These next two weeks will mark the end of the 2017 marathon year, first with the 71st Fukuoka International Marathon this Sunday in Japan, followed by the 45th Honolulu Marathon on December 10th (where I will be sending reports beginning next Wednesday).
But as the sport gears up for these big year-end competitions, I wanted to go back for one last look at what will go down as the defining race of the American running year, Shalane Flanagan‘s historic win at the TCS New York City Marathon November 5th.
Going back over the news coverage, I noticed an interesting observation in the New York Times story of the women’s competition. And I was wondering whether other racers noticed it, or saw it as I did. Here’s how the Times story led up to the moment of truth in the women’s race.
“After 21 miles, the lead pack whittled to three: Keitany, Daska, and Shalane Flanagan, a 36-year-old from Massachusetts, who finished second in New York in 2010. Keitany finally removed her sleeves. The race was on.”
As I watched that critical stretch, Shalane, especially, had the contained but concentrated appearance of an athlete with horses at the ready, all controlled energy with a tight hold of the reins. To my eye at least, it looked like from the 20-mile mark on Shalane kept waiting for the real Mary Keitany to show up and throw down because she was poised to respond.
Both Mary and Shalane had come a long way since their marathon debuts in NYC 2010 – FEARFUL NO MORE – MARY KEITANY – where Shalane took second behind Edna Kiplagat by 20 seconds, with Mary in third, another 21 seconds back in 2:29:01. Every race has its Alpha, though, and with Ms. Keitany coming in as three-time defending champion and women’s-only world-record setting London zephyr, there was no doubt as to who the leading lady in New York 2017 was.
But as Shalane, Mary, and Mamitu Daska battled down Fifth Avenue alongside the row of elegant apartment buildings on the Upper East Side this year (with Edna trailing in 4th place, BTW), Keitany’s face revealed a mask of just enough discomfort to betray a lost cause. If she had been the Keitany of the last three years, one would have thought she would have tried to leave a long time ago – hell, last year she won by over 3 1/2 minutes! – especially at what had been a desultory 2:32 marathon pace early on, no more than a tempo effort for the 2:17:01 winner in London this past spring. Daska in her NYC debut was the wildcard. Here’s the Times story again.
… as they made their way down Fifth Avenue, one runner began to break away. Surprisingly, it was not Keitany…In a bizarre decision, Keitany began to drift toward the east side of 5th Avenue, away from Flanagan’s tail, before zigzagging back into the customary route. At that point, though, it was too late to catch the runner from Massachusetts — .”
It’s that bold section I want to draw your attention to. Here’s the question, was it really a bizarre move? Unusual, yes, but – (more…)