There’s a very good chance that history will be made during Sunday’s TCS New York City Marathon, as race organizers at New York Road Runners have assembled one of the deepest women’s marathon fields in recent history.
Kenya’s Mary Keitany, who set the women’s-only marathon world record of 2:17:01 in April’s London Marathon, looks to defend her title and become just the second woman to win the New York City Marathon four times. Her compatriot, Edna Kiplagat, won April’s Boston Marathon and could become the first woman since 1989 to accomplish the double. America’s best hopes of winning may rest in the hands of Shalane Flanagan, who returns to New York seven years after making her debut.
The winner of the New York City Marathon takes home $100,000. The top American wins $25,000. If one of the first two runners runs breaks the 2:22:31 course record, set by Kenya’s Margaret Okayo in 2003, they would be awarded an additional $50,000.
Here’s an in-depth breakdown of the athletes to watch on Sunday.
The reigning champion
Mary Keitany, Kenya
Age: 35 years old
Personal best: 2:17:01, 2017 London Marathon
Keitany is the best women’s marathoner in the world right now. She stunned many by starting the London Marathon in an aggressive fashion and holding on to run a women’s-only marathon world record of 2:17:01. Paula Radcliffe remains the fastest female marathoner of all-time with her 2:15:25 from the 2003 London Marathon. Keitany has raced the marathon 11 times in her career and won six of them including New York in 2014, 2015 and 2016. In last year’s race, she took off at Mile 14 and the broadcast essentially became the Mary Keitany Show with a solo run to win by three minutes and 34 seconds. At this time last year, the lingering question with Keitany was how long she could maintain her dominance. She started running the marathon in 2010, ran a personal best of 2:18 in 2012 and then didn’t break 2:23 until her insane run in April’s London Marathon. She has tightened her grip on the world’s best marathoners and she’s previously discussed chasing the course record in New York—and there’s no reason to put it past her. In 2011, she took out the race too fast and ended up crashing to a 2:23:38 finish for third place. Her experience in the Big Apple and extraordinary fitness at the moment may have her set up for a special day.
Edna Kiplagat, Kenya
Age: 38 years old
Personal best: 2:19:50, 2012 London Marathon
If Father Time has been chasing Keitany, he’s in third place because he still hasn’t caught Kiplagat. She won this race seven years ago and then went on to win world championship gold medals in 2011 and 2013 as well as a London Marathon title in 2014. Then there was a little dip in performance in 2015 and 2016 before April’s Boston Marathon put her back on the map. She made her race-winning surge before Heartbreak Hill at Mile 20 and was all alone for the final 10K. Kiplagat is a fan of competing for her country and quickly bounced back to add another world championship medal with a silver at August’s world championships in London. How has she recovered? And can she close the gap on Keitany? Those are the biggest questions for Kiplagat, but if she manages to win, she would become the first woman since Norway’s Ingrid Kristiansen in 1989 to have pulled off the Boston-New York double in the same year. Kristiansen was 33 at the time of her double.
The American Hopeful
Shalane Flanagan, USA
Personal best: 2:21:14, 2014 Berlin Marathon (Third-fastest American of all-time)
Flanagan spoke to Sports Illustrated as she wrapped up her training and mentioned having some of the best workouts of her career while training in Mammoth Lakes, Calif. and Portland, Ore., and she hinted at not having any plans beyond the New York City Marathon. It’s hard not to see the Marblehead, Mass. native not retire at the Boston Marathon but for now, she’s all-in for New York and crossing off the bucket list goal of winning a World Marathon Major.
The closest that she’s come to winning actually was a runner-up finish in her 2010 debut, where she took second behind Kiplagat and ahead of Keitany. In a conversation with Flanagan before New York, she recognized the fact that if Keitany takes it out hard like London, she wouldn’t be afraid to go with her. “If Mary decides to run aggressive and wild, I’ll see how aggressive I can be and push my upper limit of what I’m capable of,” she said.
It appears that Flanagan is doing a very good job of talking herself into a good race. Due to injury, she hasn’t contested the marathon since her sixth place finish at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. She briefly raced on the track this summer and showed flashes of the speed that helped her set American records in her transition to the roads. There’s signs that point to Flanagan being in great shape but it may not be enough to catch the likes of Kiplagat and Keitany when they make their decisive move to break open the race. Flanagan will put forth her best effort and if this is it and she doesn’t break the tape, she still deserves to be recognized as one of the best U.S. marathoners of all-time.
More American contenders
Stephanie Bruce and Kellyn Taylor train together with the Northern Arizona Elite group in Flagstaff, Ariz., and could see breakout days in New York. Taylor is just 31 years old and finished sixth at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. She ran 2:28:51 in April’s London Marathon, which is just 11 seconds shy of her personal best. Bruce has a great backstory as she looks to possibly lower her 2:29:35 personal best after having two children in recent years. Their training group has seen great performances this fall from men in the Chicago and Frankfurt Marathons. It’s now time for the women to impress in the lead-up to the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon trials.
Betsy Saina, Kenya
Personal best: Re-debut
Saina had a successful NCAA career at Iowa State and won the 2012 cross country national championships and then made her first Olympic team in 2016, where she ran 30:07 for fifth place in the 10,000 meter final. She worked with renowned U.S. coach Jerry Schumacher ahead of her marathon debut in February’s Tokyo Marathon and attempted to hang on to a fast pace but dropped out around the 35 kilometer mark. She decided to head back to Kenya and has been working with coach Patrick Sang, who oversees the training of Eliud Kipchoge—the man who ran 2:00:25 in the Nike Breaking2 attempt and September’s Berlin Marathon winner. If she can channel Kipchoge, she could be in for a solid showing.
Mare Dibaba, Ethiopia
Personal best: 2:19:52, 2015 Xiamen Marathon & 2012 Berlin Marathon
You can’t discount a woman with a sub-2:20 personal best and who hasn’t reach her 30s yet. Dibaba has represented her country at every global championship marathon since 2012. She has the 2015 gold medal to show for it and on the Majors scene, she won the 2014 Chicago Marathon and finished runner-up in Boston twice. This will be her first New York City Marathon, which bodes well for her since there are no pace-setters and the race style is closer to that of a major championship.
You can watch Sunday’s race on ESPN2 and online with WatchESPN with live coverage from 9 a.m. to Noon ET. The professional women’s race will start at 9:20 a.m. The professional men and Wave 1 will start at 9:50 a.m.