A newly redesigned course welcomed an event-record 21,965 runners and a fresh face appeared at the front of the pack at the 2018 United Airlines NYC Half.
Ben True became the first American male open division winner in the event’s history by negotiating the 13.1-mile course in a time of 1:02:39 in his first attempt at the distance. The American record-holder for 5K on the roads, True put his top-end speed on display when he accelerated past countryman and eventual second-place finisher Dathan Ritzenhein (1:02:42) and eventual third-place finisher Chris Thompson (1:02:43) of Great Britain.
“Knowing that most of the field are marathoners, or at least have done the half many times before, I knew that I probably had a little bit better closing speed than them,” said True, whose longest competitive race before this was 10 miles. “My goal was just to hide for the majority of the race and then get dragged for 20K, and then hopefully that last [kilometer] I was able to use my speed to get around people. That was my strategy. Hang on for dear life.”
It was a chilly morning in New York City with the temperature at the start only reaching 29 degrees Fahrenheit and dropping a degree by the time the leaders crossed the finish line. Headwinds for the majority of the race and the learning curve of running a new course contributed to modest starts across all divisions. The result was a slower pace with a larger lead group. Only as Ritzenhein began pushing the pace around the 15K mark did a large group of contenders begin to dwindle.
True said after the race that he questioned whether he could hang with Ritzenhein after the 35-year-old made his move. It wasn’t until the last mile of the race when True, 32, felt confident that he could prevail.
“When Dathan pulled away, probably around mile 10, I wasn’t quite sure I was going to be able to reel him back in,” True said. “And even when I started reeling him back in, I didn’t know if I was then going to be able to get around him. It really wasn’t until the very end that I was like, ‘All right, I can get this.’”
The women’s division boasted a similarly scintillating finish, as just one-tenth of a second separated champion Buze Diriba of Ethiopia and runner-up American Emily Sisson.
Sisson, like Ritzenhein, spent much of the race dictating the pace, but Diriba was able to shadow her every move. The 24-year-old Ethiopian seized the moment to win with a time of 1:12:23 and forced Sisson, who set an American debut record at last year’s race, to settle for a second-consecutive runner-up finish with a time of 1:12:24. Karoline Bjerkeli Grøvdal of Norway finished third in a time of 1:12:43.
“When there were two of us left, there were some thoughts in my mind that I could win,” Diriba said through a translator. “But at the same time, I knew also that she’s strong, so I wasn’t really sure.”
“It was such a different course,” Sisson said. “No one really knew what to expect, no one had an advantage of running it before, so I think we went out pretty conservatively. In Central Park I tried to push it a bit, and I knew Buze had a really good kick—I’ve seen her race before, she finishes strong.”
South African Ernst van Dyk was the morning’s first finisher when he broke the tape with time to spare in the men’s wheelchair division. The 44-year-old claimed a record-setting fourth consecutive title with a time of 53:12 and was the only athlete to defend his title. American Josh George, celebrating his 34th birthday Sunday, finished in second with a time of 53:33, while American Daniel Romanchuk, the youngest competitor in the division by 15 years at the age of 19, took third in 55:04.
“It was a great race today,” van Dyk said. “I started really well and had a big gap, then Josh George and Daniel moved back up on the Manhattan Bridge, and then coming downhill I was able to get away from them. Then it was about keeping them in check. I could see Josh chasing me down and he really kept me on my toes. He pushed me really hard today.”
In the women’s wheelchair division, Switzerland’s Manuela Schär followed up her win at the TCS New York City Marathon last November by winning in Central Park again with a time of 59:57. With the win, Schär continued her recent streak of dominance finishing ahead of Americans Susannah Scaroni and Tatyana McFadden, who placed in second and third, with times of 59:59 and 1:04:51, respectively.
“This was good preparation to get in the mood of racing,” said Schär, who like a lot of the field used Sunday as preparation for next month’s Boston and London marathons. “I have to keep up the hard work and keep doing what I’m doing.”
The field in Sunday’s race—the first in the 2018 NYRR Five-Borough Series—included nine Olympians and 10 Paralympians who navigated a route featuring iconic landmarks and neighborhoods from Prospect Park in Brooklyn to Central Park in Manhattan, including the Manhattan Bridge, Chinatown, Grand Central Terminal, and Times Square. The Manhattan Bridge had never before been closed for a running event in the city’s history.
About New York Road Runners (NYRR)
In 2018, NYRR is celebrating 60 years of helping and inspiring people through running. Since 1958, New York Road Runners has grown from a local running club to the world’s premier community running organization. NYRR’s commitment to New York City’s five boroughs features races, community events, youth running initiatives, school programs, and training resources that provide hundreds of thousands of people each year, from children to seniors, with the motivation, know-how, and opportunity to Run for Life. NYRR’s premier event, and the largest marathon in the world, is the TCS New York City Marathon. Held annually on the first Sunday in November, the race features 50,000 runners, from the world’s top professional athletes to a vast range of competitive, recreational, and charity runners. To learn more, visit www.nyrr.org.