Yesterday I was probably the most anti-social person in my family as I sat fixed for most of the afternoon by the kitchen table trying to find an alternative stream to ABC’s coverage of the 2013 ING New York City Marathon. The reporters were enthusiastic and bouncy but it didn’t stop me cringing at their occasional errors:
’82 countries represented here, including Miami...’ that was from the weather reporter.
‘Runners took part in a 3.1 mile race during the Staten Island Half Marathon’ Yeah sometimes we wish it was only 3.1.
But you know maybe it was the excitement of the big event. ABC had a good go at doing some wrestling type comparison stats, turning it into a running SMACK DOWN between the athletes who were topping the World Marathon Majors leader board. I was half hoping for someone to come out and shout ‘LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!’.
It was a big year for the New York Marathon after Hurricane Sandy had caused so much devastation and the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombing. You could tell that Mary Wittenburg the CEO of the New York Road Runners was emotional and I started to get the chin wobbles myself. I can’t help it, I’ve said it before, running and athletics make me cry.
Anyhow, the build up started so well but it all seemed to go to pot at ABC when the actual races started. If you blinked then it’s highly likely that you would have missed the start of the women’s race on the ABC stream and been greeted by more adverts or coverage of a kids choir. Lovely choir but, you know, I wanna’ see the running.
The women’s race began with a complete surprise. New York based Ethiopian Buzunesh Deba went flying out at an early fast pace with her compatriot Tigist Tufa Dimisse just behind her. The chasing pack made no attempt to close them down and at one point the gap stood at 3 minutes. Now one can only guess at what as behind Deba’s tactics: was it the thrill of running in the city that has been her home since she was 18? Was she trying to out run the best in the world by putting enough distance between her and them? Or had she made a huge error? Typically there were noises from the commentators about how she and Dimisse had gone off too soon and would soon be over taken. I remember hearing the same said about Mizuki Noguchi during the Athens Olympics, although she waited until the 16 mile mark to pull away. The commentators said then that Noguchi would blow up but she went on to take Olympic gold. I was seriously hoping that Deba was going to be rewarded for her gutsy tactics.
It wasn’t all quiet at the back though. Priscah Jeptoo started to pull away from the chasing pack and ended up running about 40 minutes of the race on her own, trying to claw Deba and Dimisse back to her. The mental and physical strength it must have taken to leave the comfort of a group of runners to battle on regardless just shows what a great athlete she is. The ABC commentary was heard to make jibes about her running style: ‘like a chariot with blades sticking out of the sides’. The editor of an athletics magazine even called her style ‘ugly knock-kneed’ and ‘ungainly’. If she knows what people say about her running style, she clearly does not give a hoot because as mile 21 approached Jeptoo had Deba in her sights.
Up ahead Deba had thrown up and you could tell she was starting to suffer for her efforts. Dimisse was already a long way back and now it looked like Deba was starting to sense the inevitable as Jeptoo closed behind her. She looked over her shoulder not once but a few times to see how close Jeptoo was. And as she turned her head for the umpteenth time, Jeptoo swept by without even glancing at Deba.
Jeptoo looked relaxed and comfortable and did not give a hint of the effort it must have taken to close such a huge gap during the race. People continued to comment on her running style on social media and I find this rather amusing because there is probably only one athlete with ‘perfect’ style and that’s David Rudisha. But I doubt even he could continue to run like the machine he is over 26.2 miles. Jeptoo obviously hasn’t tried to correct her style to suit coaches or biomechanists and she clearly isn’t injured as her season proves. She is running to her own beat and to the path of least resistance. She doesn’t fight it, she goes with it and as a result she flies. If you look at her upper body, her torso is always strong so her power comes from places other than her legs.
Once Jeptoo had over taken Deba the rest of the race was straight forward. A powerful looking Jeptoo swept on to win with Deba in a more than deserved second place. The next three places were taken by Latvia, France and Italy showing that there is depth among European athletes over this distance.
As Jeptoo and Deba crossed the line I sat in my kitchen and clapped my hands at how awesome both these women were. Individually they both showed guts and determination. Deba could have dropped out when she started to be sick. Jeptoo could have just let Deba run away with it but instead she fought back. The last 6-8 miles of this marathon were a joy to watch and again I found myself with the chin wobbles accompanied by an over whelming wish to go to New York and run the roads the same roads as Jeptoo and Deba.
Priscah Jeptoo crosses the finish line of the 2013 ING New York Marathon. Pic from NY daily news web site.