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October 7, 2022

6 Things to Watch at the Chicago Marathon

The third of four Abbott World Marathon Majors this fall is set to kick off this weekend with the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. Chicago is traditionally considered the fastest of the three American majors. The world record has been broken there five times (two on the men’s side and three on the women’s) in the race’s 45-year history.

The 2021 edition of the race did not see any blazing fast times, but it was a big day for fans of American distance running as the COVID-adjusted marathon schedule opened the door for U.S. women to put seven in the top 10 and the men to take five of the top 10 spots. Neither of the top Americans – Galen Rupp and Emma Bates, who both finished 2nd in 2021 – are back for this edition after competing at the World Athletic Championships in July, which creates an intriguing vacuum for some new heavy hitters to emerge.

The competition up top isn’t quite up to the level of Berlin and London with their big budgets for international talent and appearance fees. However, it still promises to be an exciting race with 2:17 performer Ruth Chepngetich returning to defend her title on the women’s side and a wide-open race featuring 7 sub-2:05 runners on the men’s.

Races kick off Sunday, October 9th at 7:30 a.m. local (8:30 a.m. EST) and American viewers can stream the races live on Peacock from 8 a.m.-12 p.m. EST. You can find live tracking on race day here.

Here are some of the top storylines to watch for…

Lack of International Depth

Because the World Marathon Majors are stacked upon one another on back-to-back-to-back weekends this fall, there’s a dearth of super-fast personal bests atop Chicago’s elite entry list on the women’s side since many of the top women chose Berlin or London. Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich, the 2019 world champion, returns after winning last year’s race in 2:22:31. Her personal best of 2:17:08 makes her one of two sub-2:20 women in the field. The other is Ethiopia’s Ruti Aga, the 2019 Tokyo Marathon champion, who has a personal best of 2:18:34 from 2018. This is Aga’s first race in nearly a year after she dropped out of last year’s New York City Marathon after 30K.

One of the runners possibly poised for a breakout is 26-year-old Kenyan Celestine Chepchirchir, who will be making her World Marathon Majors debut. She ran 2:20:10 (the third-fastest personal best on the entry list) to finish fourth at the Seoul Marathon in April, which took more than three minutes off her personal best.

Kenya’s Vivian Kiplagat challenged Chepngetich last year before fading in the closing stages and getting passed by Team USA’s Emma Bates, Sara Hall and Keira D’Amato. She notched her first career marathon victory and a 2:20:18 personal best at the Milan Marathon in April.

How Fast Will Emily Sisson Go?

Despite winning last year’s 10,000m U.S. title on the track in record-setting fashion, Emily Sisson has decided to go all-in on the roads in 2022. In May, she set the U.S. record in the half marathon in 67:11 just two months after a bout of COVID-19, then diving right into a summer of training and a marathon training block. Last month, she battled with D’Amato at the U.S. 20K Championships in New Haven Connecticut but finished just six seconds back in a personal best of 64:35.

While she owns the #1, #4, and #5 record-eligible U.S. half marathon marks of all time, Sisson has just one marathon result on her resume with her 2:23:08 from the 2019 London Marathon, which is a U.S. record for the fastest debut on a record-eligible course. She dropped out of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials at Mile 22 and then the pandemic postponed plans for her marathon return until the 2021 New York City Marathon. And after all that time, she ultimately had to withdraw due to a knee injury in training.

D’Amato’s American record of 2:19:12 is the easy target to choose but Sisson told Runner’s World that she hasn’t finalized her race plan yet.

“Ideally, I think, sub 2:20 to me would be amazing,” she told Runner’s World. “If it’s a great day and I’m feeling good and if I’m within shouting distance of the record … I’ll take a stab at it.”

Among Americans, only D’Amato and Deena Kastor have broken 2:20:00. Jordan Hasay owns the fastest performance by an American woman on the Chicago Marathon course with her 2:20:57 from 2017.

Other Top Americans To Watch

When Laura Thweatt announced that she was running the Chicago Marathon, she detailed a series of injuries and setbacks that impacted her past results at the race. So “I’ve never quite been able to race the Chicago Marathon the way in which I know I’m capable of. So that’s my goal for this one and why I’m eager to get back on that start line. Just a little bit of a different kind of redemption.” Last year, she finished 7th overall in 2:27:00 and was the 4th American at the New York City Marathon. With a healthy build-up, she could threaten her personal best of 2:25:38, which has stood since the 2017 London Marathon.

Sara Vaughn has committed to the marathon in her quest to make the U.S. Olympic team for 2024. She won her debut marathon with a 2:26:53 at the California International Marathon in December 2021, which is the 5th-fastest debut by an American woman. She struggled with stomach issues all throughout the Boston Marathon in April and finished back in 21st place in 2:36:27. In her first YouTube video, she said she’s been running 120-130 miles per week. Unlike Boston’s hilly course, she’s hoping the flat roads in Chicago will benefit her and her track background.

The Men’s Win Is Up For Grabs

Defending champion Seifu Tura of Ethiopia is back to try and pick up a second Chicago victory, but there’s no clear favorite in this race. This will be Tura’s third Chicago, after finishing 6th in 2019 and winning last year, and also his third marathon of 2022. Most recently he finished sixth in the World Championships Marathon in July, but as Judith Korir showed us last week in London, the turnaround from Worlds is totally manageable.

Tura has only the 5th-fastest personal best in the field behind Herpasa Negasa (2:03:40), Bernard Koech (2:04:09), Elisha Rotich (2:04:21), and Dawit Wolde (2:04:27). Of that quartet, the most proven commodity is probably Negasa, who finished second in Dubai 2019 and Seoul 2022, but none of the four have any significant performances at World Majors. Koech, Rotich and Wolde haven’t raced much in 2022 – Koech and Rotich have no posted results and Wolde has a DNF in one half marathon.

In fact, the biggest threat to Tura’s repeat may be Benson Kipruto of Kenya, who “only” has a personal best of 2:05:13 but has shown in recent years he knows how to perform in big races. Kipruto has won the Toronto Waterfront Marathon (2018), the Prague Marathon (2021), and most recently the 2021 fall edition of the Boston Marathon. He came back to Boston this spring and finished 3rd, his second podium finish at a World Marathon Major. If the race stays packed up into the later miles and isn’t a hammerfest from the front, he could be dangerous: he won Boston by dropping an insane 14:06 5k from 35k to 40k to completely tear apart the field.

Two other intriguing names are Stephen Kissa, the Ugandan national record holder in the marathon who was racing on the track as recently as July (he finished 24th in the 10,000m in Eugene), and Jemal Yimer, the Ethiopian national record holder in the half marathon at 58:33. Both men are more accomplished at shorter distances but have the potential to pop something big in the right race as they enter their marathoning prime.

Conner Mantz Is Going For It

On his latest appearance on The CITIUS MAG Podcast, two-time NCAA cross country champion Conner Mantz has made it known that he’s hoping for a sub-2:08 performance. His 26.2-mile debut has been highly anticipated by fans who became captivated by his all-out racing style at the collegiate level. Training has been going well and he thinks he could threaten Leonard Korir’s 2:07:56 record for the fastest American marathon debut.

“If you would’ve asked me last week, I would’ve said I want to go for it and go for the sub-2:07 and see what happens. Now, I’m feeling like my mouth is getting a little too fast. I feel like sub 2:08 is really the goal. I would love to go out in 63:30 and see what happens but I know the marathon is a whole different beast in those last six miles. I feel good about sub-2:08 in being a part of the goal and plan. I think coach Eyestone does too.”

Listen to the full conversation with Mantz for more on his training, race plan and expectations as he goes up against the strongest field in his career: Apple Podcasts | Spotify

How Many Americans Can Snag The Standard For Budapest?

World Athletics continues to raise the bar for its championship qualifying standards, and to auto-qualify for Budapest 2023, male marathoners now have to run 2:09:40. That’s a mark that only six men have bettered since the 2020 Olympic Trials, but only one American man – Galen Rupp at the 2022 World Championships – has done it within the qualifying window so far. Elkanah Kibet and Scott Fauble ran faster at the 2022 Boston Marathon, but I believe the point-to-point course is not eligible for qualifying time purposes.

The fastest U.S. entrant by personal best is Matt McDonald of the Boston Athletic Association, who ran 2:10:35 for 14th place in Boston this past spring and also finished 14th in his debut marathon in Chicago in 2019. Other Americans who may be poised for a big breakout include Frank Lara (2:11:32 in debut at Houston 2022), Nico Montanez (7th in Chicago 2021), and Clayton Young (61:18 HM PB). Conditions last year were warm and windy, which slowed down times across the board, but the forecast looks promising for this edition of the race, which could lead to a big shakeup in the pecking order among American marathoners vying for a spot on Team USA.


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