NEW YORK CITY, November 05 — A year ago, there was a wave of hype surrounding Hellen Obiri’s debut over 26.2-miles at the TCS New York City Marathon. Big things were expected from the Kenyan star, a world champion on the track, indoors and outdoors, and in cross country. Alas, she struggled with fueling and strategy and ultimately finished 6th. One year later, she had clearly learned her lessons, winning a thrilling duel over Letesenbet Gidey to take the title in an unexpectedly slow and measured race.
This year marked the twentieth anniversary of Margaret Okayo’s course record of 2:22:31 from 2003, and given the quality of the field it seemed that mark was vulnerable. Instead, the race became a tactical affair, with the slowest winning time since 2010. But nobody comes to New York to set records, as was evident by the splits for the first 20 miles over the challenging, hilly course.
“In New York we don’t [care] about the time, it’s all about winning the race,” said Obiri of the pedestrian pace.
Eleven women hit 5K in 17:23, with Kellyn Taylor setting the early tempo. The American had a 2-second lead at 10K (34:35), and after her countrywoman Molly Huddle briefly took a turn up front the pack tightened as the pace lagged. At halfway, the group (still 11 strong) clocked an unremarkable 1:14:21.
From there, things only got slower. The 5K splits between 20K and 30K (18:19 and 18:27) pushed the expected winning time over 2:30, a barrier last unbroken in New York in 1990. At one point it appeared that the professional men, who started 25 minutes behind the women and were on a blistering pace, might catch them and create a chaotic finish.
Instead, Taylor finally made the first substantial move, covering the 21st mile in 5:30. That thinned out the contenders slightly, with 8 women remaining in contention: Taylor, Obiri, 10,000 and half-marathon World Record holder Gidey and a group of Kenyans: defending champion Sharon Lokedi, former World Record holder Brigid Kosgei, Viola Cheptoo, Mary Ngugi and Edna Kiplagat.
(Reigning Olympic champion Peres Jepchirchir was planning to be in the field and was in town, but scratched the day before the race due to a lower-leg injury she sustained the previous week.)
Cheptoo attempted to gap the field in the 23rd mile with a 5:03 split, but Obiri and…