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Sunday, November 04, 2007

2007 ING NYC Marathon: The Triumphant Return of Paula and the Majestic Martin Lel

New York Analysis

In this post, we bring you insights, split times and discussion of the ING New York City Marathon. We begin with the Women's race, and discuss the Men's race further down.

Women's race

Coming into today's ING New York Marathon, there was possibly more focus on the women's race than ever before, for two main reasons:
  1. Paula Radcliffe, world record holder, and marathon superstar, was running her first marathon in two years after taking time off to have a baby daughter (born in January this year); and
  2. The World Marathon Major title was up for grabs, with two-time NYC defending champion Jelena Prokopcuka and Gete Wami fighting out for a $500,000 first prize in the World Marathon Major series
Add to the mix the presence of Catherine "The Great" Ndereba, and Lidiya Grigoryeva and it was billed as a clash of the big five, with a great race expected.

And it certainly was a great race, but didn't quite go according to that script...

Once the gun went off, it was Radcliffe and Wami who 'showed to race,' taking the race and shaking it hard almost from the first mile. Radcliffe ran the race as though she'd never been away - straight to the front, setting the pace, and if anyone was coming, that was fine by her! Wami was the only one who went with, and the other three, surprisingly, didn't even last through 20 minutes! Certainly, the pace was fast, but it was not exceptional and one would have expected the other three to survive for slightly longer than the 4 miles they did! But by 4 miles, the gap was created, and it just grew and grew after that - over two minutes by halfway, which is really surprising. And just like that Propokcupa's chance at 1) three-peating in NYC and 2) taking home the $500,000 World Marathon Majors prize evaporated in Radcliffe's dust.

Wami cruises through the streets of New York on the Radcliffe "bus"

For much of the first half Wami matched Radcliffe stride for stride, sitting on her shoulder, content to have Radcliffe pull her further and further clear of her challenger for the World title. If you did not know any better, it might have looked as if Gete Wami was leading the race with a pacer out in front. Wami just sat on Radcliffe's heels and looked very comfortable for many miles as they passed through each five km section at approximately 16:40 pace. The table below shows the splits for each of the five kilometer segments, as well a projected time:

As the table shows, the early pace projected a course record, with halfway being reached in 1:10:47 (the course record is 2:22:31 by Okayo of Kenya). The pace however slowed slightly in the second half where the tight bends and numerous short hills brought the pace down to mid to high 3:20's.

In Central Park, the action really began and Radcliffe threw in numerous small surges. It seemed that Wami was beginning to show cracks with less than 20 minutes to go, but she always fought back and answered any accelerations by Radcliffe. Then, with about 800m to go, Radcliffe pushed again, Wami responded, moved past Radcliffe into the lead for the very first time! But the lead lasted about 3 seconds, because she instantly cracked, and it was then left to Radcliffe to move clear. So the move by Wami proved too much, and as she slowed Radcliffe put in her own surge and hammered all the way to the line to take the win by 22 s. It was a magnificent demonstration of front-running by Radcliffe, who led for all but about 5 m of the race.

Equally, it was a great performance from Wami, who may have still had some of her Berlin Marathon performance in her legs. The move she made with 800m to go caused her to crack, and it was a great demonstration of just how on the edge these elite athletes are. She had shadowed Radcliffe for 41.5 km, and when she finally made the decision to go for the win, her body just did not have it. But she pocketed close to $600 000 for her day's (and year's) efforts and surely will be pleased. But no one will be more pleased than Paula Radcliffe, who reasserts herself as the marathon queen and stamps her authority on yet another race.

Final results:
  1. Paula Radcliffe (2:23:09)
  2. Gete Wami (2:23:32)
  3. Jelena Prokupcuka (2:26:13)
  4. Lidiya Grigoryeva (2:28:37)
  5. Catherine Ndereba (2:29:08)
The Men's Race - the Majestic Martin Lel wins his second Big City marathon of the year

In our pre-race preview last week, we put our 'money' on Martin Lel of Kenya to win a competitive men's race. Lel has already won London this year, he won the Great North Run six weeks ago to demonstrate his speed and condition, and in my (Ross) opinion, he is without doubt the best marathon RACER in the world today. Of course, a certain Haile G proved a month ago that he has claim to greatest runner, but Lel is an out-an-out racer and a majestic athlete when in form. I was interested to hear Khalid Khannouchi (another great runner) saying earlier this week that Gebrselassie is a great, sure, but he's yet to win a competitive marathon RACE, as opposed to time-trials where he is relatively unchallenged.

One could certainly not make the same accusation of Martin Lel, as he added the 2007 NYC title to an incredible list of titles.

How the race unfolded

As a result of the competitive field, a massive pack formed and remained together for much of the first half. They went through seventh mile in 4:27, and that thinned the field down to 11 runners who then remained together through the halfway point. The table below shows the 5km splits, as for the women. This table is relatively deceptive and does not really give a true indication of how the race unfolded, because it was small surges, 100m hard, or a two-minute press at the front that was doing all the damage. It is immediately obvious that the pace in the men's race was far more erratic than in the women's, as you will see if you compare the tables of the two races.

Nothing changed until about 16 km to go (mile 17) when Ramaala dropped the hammer and put in a strong surge. It shook out the pretenders from the players, and left only Rop, Lel, and Goumri in contention. A couple of others bridged the gap briefly, but were spent and fell back. So those three approached 37 km together, and it was not evident whether Lel or Goumri surged or not, but suddenly Ramaala faded. This was not entirely unexpected, and in fact it was incredible that the South African stayed there for so long. Ramaala is a great champion but seems to be nearing the end of his career and no longer has the legs that younger runners like Goumri and Lel have.

Lel and Goumri matched each other until less than one km to go, but honestly Lel looked to be the better runner---as he was in London earlier this year as they battled it down the finishing straight. This would be a repeat as Lel put in a surge and handily dropped Goumri. Lel looked pretty untouchable over the last 600 m and went on to beat Goumri by twelve seconds:
  1. Martin Lel (2:09:04)
  2. Abderrahim Goumri (2:09:16)
  3. Hendrik Ramaala (2:11:25)
  4. Stefano Baldini (2:11:58)
  5. James Kwambai (2:12:25)
Martin Lel - the king of the Marathon Race?

Those of you who were priviledged enough to witness Martin Lel win a five-man race in London this year will know just what he is capable of in the final 400m of a marathon race. Well, he upped the ante in New York today, with what must be one of the most spectacular final quarters in a major marathon yet. Hand-timed, adminttedly, but we clocked Lel's last 400 YARDS in an inredible 57 seconds - that equates to a blistering 63 seconds for 400m. . .which is phenomenal speed considering he just ran 41.8 km! Goumri, for his part, did little wrong - he just ran 3:00/km all the way to the line, and got dusted by 12 seconds inside the final 500m!

And lest we forget about Goumri. Two big city marathons, and two 2nd place finishes. He has proved he can run with the best, although clearly he has not figured out how to punch through for the victory. However he has shown he can be a threat, and should consider himself a marked man in future races.

Where to for Lel?

Lel has a marathon best of 2:06:41, which in this day, is not exceptionally fast, but he's said himself that he'd like a shot at the World Record one day, in 2009. Watching him win in London this year, I picked him to break Tergat's world record, so impressive was he in that race. Geb beat him to it, but on the evidence of today, he'll be a tough man to beat in Beijing if he chooses to run it and who knows what he is capable of in a 'time-trial' with some pace-setters and a fast course. Certainly faster than 2:06, but in a race, it's that 60-something speed that will worry his rivals. He's certainly near unbeatable in a race!

Ross & Jonathan