On this Sunday, the first day of November 2020, when the world of running should have been gathered together celebrating the 50th TCS New York City Marathon, we are instead either sequestered by disease, unsettled by a pending election, or managing New York’s five-boroughs virtually but alone on foot. 

In a minor attempt at dispelling a disquieting mood hovering over a troubled land, here is a memory of the good times, both literal and figurative, from journal #182, recalling 6 November 2011, a record day in the city.

New York 2011

Calm, clear-sky conditions greeted a then-record 47,107 fortunate starters at the 42nd New York City Marathon gathered atop the Verrazano Narrows Bridge spanning Staten Island and Brooklyn. With the temperature hovering at chilled 40F and forecastEd to rise to only 56F (13C), who could ask for more?


Besides the NYCM title itself, two other factors would come into play on the men’s side this day. Though unofficial, the 2011 NYC Marathon would serve as an Olympic selection for several top Kenyans, notably Geoffrey and Emmanual Mutai (unrelated) the Boston and London course record holders.

With two-time world champion Abel Kirui and world record holder Patrick Makau having already been selected for London 2012, only one spot remainEd open. Kenyan Athletics chairman Isaiah Kiplagat has said the decision will be made after today’s race.

Another factor will be the completion of the 2010 – 2011 World Marathon Majors series. Five men remained in contention for the series title and $500,000 first prize.

Emmanuel Mutai held the best position, sitting second in the pre-race standings just five points behind Berlin Marathon champion Patrick Makau, who had completed his season. A win or second place finish today would wrap up the series win for Emmanuel. If he took third or worst, it would open the door for Geoffrey Mutai, Tsegaye Kebede and Gebre Gebremariam if they could snatch the win.

The women set off first. The big favorite was Kenyan Mary Keitany, the London Marathon champion who was looking to answer Russia’s Lilya Shobukhova’s 2:18:20 win in Chicago last month. Mary debuted in New York City 2010, but at the time was still a novice, a deer in the headlights, overwhelmed by the size of the city and the prospect of her first marathon. She finished third behind fellow Kenyan Edna Kiplagat and American Shalane Flanagan as all three played a cautious game until the end.

Today, fearful no more, the tiny Kenyan lit out from Staten Island like there was a close-out sale waiting in Manhattan. She was alone by the time she turned right onto fourth Avenue in Brooklyn coming off Verrazano Narrows Bridge.

At 2 miles, she was at 10:29 which was faster than the men’s 2 mile split in 2010 (10:55). It’s one thing not to be cautious….

Her 10K split, 31:52, would’ve placed her second at the New York Mini 10K in June, crazy! At one point, she was on 2:14 pace running a course where the record (2:22:31) had stood since 2003 when it was set by fellow Kenyan Margaret Okayo.

A half hour after the women, the men took off, and this time with no pacesetters. The large contingent began modestly, 24:40 at 5 miles, just 2:09 pace. But as they weaved through the leafy Brooklyn neighborhoods, they began to knock off sub-4:50 miles (3:00/km) with regularity until they closed in on course record pace.

Up ahead Keitany stretched her lead with each passing mile, hitting the half in 1:07:56, a crazy split in the five-bridges layout. Behind, a pack of four formed up, also under course record pace hitting a half in 1:10:08. They included Bronx-based Ethiopian Buzunesh Deba, fellow Ethiopians Werknesh Kidane and Firehiwot Dado, along with Boston champion Caroline Kilel of Kenya. 

Miles 14 and 15 through Queens took 5:26 and 5:37 for Keitany after her series of sub-5:10 miles earlier in the race. Her lead peaked at 2:21 as she crossed the 59th St. Bridge heading into Manhattan.

In 2001, Tesfaye Jifar of Ethiopia set the NYC course record at 2:07:43, the longest standing course record of all five World Marathon Majors. But with today’s deep field and ideal conditions, it seemed more than possible we would see new ground broken. 

At the halfway mark, the pack of 10 or 11 crossed the Pulaski Bridge in 63:16, 28 seconds under the pace set by Jafar in 2001. The 13th mile fell in 4:46, 14 in 4:44.

Heading up First Avenue, Mary K. began to pay for her early assault. Usually the next three miles, 17-19, would be the fastest of the day. But Mary could only turn out miles clocked at 5:47, 5:35, and 5:35. 

Behind lurked the chasers, led by Deba. But it would take more than a quickening pace from behind to overcome the gap, Mary would have to falter, too.

Off the Queensboro Bridge and onto Thunder Alley, the men of the 42nd NYC Marathon charted their flight plans up First Avenue.  But today, with a solid pack of six still in formation,  the men held their afterburners, cruising through mid-4:40 miles rather than the usual low 4:30s. Geoffrey and Emmanual Mutai, debutante Matthew Kisorio, American Meb Keflezighi, Jaouad Gharib of Morocco, and Tsegaye Kebede of Ethiopia remained in close formation with the diminutive Kebede, the ‘08 Olympic bronze medalist, at the point of attack. 

They passed 30 km in 1:29:45, one minute plus under course record pace (2:06:24 tempo).

At 20 miles, crossing the Willis Avenue Bridge into the Bronx, Buze Deba and Firehiwot Dado broke free from Werknesh Kidane and Caroline Kilel. This is where Buze has lived and trained since 2005.  She has led the chasers throughout the race as Keitany continued to leak oil up ahead.

Miles 20 and 21 took 5:47 each, and now the pace had fallen to 2:20:20, still under the course record, but the gap was whittled down to 1:28, still large, but Mary wasn’t pushing anymore, she was holding on.

Keitany beginning to fade

22 miles fell in 5:48, the gap now at 1:14 as the two Ethiopians sensed blood in the water. Keitany’s  23rd mile took 5:59, 24 an agonizing 6:20!  Now it was just a matter of time.

At 2:15 on the clock, the three ladies were together. But rather than blowing by the fading Keitany, Dado and Deba discovered a Lazarus-like response from the brave Kenyan as she reopened a small gap!

Mutai free-wheeling in NYC

 Geoffrey Mutai, 28:43 final 10 km in NYC 2011

Six men hit the 20 mile mark in 1:36:21 with a 4:52 mile, 2:06:13 marathon pace. For the first time, Boston record holder Geoffrey Mutai stepped on the gas, splintering the pack with just a flick of the foot. 

Gebremariam and Kebede, the two Ethiopians, attempted to respond, but to little avail.

21 took 4:31, 22 was cast away in 4:30, splits we used to see along First Avenue. But this was Geoffrey “The Raptor” Mutai, the record destroyer in Boston. 23 miles fell in 4:35 and the course record was obviously going down, hard!

Realizing the World Marathon Majors title and $500,000 bonus was still up for grabs, Emmanuel Mutai moved into second place, which would be enough to lock up that prize.

After her initial response to Dado and Deba, Mary Keitany began to fade again. 25 miles passed at 2:16:35 after a 5:53 mile. Now Firehiwot Dado was pulling free of Buzunesh Deba and the broken form of Mary Keitany.

She lost a little steam in the final 400 meters in Central Park as Deba rallied behind a supportive local crowd, but it was not enough.  Dado crossed the line in 2:23:15, Deba three seconds later, Keitany 20 seconds more.

Geoffrey Mutai ripped the final 10k in New York in 28:43, not even pressed. He widened his margin like he was on an airport people-mover. His winning time of 2:05:06 crushed the course record by 2:37 more than confirming his 2:49 course record from Boston in April.

Emmanuel Mutai won the World Marathon Majors series title by taking second place in 2:06:28, Ethiopia’s Tsegaye Kebede arrived third in 2:07:14. The top three all went under the old course record, each winning an extra $70,000 bonus.

It was a glorious day in the city. In such oppositional times when it seems everyone is opposed to one thing or another, the Marathon, especially the one in New York City, has shown the ability to make us believe once again in ourselves and our fellow man, to see the good that exists in us all, to believe that if we just work hard and pull together we can do anything. On November 7, 2011, many did.



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