast skies and a steady southerly tailwind past 20 miles, the men’s splits essentially mirrored those of 2014 when the runners were confronted with a cold, brisk 20 mph headwind. Even up First Avenue, Thunder Alley, between 16 & 19 miles where the crowds are so thick and boisterous that splits free wheel in the low to mid-4:30s, this year saw one 4:49 and a 5:03. Instead of a string behind a scalded leader, we had eight men abreast at a rocking chair pace.
So what was the difference? Well, there was that little competition in late August in Beijing, China, the IAAF World Championships, where four of New York’s top guys represented their countries in the marathon. Yes, big-time marathoning takes a lot of preparation, and even then history suggests that repeating is way more difficult now than it once was when Bill Rodgers reeled off four straight New York wins from 1976-1979, or Alberto Salazar followed with a three-peat from 1980-`82. The last man to win back-to-back years in NYC was Kenya’s John Kagwe in 1997-`98.
So the fact that the one A-list guy in Sunday’s field who didn’t run the World Championships Marathon, Stanley Biwott, the one guy who came in with a full tank of gas from training went on to win the race, and the second least compromised contender took runner-up honors in the person of World Championships 10,000 meter silver medalist Geoffrey Kamworor, actually made all the sense in the world.
Imagine how would it have looked if one of the World Championship marathoners — Kipsang, Tsegay, Desisa or Meucci — had doubled back and won in a quick time? In this new age of guilt that would have certainly raised another red flag, not exactly what the sport needs after the damage from the flood of drug positives in recent times has all but drowned the sports’ image.
What’s the state of the game currently in the main stream? Just look at yesterday’s USA Today newspaper. While the New York, Boston, and Chicago Marathons used to receive full-page Friday previews by writer Dick Patrick back in the day, and then another full-page results layout the day after, the New York City Marathon, the grandest display of marathoning in the world, was mentioned on page 2 as part of USA Today’s In Brief section of the sports page.
But it doesn’t stop with that slight alone. There on the back of the USA Today sports page, taking up the entire page, with a full color picture, was an article on obstacle racing like the Spartan Race and Tough Mudder.
So while the activity of running is continues to go gangbusters, man, is the sport every losing altitude like a skydiver whose chute failed to open.
My friend Ed Caesar, author of the new book Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon, had a nice interview with the gang at Tracksmith today, taking just this same point and driving it home.
Notwithstanding, I had the honor and pleasure of reporting from the lead men’s camera motorcycle on Sunday for ESPN2 coverage. Unfortunately, our camera crapped out at 16 miles as the race looped down off the 59th Street Bridge onto First Avenue. So as our camera man Manny Torrez tried valiantly to fix the problem, the lead pack motored off into the distance, and I never saw the last 10 miles.
Those are the breaks, though, and you live with the results. But until we lost picture, we had the best seat in the house. Here’s hoping everyone who ran had a day to remember and stories to tell.
Special congrats to Meb Keflezighi for his new American master’s record in seventh place, and to Laura Thweatt on her impressive 2:28:23 debut. Now it’s on to Los Angeles in February for the Olympic Trials.