IN NEW YORK CITY
Mary Keitany is a phenomenal woman.
Just as Eliud Kipchoge is, without a shadow of doubt, the greatest male marathon runner of all time, Keitany is on the threshold of being the all-time women’s best.
And she proved this on Sunday by blowing the opposition to smithereens in winning her fourth title at the TCS New York City Marathon in two hours, 22 minutes and 48 seconds the second fastest time ever run across the five boroughs of Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan.
Only Norwegian Grete Waitz, with nine titles between 1978 and 1988, has won here more times.
Keitany’s winning time was just 17 seconds outside Margaret Okayo’s course record 2:22:31 run in 2003.
That year, Catherine Ndereba and Lornah Kiplagat finished second and third, also inside Okayo’s old course record of 2:24:21.
After the lead group went through the first half at walking pace (75:49) on Sunday, Keitany pumped up the pace in the second, her 66:58 split decimating rivals in earth-shattering fashion.
And they all bowed in respect to the queen of marathon running.
American distance running pin-up girl Shalane Flanagan (2:26:22), third on Sunday behind the Kenyan pair of Keitany and London Marathon champion Vivian Cheruiyot (2:26:02), perhaps regretted having fanned the flames when she upset Keitany beating her to second place.
And only then because Keitany had an infection.
“She’s going down as one of the greatest marathoners ever and of our generation,” Flanagan conceded after Sunday’s finish.
“Her consistency is at a really high level and she rarely has an off-day. The way she can execute and just really crush her competition over the last half of a race is incredible.
“She’s a rare athlete and one to be celebrated.”
Flanagan’s compatriots Molly Huddle and Desiree Linden couldn’t disagree.
“When Mary makes a move, it’s such a hard move that I would probably label her maybe one of the only women that could go for the world record right now in the marathon,” Huddle added.
It’s important to note that Great Britain’s Paula Radcliffe holds the women’s marathon world record at 2:15:25, she was paced by men to this feat.
Keitany holds the fastest women-only record at 2:17:01 which she run in London last year.
“I watched the 2012 London Marathon from the press truck and she pulled away from everyone that say, and you knew you were watching something special and someone special, and she did it with ease,” Linden, surprise winner of this year’s Boston Marathon, chipped in.
“And that was several years ago. She hasn’t lost a step and only gotten better with more experience and with age. It’s truly incredible.”
Keitany wanted to run a conservative race, and the lead pack’s slow first half didn’t worry her too much.
“The start of the New York Marathon is not like other races,” she explained.
“At the start, you slow down because there are a lot of hills at the finish. For me, it wasn’t necessary to start at the beginning, because there are tough hills towards the end.
“Although the start was very slow, it was OK for me. I didn’t want to rush at the beginning and suffer at the end. I wanted to be comfortable throughout the race.”
The 36-year-old Keitany, who travelled here with her husband-coach Charles Koech and children Jared (10) and Samantha (five), trained well back home in Iten, with Koech brewing a fine blend of speedwork and endurance sessions.
“We wanted a faster second half and in our training in Iten and Eldoret, we had a new programme with more endurance and more long runs than before,” Koech explained.
“Previously, we would have two speed work sessions and one long run per week, but this time, we had two long runs and one speed work session.”
Indeed, family support was crucial to both Keitany’s and Cheruiyot’s successes here.
“My family gives me support. The fact that they are here with me gives me an opportunity to relax and to also know, when I’m in a race, that my kids are at the finish line so I have to try my best to make them happy,” Keitany said on Sunday.
Cheruiyot, who travelled with husband-coach Moses Kiplagat and five-year-old son Allan, also enjoyed family support.
“When we travel together and when they are around me, I feel so happy,” the Olympic 5,000 metres champion said.
“I thank my husband and my son Allan for the support and to my manager (Ricky Simms) I say thank you so much too for your moral support. You have supported me for the last 15 years, thank you so much.”