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New York City Marathon 2003

The New York City Marathon 2003, kicked off in conditions far more ideal than 2002, when hats and gloves were evident. Whereas, the Women would utilise the opportunity by posting fast times and a new course record, the Men created a more cagey affair, with the 1st half being very much a ‘cat and mouse affair’.

The Women’s start

Martin Lel 2003

Martin Lel - Rodgers Rop 2003

With last year’s race making history, when the Women started 25 minutes before the Men, this year justified the change when the Women provided a race for compelling and enthralling watching. With all the build-up talk involving Catherine Ndereba, the recent winner of the Women’s Marathon at the Paris World Championships in August, this witness did not think it possible that the Kenyan could provide back to back marathon performances of a high quality. We need not have looked further than compatriot Margaret Okayo, a previous winner in 2001, and who had not run a marathon in August. Also in the field was Lornah Kiplagat, ex-Kenyan now of Holland, who was a 4th place finisher at the Champs over 10 000m . Also in the field was last year’s winner, Joyce Chepchumba, however she was not rated by myself for the same reason as Ndereba, the Championship Marathon were she finished 7th in 2:26:26 compared to the winning time of 2:23:55.

With a course record as the intent the leading Women were led out by Olga Romanova and Leah Malot, two of the designated pacers, over the Verrazano Bridge. First mile (uphill) approximately 6:10. 5k’s into the race and all the favourites were within the first group passing through in 17:34.

The familiar pattern as adopted by Ndereba at the Paris WC Marathon was again evident, as she allowed the pacesetters to do their job while watching all her rivals a step or two off the pace, while Okayo, Kiplagat and the rest were ‘chomping at the bit’

Halfway came and passed in 1:12:07, with not much drama unfolding. Kiplagat looked very comfortable and Okayo, a fore foot striker, looked her usual ‘punchy’ self [compact and capable]

The Men’s start
The Men’s field toed the line, with last year’s Champion Rodgers Rop of Kenya, hoping to defend his title, after his impressive win of the year before. The Kenyan pair of Laban Chege and Joseph Kariuki were the designated pacesetters. Silver medalist from the Men’s Marathon in Paris, Julio Rey was hoping to go one better, however his race came to nought after first twisting his leg and then crashing out at a aid station. [ And the speculators would echo he was only there for the money ]

The lead pack passed through 5K in 15:30, with Rop right there, closely followed by Gert Thys of South Africa who had paced the Chicago Marathon some weeks before. The Men’s field with no planned assault on the course record, were content to continually jockey for positions, which made water stations a nightmare, confirming Rey’s legitimacy of withdrawing due to problems occuring during such a traverse.

The pace, as can be seen from the leader board to the left, continually hovered around the 15:30 per 5K pace which equates to 3:06 per K. This pace was to stay the same through the halfway point, which was reached in 1:05:39. Rop attempted to shake the pack up before the 21K mark, however the gap was shortlived and all the leading contenders were in contention. With fast times not being the intention a quicker 2nd half was expected, however the ‘cageyness’ continued and it was left for Rop to provide the spark by placing his rivals under pressure.

Back to the Women
With a halfway split of 72:07, the leading contenders were on time for a 2:24 finish and a new course record. Kiplagat was content to provide assistance whenever necessary and was the first to apply pressure on the media favourite, Ndereba. Catherine the Great, was content to float off the back of the pack up to 5 seconds leeway on occasions. Kiplagat [this person’s favourite] looked like relaxation ‘personified’, and I grew more confident with her taking the laurels. Why Ndereba would risk running off the back of a group that consisted of front-running threat Okayo, is anyone’s guess?

From 20 to 25K [1:26:07], the women covered the 5k in 15:49, quite an acceleration from the first 5k in 17:34. This pace was not provided as an even pace but by ‘generous surges’ offered by Kiplagat and Okayo. This all but shattered the lead group, which was now reduced to 3, Kiplagat, Okayo and Petrova, with Ndereba still stalking off the back of this trio.

The pace did not falter as Kiplagat and Okayo maintained the effort with another 5K in 15:53, for them to pass 30K in 1:42:20. Kiplagat had produced one massive surge, earlier, as they went towards 1:42 on the clock, and Ndereba had thought it wise to move into 3rd spot, with the Russian, Petrova slipping off the front two. Just as they were regrouping, Okayo thought it better to maintain the pressure and threw in a further surge. This was devastating in the timing, as it came at a time when the others were considering it an opportune moment to recover.

‘No way Hose’

This burst pulled the trio clear of the Russian, who by 32K [1:49:37] was 12 seconds in arrears. Then Okayo produced, what can only be described as the ‘Coup de Grace’, a 5:02 mile split, when the others least expected. She had been ‘boxing clever’, with those intermediate ‘jabs’ followed by the planned pressure, but no one was expected a punch of such ferocity at that moment. Okayo maintained her tempo, with Ndereba moving into 2nd place.

But, this fight was over, Ndereba had no ‘counter punch’, even though she stayed there or thereabouts, she was never able to ‘breech’ the gap that Okayo had achieved. All Catherine could hope for was that Okayo would falter.

Back to the Men

Rop with the experience of last year’s race began to apply pressure in a manner which is his familiar trait, throwing mild surges then checking for the damage, before applying further pressure. He offers another surge off the 59th street bridge with a pack of 20 men still in contact. They pass 25-K in 1:18:12. Nothing spectacular for the 5K covered from 20K, 16:02 which is 13 seconds slower than the women for the same 5K in the race.

Then Rop drops a bomb by accelerating to pass through 30K in 1:32:56, churning out successive 4:40, 4:43 and 4:39 miles [a 14:44 5K split]. Maintaining a momentum to 32K his pursuers are 7 seconds in arrears, however he has the added attention of Lel, as well as his other Kenyan compatriots in the form of Cheboiboch and Rono another 2 seconds back, to contend with.

Rop is merciless, as he attempts to apply further pressure to the trio in his footsteps.

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Time-to-Run Info

New York City 2002
Rodgers Rop winner of Boston and New Yorl 2002 The 2002 New York City event .. more

New York City 2001
Benoit Z 2002 winnerThe 2001 race report …. more

And the Women near the finish
FALTER? Little MO, has no such intentions as she blasts out another 5:02 mile. Raising the tempo from the 2:23:35 predicted finish another notch. With 2:05 on the Women’s clock they were now deep into the pain and danger zone .. The danger being sudden ‘wall’ hits and drop off. This would not affect Okayo, she was not looking as neat with her arms now working harder to maintain the necessary rhythm. She continues to show the spirit of a champion, which had been witnessed for the first time in 2001, when she broke the Boston and New York course records in the same year, crowning a glorious double. Okayo has now ‘eeked’ out a lead of 12 seconds over Ndereba, the biggest lead of the race, and she passes through passes 24 miles in 2:10:45. She is still not content and even with a new predicted course record within her grasp she picks it up a further notch.

She blasts through the ribbon to establish a wonderful new record time of 2:22:31 a full 32 seconds clear of Ndereba, 2nd in 2:23:03. A remarkable run by Catherine so soon after Paris. Kiplagat floats in at 2:23:43 for 3rd place, just over the previous record of 2:24:21 established in 2001.

Lel bolts towards the finish

With Lel alongside Rop, he does not seem to be damaging Lel sufficiently. The others are gone, and the man whose finish
Martin Lel and Rodgers Rop
Martin lel and Rodgers Rop shoulder to shoulder New York 2003
Click for large image

he should fear the most is still with him. Shoulder to shoulder, the duo of Rop and Lel have broken away and they pass through 21 miles in 1:44:34. These two continue to run side by side, and two hours into the race they enter Central Park. This is the moment when Rop needs throw in one of his familiar surges, however nothing is forthcoming and it comes as no surprise when Lel edges to the front for the first time in the race. At first it is a tentative ‘feeler’, then with 2:04 on the clock he applies a ‘knock on the nail’. They had been treading water, and has Lel shakes his arms loose followed by the lifting of the knees he slides away from Rop. There is no response from the defending champion and Lel furtehr ups the tempo in impressive fashion, and in the process he blasts away from the crescent fallen Rop, who has absolutely no choice but to watch as Lel speeds away to 41 second victory, 2:10:30 compared to 2:11:11. Christopher Cheboiboch in 3rd in 2:11:23 leads in Rono in 2:11:31, making it a clean sweep for the East African country of the first 4 positions. 5th place is taken by Alberico Di Cecco in 2:11:40 followed by Italian compatriot Ottavio Andriani 6th in 2:13:10.

The Men’s race fails to live up to the high standards of the Women’s event, however we are sure Lel is not complaining, not with a new car to drive away with and a sizeable amount of prize money to ease his pains. For Rop, there is always next year.

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