5 Takeaways From The 2023 New York City Marathon

By David Melly

November 6, 2023

It was a tale of two races in New York City this weekend.

On the women’s side: a historically-slow race (the slowest winning time since 2010) ending in an epic sprint between two of the brightest stars in the sport. On the men’s side: a historically-fast race – the new course record – headlined by one man’s solo march to the finish.

When the dust had all settled, Hellen Obiri claimed her second marathon title of 2023, becoming the first woman in 34 years to win Boston and New York in the same year, and Tamirat Tola won his first NYC title after two fourth-place finishes. Kellyn Taylor was the top American woman in eighth and Futsum Zienasellassie was the top American man in 10th.

Thank you to all those who joined us in Central Park for our Under Armour shakeout run on Saturday or online for our raucous NYC watch party with Kyle Merber, Dana Giordano, and Eric Jenkins. And a huge shoutout to our founder and CITIUS team captain Chris Chavez, who, amidst all the work of putting on community events and ensuring quality media coverage, ran his own New York Marathon, finishing in 3:17:04.

Full results from the race can be found here.

Here are the main takeaways from a jam-packed morning of racing in New York:

Hellen ObiriHellen Obiri

Kevin Morris / @KevMoFoto

Obiri Outkicks The World’s Best

A pedestrian early pace in the women’s pro race meant that all the heavy hitters were still in contention as the field entered Central Park. With only a mile remaining, five women were stride for stride and sprinting madly for the finish line: 2023 Boston champ Hellen Obiri, track stud Letesenbet Gidey, former world record holder Brigid Kosgei, reigning NYC champ Sharon Lokedi, and 2021’s runner-up Viola Cheptoo. Kosgei disconnected from and reattached to the pack a few times in the final 5k, and ultimately she couldn’t hang onto the front when the kicks came out in force. Cheptoo was also broken by the blistering pace, and veteran racer Mary Ngugi ended up passing her for 5th in the final few meters. Lokedi, whose track credentials pale in comparison to the two global medalists beside her, did well to hang tough for third after an up-and-down, injury-plagued 2023. With 400 meters remaining, Gidey and Obiri were the only two left in contention, but Obiri’s special mix of strength and speed was too much for even the two-time world record holder. She came away with a 2:27:23 victory and a 6-second gap, thanks to a 4:52 final mile, and Gidey finished second in her second-ever marathon.

With victories in both East Coast majors, Obiri has solidified herself as one of the best marathoners in the world right now, particularly in championship-style racing. Her two World titles on the track, World XC gold, and two Olympic silvers speak for themselves, but one particular title has eluded her. With the 2024 Olympics on the horizon and Paris promising a hilly course and no pacers, Obiri has to be thinking about the one item missing from her trophy shelf: an Olympic gold.

Tamirat Tola Tamirat Tola

Kevin Morris / @KevMoFoto

Tola Bounces Back With A Course Record

With only 5km to go in the 2023 World Championship marathon in Budapest, Ethiopian Tamirat Tola was in bronze medal position and looked like a lock to take his second World medal in two years, after winning gold in Eugene. But once the heat and the pace got to him, it hit hard, and just over two miles from the finish he dropped out of the race.

Fast forward two months and Tola was back in action, better than ever. Taking advantage of a quick early pace, he dropped his already-reeling competition up First Avenue and then cruised his way to victory in a six-second course record. His time, 2:04:58, made him the first man in history under 2:05 on New York City’s famously tough course. Tola’s victory was never in doubt over the last 10 miles, and with a few kilometers remaining, the question became whether he would actually catch the women’s leaders – who started 24 minutes earlier – at the finish line. Ultimately, they would hold him off for a victory moment of their own, but when all was said and done, Tola came away with the laurel wreath and a massive, nearly two-minute margin of victory.

The 32-year-old had finished fourth in New York twice and landed on two other World Marathon Major podiums – Boston 2022 and London 2023 – but this was his first major win. Not too shabby considering this was his third marathon of the year and he was only officially announced for NYC three weeks earlier.

Kellyn TaylorKellyn Taylor

Kevin Morris / @KevMoFoto

Some Movement But No Huge Changes In The U.S. Olympic Conversation

No Americans in the pro field had the Olympic standard headed into New York, so a fast time and/or a top-five finish was surely in the minds of several of the major contenders as they toed the line. New moms Kellyn Taylor and Molly Huddle hung with the women’s leaders late in the race, but the slow early pace was no help for hitting the 2:26:50 Olympic qualifying standard. They would ultimately finish eighth and ninth overall, respectively.

The top American men, Futsum Zienasellassie (10th) and Elkanah Kibet (11th), looked to improve their world rankings and are likely to be on the qualifying bubble should they finish in the top three at Trials. But no U.S. men in New York made the sort of decisive statement likely needed to change many fans’ minds about the favorites heading to Orlando.

Huddle and Taylor’s career accolades and PBs would suggest that they could contend with the nation’s best over 26.2 miles, but neither runner has a qualifying time achieved within the window. That said, Taylor in particular, whose eighth-place finish came just 10 months postpartum, shouldn’t be discounted in the top-three conversation with a few more months of healthy training.

On the men’s side, Kibet has already proven his consistency time and again, with a hefty handful of top-10 WMM finishes and sub-2:12 clockings over the last few years, and Zienasellassie has now run three solid marathons in three attempts at the distance. If they can bounce back well from here, there’s no reason to believe they won’t also be among the top guns going for their first Olympic teams.

Ed CheserekEd Cheserek

Justin Britton / @JustinBritton

Edward Cheserek Debuts With A Top-10 Finish

Fans of 17-time NCAA champion Ed Cheserek were cautiously optimistic headed into NYC that the Flagstaff-based Kenyan would find his footing in his marathon debut after an up-and-down pro career on the track. Coming off a victory and 59:11 personal best at the Copenhagen Half Marathon in September, it seemed that Cheserek was fit enough to contend with the best marathoners in the world – if he could handle the new distance and all the unique challenges it brings.

After initially running with the leaders, Cheserek made the business decision around 15km to lay off the hot early pace and form a small chase group. As the race played out, the Skechers-sponsored runner ended up doing much of his running solo in the back half, but he still held it together well to hang on for an eighth-place 2:11:07 finish in his debut at the distance. He clocked a hefty positive split of 63:30-68:07, but with the hilly second half of the NYC course and the fast early miles, he wasn’t alone: eventual-winner Tola was the only finisher in the top-10 to not run his second half slower than his first. Ultimately, Cheserek’s first bid at 26.2 wasn’t a home run by any measure, but it certainly was at least a solid base hit, as he learns the intricacies of the event. And for those with short memories, it’s important to note that women’s winner Hellen Obiri only finished sixth in NYC in her debut last year. Her second and third marathons have both been victories.

Tough Day For Levins, Fischer

Two of the exciting names in the men’s elite field ended up having a rough go on Sunday, as Canadian record holder Cam Levins and Tinman Elite’s Reed Fischer both ended up dropping out of the men’s race. Fischer, who finished 10th in NYC last year, featured in an emotional TV segment on the broadcast about his wife Christine’s battle with breast cancer. Unfortunately, he had dealt with some injuries that limited his training buildup and ultimately dropped out around halfway. Fischer reported on Instagram that “My body just didn’t have the preparation it needed to tackle the marathon distance, despite my best efforts to maintain fitness while navigating injury.”

There was a lot of pre-race hype surrounding Levins – he had self-reported running 170-mile weeks in training and was coming off two successive PBs in his last two marathons, most notably a 2:05:36 fifth-place finish in Tokyo earlier this year. Levins also dropped out around halfway after initially going with the leaders, telling his followers “not injured or anything, just felt real crummy from the start.” Here’s wishing them both a speedy return to full form and a big comeback in 2024.

The 2023 NYC Marathon wraps up all the World Marathon Majors in 2023. But with the 2023 Valencia Marathon, the California International Marathon, and the Houston Marathon still to come in the next few months, we’re not entirely done with road running before the U.S. Marathon Trials. At the same time, most of the top contenders will be buckling down and getting fit for Orlando. Stay tuned and stay subscribed as we gear up for a huge Olympic year!

David Melly

David began contributing to CITIUS in 2018, and quickly cemented himself as an integral part of the team thanks to his quick wit, hot takes, undying love for the sport and willingness to get yelled at online.