Elite Field Dishes On This Year’s NYC Half

Emily Sisson, Molly Huddle and Diane Nukuri at the 2017 NYC Half. Source: NYRR

In just 13 days, the United Airlines NYC Half will kick off its 12th annual race. The March 18, 2018 race will debut its new course that takes runners through the Big Apple’s iconic landmarks from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Led by a roster of American and international elites, this will be only the second time in the race’s history that it has incorporated a bridge into its route.

The updated course starts by Prospect Park, winds its way around lower Manhattan, crosses the Manhattan bridge and finishes in Central Park. This change allowed for more entrants and this year’s race has over 22,500 participants including nine Olympians, 10 Paralympians and runners from 14 different countries in the professional field.

This year’s women’s open division is highlighted by last year’s runner up Emily Sisson racing against Olympic Champion Vivian Cheruiyot, TCS NYC Marathon podium finisher Mamitu Daska and rising American star Allie Kieffer who placed 5th at the NYC Marathon in 2017. For the men’s side, 2016 champion Stephen Sambu running against four-time US Olympian Abdi Abdirahman and three-time US Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein.

We caught up with Sisson (New Balance) and Ritzenhein (Hansons-Brooks), both NYRR Team for Kids Ambassadors, to discuss their training regimens, goals and outlook on the new course this year. In 2017, Sisson had the fastest-ever debut by an American on a record standard half marathon course with a time of 1:08:21. Ritzenhein has two podium finishes and, along with Abdirahman, is the most successful American male ever in this event with a PR of 60 minutes flat.

When asked about her goals for this year and this race specifically, Sisson shared that she hopes for a podium finish and to try to run some fast 5Ks and 10Ks. When it comes to her marathon debut, she hasn’t set a date yet but will definitely be in the near future. “It’ll be within the next year, year-and-a-half or so,” said Sisson. “I’m excited to run another half marathon and improve upon my first performance, just get stronger in the meantime. I have a pretty good teammate to look up to and follow in her footsteps. I have a bit of learning to do but I’m really excited to make that step.”

As a NYRR Team Kids Ambassador, Sisson enjoys getting to see everything that New York Road Runners does for the community and for the kids. “I just think it’s so cool how the whole community gets so excited in New York and all the kids get really motivated by just the atmosphere that the [NYRR] generates with these types of events,” she shared. “I really like this sense of community and giving back to them; I think that’s pretty special.”

Hoping to make his third podium debut, Ritzenhein shared his excitement about the new route even though it’s slightly different this year. “This course looks really awesome, and very challenging, which will be great for me; suits my strengths well,” he said. “It feels like, after five times, that hopefully I’ll have a little bit of advantage but they keep changing the course every time!”

In 2016, Ritzenhein had two rough runs in NYC for both the marathon and its trials. Since that time he’s worked with coaches Keith and Kevin Hanson to get back on track and work toward his goal of making the 2020 Olympic team. “I’ve been re-invigorated with my training and just can’t wait to get out there next weekend,” he shared. “At 35 I still have goals and things that I want to do, and I think that I have the talent and I train as well now as I ever have.”

Ritzenhein attributes his new motivation to the Hanson brothers who’ve believed in him and encouraged him to continue training and competing. “This will be my first marathon with the Hanson’s program. I’ve known these guys for a long, long time going back to my high school days in Michigan,” he shared. “I struggled a little bit after rupturing my plantar [fascia] in New York in 2016, and kind of didn’t know if I had it, but they believed in me and gave me such an amazing opportunity to spend a few more years trying to get better still.”

Having run the NYC half previously, when asked about having an advantage, Sisson and Ritzenhein mentioned the benefit of having run the streets before but still know they’ll be learning the new route along with first-timers. “I do like the fact that…I think it’s much more difficult toward the end of the race, which for me, training for a marathon right now, I think that’s going to help,” said Ritzenhein. “The strength is maybe more there than the speed I would have coming in from training for a shorter distance race.”

You can watch Sisson and Ritzenhein compete on WABC-TV Channel 7 in New York from 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. EST on March 18 or tune in via livestream nationally on ESPN 3 via WatchESPN and the ESPN app from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. EST.

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