Kenyan Vivian Cheruiyot, who said she ran with a hamstring injury, came in second in 2:26:02 and Shalane Flanagan, the defending champion, was third in 2:26:22.
“Today I tried my best here and the weather was good,” Keitany, 36, said. “Everything was okay and… I’m lucky that I won the race today.”
It was a crisp, sunny day in New York, and the temperatures stayed in the low 50s (10C), offering almost perfect conditions for racing 26.2 miles. The women’s race started conservatively with a group of 24 athletes sticking together until just before the halfway point. Shortly after that, Keitany, along with Ethiopians Rhama Tusa and Netsanet Gudeta, surged over the Queensboro Bridge and onto First Avenue.
When the trio hit Manhattan, where thunderous cheers typically greet the runners after a quiet stretch over the bridge, they laid down some sub-five minute miles that led to a large gap over a chase pack that included Cheruiyot, Flanagan, and Huddle.
Soon Gudeta, who is the reigning world half marathon champion, couldn’t hang on to the hot pace and dropped off drastically before hitting the Bronx at 20 miles—results show that she dropped out of the race at mile 23. Tusa, who ultimately finished fifth, also held back as Keitany forged ahead and remained in control of the win for the remainder of the race.
In fact, Keitany ran the second 13.1 miles in 1:06:58. Keitany said because the New York course is notoriously hilly, she preferred to save her speed for the final half. Although she was only 17 seconds off the course record of 2:22:31, she said afterward she was not trying to set a new mark. By running under 2:23, she was awarded $45,000 on top of her $100,000 for first place.
“The course in New York is not like other races,” Keitany said. “I did not want to rush at the beginning.”
Her second half split left many in awe—it is faster than the U.S. half marathon record of 1:07:25, which is held by Huddle (who finished fourth).
“That’s not a fast second half, that’s amazing,” Huddle said, after the race.
Flanagan added, “There’s not much I can do about that. It is what it is. I don’t have the physical capability to have an answer for that.”
As the competitors ahead of them fell off the aggressive pace one by one, Cheruiyot , Flanagan, and Huddle began picking them off in the final 5K of the course. Flanagan moved into third place just as she approached Central Park South. It was important to her, in what may be the final competitive marathon of her career, to end up in the top three. She was second in 2010 and, of course, first in 2017.
“That was a lot of motivation kind of dangling out there as a carrot, seeing [Tusa]. I was trying to bide my time, use my knowledge of the park—because I trained in here quite a bit,” Flanagan said. “I passed her pretty aggressively and confidently… I just thought if this truly is going to be my last race, a podium spot would be special.”