2017 NYC Half Preview: Feyisa Lilesa vs. Callum Hawkins and the Americans; Molly Huddle’s three-peat chances
It looks like I will not win this year’s NYC Half on Sunday. The New York Road Runners have assembled a strong field of men and women at the always-interesting 13.1-mile distance. You get a mix of those working on strength for the track season and those using the half as a tune-up for a full marathon next month.
Personally, I will not be running a spring marathon in 2017 and will try to lower my 1:40.31 personal best that I set on this course last year. In the second half of last year’s race, I was fortunate enough to benefit from a tailwind down the Westside Highway. That could be the case again as snow is still on the ground from Monday’s blizzard and the forecast calls for low 40s as the high for Sunday.
Elite Men’s race
Olympic silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa has a personal best that’s 38 seconds faster than the next best runner – Callum Hawkins (1:00:00, GBR). He looked really good in the Houston Half where he was just edged out at the finish line by Leonard Korir. He’s been training in Flagstaff and from several members of our staff that live there, they’ve seen him working out on trails and such. Life’s been good for Lilesa since the calendar flipped to 2017. He ran 61:14 in Houston for second place and was reunited with his family from Ethiopia just a few weeks later. Because of the fastest personal best and his signs of fitness as he prepares for London, we’ll tab Lilesa as the favorite and expect him to cross his arms to continue to raise awareness of the Oromo Protests in his home country. It’s New York and he’s already been profiled in major news outlets but I’d be curious to see just how much more exposure it would get and how the television announcers handle it.
The aforementioned Hawkins has impressed. He clocked his personal best in February at the Marugame Half Marathon in Japan. He’s only 24 and is among those next generation British stars that the sport is looking for in a post-Mo Farah era. The 60:00 is no surprise either. He ran 60:24 in the Great Scottish Run in 2016 but the course was short and the record was invalid. The former Butler Bulldog went out to Japan and set the Scottish record. Farah is the only British runner to run faster than him at the distance.
Do not overlook 2016 NYC Half champion Stephen Sambu, who holds a 1:00:41 personal best. He’s familiar with the course
The race for the top American spot is a little more open for debate. It was just in the Big Apple that we saw the resurrection of Abdi Abdirahman. While good training had something to do with it, I think part of it also had to do with those new and controversial Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% that he wore. You just never know the type of performance that you’re going to get from The Black Cactus. He’s 40 years old now so that’s also got to play into it but then you have the outlier in Meb Keflezighi. The 2014 Boston Marathon champion’s personal best remains 1:01:00 from 2009 so that likely won’t go down and that’s OK. Keflezighi has two more marathons remaining in his career and so the focus for the spring is on Boston. As part of his training, Keflezighi ran 63:30 at the Gasparilla Distance Classic.
We’ll give the top American nod to Keflezighi’s more recent Olympic teammate, Jared Ward. It seems like he may due for a personal best and that would close the gap on someone Diego Estrada, who has run 1:00:51 and is in the field. Estrada hasn’t raced since his 2:13:56 personal best for eighth place in the 2016 Chicago Marathon. He’s run 62:15 on this course last year and that came after trying to maybe salvage some fitness from his DNF at the marathon trials. A darkhorse pick could be Shadrack Biwott. He’s been a name in the U.S. distance running circles for the past five years and he had an encouraging fifth-place showing at the New York City Marathon, where he notched a personal best of 2:12:01. Biwott managed to finish the warm Trials marathon in 2:15:23 for seventh place. If you would’ve asked me to name the top 10 finishers from last year’s Trials, I would’ve been able to get through the top six before hitting a wall and Biwott was a little bit of a surprise there.
A certain level of intrigue also surrounds someone like Chris Derrick. He ran 63:41 in Jacksonville last year but I’ve always thought that he may be a really good marathoner some day. He appears to be healthy in 2017 with a fifth place finish at the U.S. Cross Country Championships in Bend, Oregon in early February and then a 13:19.35 in that wicked fast 5,000m at Boston University.
Prediction: Feyisa Lilesa for the win. Jared Ward as top American
Elite women’s race
The women’s race is headed by two women with identical half-marathon personal bests but different focuses. Molly Huddle looks to win her third consecutive title as she heads into her final outdoor track season. She spoke to us on the latest episode of the Citius Mag Podcast, which you can listen to below or on-the-go with iTunes or Soundcloud. If you remember, last year’s race was a tad bit controversial because she extend her arms as Joyce Chepkirui neared the finish at the same time. Huddle cleared the air about the move and that was just part of the tear that she was on to start 2016. In the podcast, we talked a bit about how last year was motivated by the disappointment from getting nipped at the finish line in 2015 and what is motivating her now.
The American record of 67:34 by Deena Kastor has stood since 2006. Huddle was not far off with her 67:41 to win last year. Edna Kiplagat could be the Chepkirui of this year’s race and help push Huddle to a personal best or American record. Kiplagat remains a contender on the World Marathon Majors scene with her third and second place finishes respectively in the 2016 Tokyo and Chicago Marathons. She will be racing Boston next month.
The other Americans to watch will be Olympians Amy Cragg and Desi Linden.
Cragg will not be running a spring marathon so crosshairs are set on lowering the 68:27 personal best that she just set last month in Japan. This will be the first time that Cragg and Huddle face each other on the roads since the USATF 10-mile national championship in October 2015. It seems like Cragg’s track days are over but we should have many more of these match-ups to look forward to. According to track and field database Tilastopaja, in their all-time head-to-head contests, Huddle has the 27–2 upper hand in races at all distances, including cross-country, going back to 2004.
Linden is very open about winning Boston this year as her primary focus. That’s not to say that a personal best (sub-70:34) can’t happen but her priorities are set.
Emily Sisson will be making her half marathon debut after running 15:02 in a public 5,000m workout in Boston.
Prediction: Molly Huddle for the win and top American.
Training has been going well. I used last weekend’s Rock ‘N’ Roll D.C. Half as one last hard-effort long run. I’ll be running with four high school teammates of mine. Some of them haven’t run a step until they started training for this race so it’ll be fun for someone like me, who was a sprinter in high school, to maybe come out on top in a distance event. My good friend, Pete, who was supposed to run last fall’s New York City Marathon with me before he suffered a stress fracture is back to being healthy and we’ll be working together to click off those 7:30 miles. If the wind is coming down South, I think a personal best should be within reach.