Frank Shorter pulled away just beyond nine miles to take gold in the 1972 Munich Olympics. And at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Joan Benoit Samuelson took the lead early on as well, at Mile 3 in the first Olympic women’s marathon, heading to her historic victory.
“I tell people all the time, you need to run your own race,” Benoit said Sunday. “That’s what Mary did; if you play into somebody else’s hands, especially early on, it can foul your plans.”
Benoit’s decision to take the lead was spontaneous.
“I didn’t want to take the lead that early, but I knew what I was capable of running, and I went with it,” she said. “You’ve got to go with what you know.”
It has grown less common for women to risk taking off alone in the New York City Marathon, especially after the race switched to the separate start for the women’s professional field in 2002.
In a pack, runners can take turns keeping a pace and blocking headwinds. But running together often leaves the race decided by decisive breakaways in the final miles. So if a marathoner is confident that she can maintain the pace while running alone, absorbing all of the wind, she might try to break away from the pack early to avoid a tactical sprint near the finish.
In the 2011 New York City Marathon, Keitany broke away but was overtaken by two Ethiopians who steadily reeled her in. Buzunesh Deba of Ethiopia, who lives in the Bronx, ran nearly the entire course minutes ahead of the rest of the professional field with her friend and teammate Tigist Tufa through bracing wind in 2013 before Priscah Jeptoo of Kenya caught her in Central Park. Deba finished second.
Keitany said she did not plan to challenge the field so assertively. But of the women on the podium, she was the only one who had completed a marathon before Sunday.
Kipyego, who dropped out of this race last year, said: “I wanted to run within myself and stick to something that I felt was more conservative. I kind of came in thinking that I’d rather run a much more conservative race, hold something back, and be able to have a good experience just because this a new distance for me.”
“I was kind of just surviving at the end and looking ahead and really trying to catch Joyce and trying to catch Sally, but you were too fast,” Huddle said to Kipyego. “So just kind of flailing the last 10K probably, well, probably the last 10 miles.”
Keitany became the first woman to win New York three times in a row since Waitz won five from 1982 to 1986.
As her orange sneakers bounced steadily off the pavement through the five boroughs and into Central Park, Keitany showed that she had no problem running alone — provided she has a chance to start at all. Although she is the second-fastest woman in history and her country’s record-holder (2:18:37), Kenya left her off its Olympic team this year.
The snub left her to focus on her fall race. She chose to execute a bold maneuver against a weak field, vacated by those who had already spent themselves at the Olympics in August or at other fall marathons.
Keitany acknowledged the risk in her race strategy Sunday.
“Sometimes if you break off and you’re not ready to follow through, they will catch you,” she said. “But I was ready.”