Friday, March 16, 2012

Previewing the NYC Half-Marathon
Can Bobby Curtis Mix It Up with the World's Best?

Here is some excellent in-depth coverage from of the men's field at Sunday's New York City Half Marathon. Bobby Curtis brings a 1:01.52 PR from 2011 to the race, with his eyes on the upcoming USA Olympic Trials at 10,000 meters (Curtis is the 7th fastest native born American ever at that distance, 27:24.68).'s Preview Of The 2012 NYC Half Marathon

March 16, 2012

A few weeks ago, we referred to the 2012 NYC Half as the "London" of the half marathons. What we meant is the race is so full of names, it reminds us of the London marathon each spring - it seems like everyone is there.

While the New York race organizers may not like us using the term "London" as an adjective, we hope they forgive us, as we meant it as the ultimate of compliments.

The race really does have a lot of recognizable names from throughout the globe in it.

We'll start our analysis with the men and begin by presenting you three sets of names - one set that is based in North America, one set that is based in Africa and one that is based in old Commonwealth - and then there is South America's Marilson Gomes dos Santos.

After each name, you will see where they are from, their half marathon and 10,000 PRs, and then a comment or two about them. Note, we present the runners in each group in order of how excited we are to see them run. For example, Dathan Ritzenhein ("Ritz") is our #1 attraction as we want to see how he looks after finishing 4th at the OTrials marathon. Even though Meb Keflezighi ("Meb") handily beat Ritz at the Trials, Meb's only the sixth American we most want to see in this race, as it means next to little for him or his Olympic chances. He has nothing to prove here.

The North American Based Runners

Dathan Ritzenhein - USA - (60:00 PR, 27:22.28 10,000 PR, 2:09:55 at Trials in Houston) - How will Ritz look in his first race back after finishing 4th at the Olympic Trials Marathon?

Bobby Curtis - USA - (1:01:52 PR, 27:24.68 10,000 PR - 2012 opener) - Can Curtis mix it up with some of the world's best? Good form here means he's likely to make the US Olympic team at 10,000 as he's one of just 4 with the "A"' standard.

Scott Bauhs - USA - (61:30, 27:48.06 10,000 PR, 61:30 half in Houston in January) - Looked good in January, can Bauhs beat many of the top Americans? Good form here means he'll have a shot for the US team at 10,000 later this summer.

Sam Chelanga - KEN - (63:41, 27:08.39 10,000 PR - 7:50 3k in February) - The NCAA 10,000-meter record holder is likely a future US Olympian, how does his 10,000 track success translate to the roads?

Ed Moran - USA - (debut, 27:43.13 10,000 PR, 29:49 10k on roads at World's Best 10k on Feb. 26th) - His marathon debut in November in NYC of 2:11:49 was a smashing success. How will he fare in his return to NYC?

Meb Keflezighi - USA - (61:00, 27:13.98 10,000 PR - 2:09:08 Marathon Trials win in Houston). - Meb loves New York, but given the fact he won the Trials, we aren't expecting much here as he doesn't need to be in shape right now.

Wesley Korir - KEN - (62:30, 29:06.83 10,000 PR, 2:06:15 marathon PR - 2012 opener) - The runner-up at the 2011 Bank of American Chicago Marathon seems to be a true marathoner. Can he proves us wrong by excelling at 13.1?

Eric Gillis - CAN - (63:34, 28:07.19 10,000 PR, 2:11:28 marathon PR - 2012 opener) - His 13.1 best should be faster given his marathon time.

African Based Runners

Peter Kirui - KEN - (59:40 PR, 27:25.63 10,000 PR - 2012 opener) - We are very excited to see what the 2011 Kenyan 10,000 champ (6th at Worlds, 1 spot ahead of Galen Rupp) who also ran 59:40 and 2:06:31 in 2011 looks like in New York and what he says about his plans for the rest of the year. Will he shoot for the Olympic 10,000?

Feyisa Lelisa - ETH - (59:22, 27:46.97 10,000 PR - 59:22 in Houston in January, 61:52 in February)- The 2011 IAAF World Championships Marathon bronze medallist looked great in January but struggled in February. What form will he be in here?

Deriba Merga - ETH - (59:15, 27:02.62 10,000 PR, 2:06:38 - 2012 opener) - The 2009 Boston Marathon champion is a threat to win if he's on. He likes to race. It's a bit odd he hasn't finished a race so far in 2012.

Abderrahime Bouramdane - MOR - (62:40, 2:07:33 marathon PR - 2012 opener) - 4th at World Champs in 2011 at 26.2.

South America's Best

Marilson Gomes dos Santos (59:33 pb, 27:28.12 10,000 pb, 61:46 2nd place showing in Brazil two weeks ago). Two-time ING New York City marathon champ.

From The Commonwealth

Chris Thompson - GBR - (debut, 27:27.36 10,000 PR - 7:48 and 13:29 indoors this year) - In good form so far this year.

Ben St. Lawrence - AUS - (debut, 27:24.95 10,000 PR - 13:24 in Feb, 13:48 in March) - Didn't run very well earlier this month, how does he respond here?

Collis Birmingham - AUS - (65:46, 27:29.73 10,000 PR - 13:15 5,000 in Feb, 13:22 in March) - Already secured an Olympic berth earlier this year.

Michael Shelley - AUS - (62:10, 27:59.77 10,000 PR, 2012 opener) - 28-year-old ran 2:11 twice in the marathon last year.

And that list doesn't include two people from Japan. Toyo University stars Yuta Shitara (62:35 pb) and Kento Otsu (62:43). The NYRR certainly has gone to all corners of the globe to build an interesting field.

But who will win?

That is hard to answer. The problem when trying to handicap a half marathon is that a half most often isn't an athlete's main goal and thus you are sort of trying to handicap a race that in some ways is just a key stepping stone for a later race. Additionally, that later race may be in the near future (say, a spring marathon) or more distant future (Olympic 10,000 or US 10,000). Additionally, if the half marathon participant is a marathoner at heart, they very well may have run no other races so far this year and thus it's hard to judge their fitness.

Thankfully the NYRR likes to use it's half marathon to sort of give many top 10,000 runners a feel for a longer distance, the roads and New York as a sort of open house for the ING new York City marathon in case down the road one of the runners wants to move to the marathon. As a result, many of the entrants have run races in 2012. But if you really want to get up to date on people's form, you might want to watch tonight's broadcasts of NYRR Live at 8pm eastern where Olympian Todd Williams will hopefully have some insight on the top competitors.

In terms of winning this race, we'd say there really are just five contenders. The three African runners with pbs in the 59s - Peter Kirui of Kenya and Feyisa Lelisa and Deriba Merga of Ethiopia - and Dathan Ritzenhein - whose PR is almost in the 59s at 1 hour flat - as well as maybe Marilson Gomes dos Santos, who also has a pb under 1 hour (59:33) and has twice been top 10 at world's at 13.1.

When his career is over, it'll be interesting if people end up saying that the half marathon really was Ritz's ideal event. It seems perfectly suited for Ritz for a number of reasons. Unlike a 10,000, it's on the roads and features hills and what not, which suits Ritz, who is a former cross-country star. Additionally, it's not too far of a distance, as Ritz tends to bonk at the end of marathons.

Ritz almost ran the USA XC trials after missing out on the Olympic marathon team and he stated in a USA Today feature that he has been doing track workouts. So there is no doubt he's back at it after the Trials. But that doesn't mean he's by any stretch of the imagination he's ready to go 100%. The OTrials were just two months ago. As a result, we'd be very surprised if he won. It would be a long shot for Ritz to win if he was 100% sharp and we don't think he's 100%.

One guy who likely is in great form is Kenya's Peter Kirui. Kirui had a great 2011, as he ran 59:40 for the half, helped pace Patrick Makau to his world record, and then helped pace Wilson Kipsang to his 2:03:42 and then decided to finish that race in 2:06:31 (if you don't know Kirui, we recommend you read this NYRR Profile of him: Behind the Stats: Peter Kirui). We think Kirui is in good form as he's going to race a marathon for the first time in four weeks - Rotterdam.

Lelisa is going to be running London this spring, so he's likely in good form. We find it a bit odd that Merga hasn't raced so far this year as he loves to race and don't know what to expect from him. He's our wildcard. dos Santos, who has twice won the marathon in New York, ran a half-two weeks ago in 61:46 in his native Brazil. Fitness like that might get him top 5 but won't win.

If one of those four doesn't win, then maybe Sam Chelanga will a big surprise. He made a low key half-marathon debut in Boston in 1:03:41 last year. He'll have to do much better to be a factor here but he is the NCAA 10,000 record holder.

In addition to the winner, there is a lot to pay attention to. Ritz, Curtis, Bauhs, and Moran are four of the US's biggest Olympic hopefuls at 10,000 (plus a few absent people like prohibitive favorite Galen Rupp plus "A" qualifiers Matt Tegenkamp and Tim Nelson and the injured Chris Solinsky). Assuming Rupp makes it, there are only two spots left. Who's fitness gives them the inside track for that?

LRC Prediction: A Kenyan or Ethiopian wins. We're leaning towards Peter Kirui. We're very interested in seeing who ends up being the first American here. If it's not Ritz, there will be a lot to talk about after the race.

We're sure some of you will criticize us for taking the easy way out by saying a Kenyan or Ethiopian will win. We hate it win people talk about Kenyan or Ethiopian runners or even worse African runners as if they are not individuals. We did it here to make a point. For as loaded as the field is with 'names', it's by no means loaded in terms of Kenyan and Ethiopian talent. Saying a Kenyan or Ethiopian will win it means saying one of three guys will win it, Feyisa Lelisa, Peter Kirui, or Deriba Merga. For better or worse, one thing the NYRR does is try to make their fields full of interesting stories. Other half-marathons likely have more top-end talent as all you need to do is go to Iten, Kenya and get the 10 most in form guys. For example, last week 5 Kenyans broke 1 hour at the ABN-AMRO City-Pier-City Half Narathon.

With that in mind, perhaps we shouldn't call this the "London" of half-marathons. London is the best of the best. This race has a lot of top talent spread over the globe which by the way is what the Olympics does as well. So maybe it just makes since to call it the NYC Half Marathon. One thing we know for sure is it is a race we're really looking forward to and without a doubt the top half-marathon in the United States.

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