In just a few hours, all eyes will be on New York City as some 50,000 runners take to the streets for the 48th annual TCS New York City Marathon. But before we see new champions crowned, we spoke with this year’s professional field to learn about their buildups and what advantage they think they have over their competition.
“I just love racing in New York. I have a lot of really good memories here and I think that the mental, motivational component of that is important,” said American Molly Huddle. “The fans…you know I’m a New Yorker, so they know my name. Good vibes when I get on the starting line in New York City. There’s a comfort level and an excitement.”
Huddle also discussed the much-talked about American women’s field and what Shalane Flanagan and Des Linden’s wins in the past year has meant for her own mindset. “Before, I used to think, ‘Oh it’s been so long, what are the chances that I can [win]?’ So definitely after seeing Shalane win it’s like, ‘well you can do it,’” said Huddle. “I think all of the American women have a little bit more of a ‘Don’t rule it out,’ mentality now.”
With her own marathon majors win in her pocket, Brooks runner Des Linden is excited for the opportunity to race in such a deep field, but understands the difficulty of pulling off a second win this year.
“It’s very briefly crossed my mind,” said Linden. “But I’m excited to just go and do what I can do. Two wins would be incredible for me in the sport of American distance running, but there’s a reason it hasn’t been done in a long time, it’s really difficult. So I know it’s a tough task.”
Although known for her even pacing, now that Linden has a new coach and a newfound speed, she doesn’t believe that she’ll be taking more risks on Sunday. Instead, she’ll rely on her veteran racing status and longtime experience in the event to guide her race.
“I have 13 years of experience and I think I’m a pretty savvy racer and I know what’s in my wheelhouse and what isn’t. New coach and newfound speed doesn’t mean you throw caution to the wind and race just poorly and without using your brain out there,” said Linden. “The tactics still stay the same, so I think it gives me another tool in the bag to reach for. … I think I have the ability to race super clean and take big risks, but it’s still important that it’s at the appropriate time.”
For American Chris Derrick, although he hopes to make it in the top 10 (preferably “top five,” he says), running a successful New York marathon will mean more than just getting a good time. “Just given no pacers and lots of hills, learning how to manage myself really well, knowing when to let a move go and pull it back later, and when to be on something—that would be the biggest experience I could gain,” said Derrick. “If I could make some really smart decisions about which moves to follow and which moves to lay off of, that would be big.”
If Derrick does get a podium finish, it’ll be thanks to his training which included altitude runs and more specific speed/pace work. “I got in a little higher and more consistent mileage than I have in my previous buildup,” said Derrick. “But just the cumulative consistency has been better. I feel positive about it. It’s definitely a good building block in my career and I hope that I can deliver some of that tomorrow.”
When asked whether American Bernard Lagat—the 43-year-old making his marathon debut—was a real candidate for the win this year, Derrick spoke highly of the runner’s current accomplishments, but questioned his intentions behind competing in the marathon.
“Conventional wisdom would say that he hasn’t been a very high mileage guy in his career,” said Derrick. “It could be a tough adjustment, I don’t know much is this his main goal? How much is this kind of like fun for him, versus like…he wants to crush it? But also, I would have thought that four years ago in the 5K and 10K, but he keeps running really well, so I’m not going to be the one to doubt.”
With Olympic and World Championship medals, Lagat has proven that he’s not one to be underestimated—even if he’s only hit 75 miles on his longest mileage weeks. “I don’t even think I hit 80 [miles] in this training cycle. But there were some days where I was doing other things to get myself training well,” said Lagat. “So I could run 15 miles and then later run on the the speed bike. Or I would come back to Tucson and run 10 miles and then 20 miles on the bike.”
While Lagat has kept his mileage lower, Hoka One One teammates Scott Smith and Scott Fauble found themselves working more on pacing this time around. “I think we did a lot more pace change workouts than we’ve done for other buildups, the last marathon Scott [Fauble] and I did together was kind of more a time trial situation,” said Smith. “We ran a lot of our workouts and mileage at a certain pace that we thought that would translate to a good marathon. Whereas for New York, we still did do a lot of that stuff but we would intersperse faster stuff, some surges, faster miles and stuff like that to be prepared for the different undulations in the course.”
Similar to Lagat, American Beverly Ramos’ focus leading up to New York has been on pace more than distance. “I don’t tend to go way up there in mileage, I work more in the weight room two times a week,” said Ramos. “My focus was trying to hit faster running paces, the marathon pace and when I do the long runs, inside of my long runs I have a workout. For me it was more time specific. During my long run, I’d do 20-25K at marathon pace.”
Her strength coming into Sunday’s race? Hills, she says. “If your legs are…if you feel confident that they’re strong enough to handle the course variations, I think that’s something you have to really have on your side.” For his part, Shadrack Biwott’s marathon advantage super power comes from running without training partners.
“When it gets tough, you find yourself isolating them out and if you’ve always been training with people, then what do you do?” said Biwott. “I’ve been fortunate that I can just run alone, do what I know I can run for a long distance, so that is my strength.”
But, however they chose to train, tomorrow’s 26.2-mile race will solidify two of their names in history. And with projected temperatures of 56 degrees and sunny, we could see some pretty noteworthy finish times.