More than 50,000 runners will take the streets for the 2018 TCS NYC Marathon on Sunday, as Shalane Flanagan and Geoffrey Kamworor look to defense their titles in the elite races.

By Chris Chavez
November 02, 2018

NEW YORK – Marathoning’s Super Bowl returns on Sunday morning with more than 50,000 runners taking the streets for the 2018 TCS New York City Marathon. Last year’s race was historic with Shalane Flanagan becoming the first American woman to win in 40 years. The men’s race saw 25-year-old Geoffrey Kamworor capture his first world marathon major title. On Sunday, both stars return to defend their titles against strong fields.

This year’s race provides more intrigue with stacked men’s and women’s elite fields. The men’s race features six men that have run under 2:07, while the women’s race has six women that have run under 2:24. Here are the three major storylines to watch for:

Can anyone stop Geoffrey Kamworor?

Kamworor is just 25 years old and is looking to win his second consecutive New York City Marathon title. He owns a personal best of 2:06:12 from 2012, when he was just 19 years old, and this year’s race marks his third appearance in the Big Apple. When he spoke to reporters on Thursday, he noted that not much has changed in his build up for this year’s race and he does not have a particular time goal in mind. If Kamworor takes it out hard and looks to shave more than a minute off his personal best, Geoffrey Mutai’s course record of 2:05:06 from 2011 could be in danger. Kamworor’s coach, Patrick Sang, told SI that although Kamworor’s finishing speed has been on display in recent races—he threw down a 13:01 5K toward the end of his win at the World Half Marathon Championships in March—he can handle a hot pace from the start or a sit-and-kick approach on Sunday.

Kamworor’s two biggest challengers appear to be Ethiopians Tamirat Tola (2:04:06 personal best) and Shura Kitata (2:04:49 personal best). Fast personal bests don’t necessarily mean an advantage in New York City. In fact, it can be quite the opposite. The bridges and hills on New York’s course profile tend to favor those into a more tactical approach. When asked about the course’s hilliness and difficulty at the pre-race press conference, Kamworor let out a little laugh. But, two men with sub 2:05 personal bests can’t be discounted. Kitata ran his personal best and finished second in April’s London Marathon after an aggressive 61-minute first half to the race. Tola is the 2017 world championship silver medalist and opened his 2018 campaign with his personal best at the Dubai Marathon. He has proven that he can handle championship-style racing or a time trial.

Lelisa Desisa owns the second-fastest personal best of the field with his 2:04:45 from the 2013 Dubai Marathon. He has been successful in New York (second in 2014, third in 2015, third in 2017) but has never been able to finish atop the podium.

What about the American men?

The most intriguing person in the men’s elite field may be 43-year-old Bernard Lagat, who is making his 26.2 debut. Lagat is a four-time U.S. Olympian but all of his previous success has come on the track at the 1,500- and 5,000-meter distance. Now retired from the track, he’s planning to give the marathon a test run before contemplating whether or not to go for a fifth Olympic team at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta. He has not run more than about 75 miles per week so it’s definitely looking like an atypical buildup for someone just getting started and more likely targeting Meb Keflezighi’s 2:12:21 U.S. masters (40+) record. Last year’s top American was Abdi Abdirahman, who is also 41 years old and a masters runner. Old men have luck at the New York City Marathon. (And if you’re curious what Keflezighi is up to, he is running for a charity and plans to cross the finish line in about three hours.)

While American longevity is at its finest with Lagat and Abdirahman, the U.S. is still looking for its next rising marathon star. Galen Rupp, the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist in the marathon, is head and shoulders above everyone else—despite recently undergoing surgery and planning to miss the 2019 campaign. Who wants next? Shadrack Biwott, who took third in April’s stormy Boston Marathon, could be a viable candidate. 2016 Olympian Jared Ward is looking to regain his form after an injury-riddled 2017. The best candidates could be training partners Scott Fauble and Scott Smith. Both men ran last year’s Frankfurt Marathon, clocked 2:12 performances and their training logs for this year’s race indicate that they could be ready to go even faster. Fauble, in particular, has taken very well to marathon training.

Can the American women continue their winning ways?

As Flanagan said before she crossed the finish line last year: “F--- Yes!”

Will it be easy? Nope.

Flanagan returns to defend her title after contemplating retirement twice. She ran the Boston Marathon and faded under the extreme weather conditions so it probably wasn’t how she envisioned ending her storied career. She made up her mind to return to New York and announced her plans in August. Based off her social media posts, she has no plans to take it easy on the competition. Recapturing the magic of surging away from the field in Central Park might be a tall order with such a deep field. 

The field includes three-time New York City Marathon champion Mary Keitany of Kenya, who finished second last year’s race. Keitany later revealed that on the day before the race, she got her first period in three months and it affected her running. She is the women’s-only marathon world record holder with her 2:17:01 from the 2017 London Marathon and appeared to be in good form this spring when she ran a 64:55 half marathon in Ra's Al Khaymah (UAE) in February but then tanked in the hot London Marathon conditions in April and finished fifth in 2:24:27. Keitany is 36 years old and has been atop the marathon scene for so long. The biggest question is how long can someone remain atop? Keitany has not shown any reason to show that time is now. Not to be forgotten is four-time Kenyan Olympian (and one of the most decorated distance runners of all-time) Vivian Cheruiyot, who won this year’s London Marathon in 2:18:31 and is in just her second year of contesting the 26.2-mile distance. 

In addition to Flanagan, the United States’ is riding the high of Des Linden’s stunning victory at the Boston Marathon. Under the worst weather conditions in history, Linden prevailed in 2:39:54 and captured her first-ever major marathon victory. The last time she raced the NYC Marathon was under cold conditions in 2014 and she finished fifth overall in 2:28:01. If Linden is in better shape now and if you factor in the confidence boost from Boston, she could contend for a podium spot—or even win it all. After what she overcame in Boston, Linden can never be ruled out. She may be the only person praying for a storm on race day.

The marquee wins of Flanagan and Linden have projected them into the spotlight and that’s allowed Molly Huddle to keep a lower profile heading into New York. Because of Huddle’s 27 national titles and her dominance over American women in recent years, she was considered a favorite for Boston until the storm changed the race; she finished 13th. Huddle finished third at the New York City Marathon in 2:28:13 for her marathon debut, which was also after the 2016 Olympics. Now that she’s been able to focus specifically on the marathon for more than a year and the weather conditions are looking perfect, that dominance could be back on display. 

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