In Third, Abdi Abdirahman is Top American Man at New York City Marathon

A strong group of American marathon runners, combined with a relatively lean lineup of East Africans, today produced the strongest U.S. showing at the New York City Marathon since 2009. Led by Abdi Abdirahman in third, five Americans finished in the top 10 and six in the top 11.
In 2009, six Americans finished in the top 10, including Abdirahman, ninth overall and fifth American, in 2:14:00. Today, Abdirahman, 39 years and 10 months old, reached the podium and ran 2:11:23. “Age is just a number to me,” said Abdirahman. “I believe you can do anything you put your mind to. Actually, my age might have been an advantage, because I’ve been around so long, and knew the course.”He was followed by fellow Americans Shadrack Biwott (fifth, 2:12:01), Tyler Pennel (eighth, 2:15:09), Ben Payne (ninth, 2:15:46), Patrick Smyth (10th, 2:16:34), and Craig Leon (11th, 2:17:14).

“I had a fantastic race, almost perfect,” exulted a beaming Biwott after his finish. Biwott, 31, was born in Kenyan, but spent four years with the powerhouse University of Oregon distance squad, and became a U.S. citizen in 2012. He finished seventh in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials last February.

Pennel, 26, was nearly as pleased. In the marathon trials, he had bolted to a mid-race lead before eventually fading to fifth. Today he focused on maintaining control. “I still went out a little faster than I wanted to,” he admitted post-marathon. “But I ran with Jon Grey for 16 miles, and that helped.” (Grey dropped out at 30K.)The New York City Marathon doesn’t use pacesetters, so several of the U.S. runners filled that role from the start of the 40th annual running of the five-borough marathon. For 13 miles, Dathan Ritzenhein, Abdirahman, and Matt Llano jockeyed at the front, keeping the pace honest.Ritzenhein looked particularly strong, often surging ahead to a short lead as he shed, first, his cap, then his gloves, then his arm warmers. The weather was sunny and a tad milder than expected, though mostly in the high 50s. Many athletes complained about a modest headwind for the first 20 miles.When Ritzenhein pushed the effort, Abdirahman often ran up to his side. At more than one point, they exchanged a few pleasantries, looking calm and confident.

It wasn’t surprising to see Abdirahman near the front, as he often raceswith the leaders. But it was hard to imagine he could stay there. The last several years he has performed below his best—he set his marathon PR, 2:08:56, in Chicago 10 years ago—and didn’t start the marathon trials this year because of injury.

In fact, Abdirahman hadn’t completed a marathon since finishing 16th in the 2014 Boston Marathon. Despite the abundance of talent that had helped him make four U.S. Olympic teams between 2000 and 2012, it seemed unlikely he would be a factor in this race.

Such doubt apparently didn’t occur to him. “My plan today was to make sure I always stayed in the top group,” he said. “I was treating this as my Olympic trials because I didn’t get to run the trials.”

Abdirahman and Ritzenhein set the race tempo through the first 13 miles, running at a strong 2:09 pace. They looked good, and many hoped that at least one might attain a podium finish. To motivate them, the race had established an American-only $58,000 prize pool, with $25,000 for the first American.

At 13 miles, eventual winner Ghirmay Ghebreslassie, Lucas Rotich, and Lelisa Desisa simply motored away. They accelerated by 15 to 20 seconds per mile. It would eventually prove too much for Desisa, who dropped out after 22 miles.

Ritzenhein was also a DNF, at 19 miles, adding another to his list of marathon disappointments. In February, he failed to finish the Olympic trials, where he was a co-favorite. It was reported to the media center that Ritzenhein suffered an injury to his right heel today.

With Lelisa and Ritzenhein out, the remaining Americans were left to fight for the remaining honors—including open prize money of $40,000, $25,000, and $15,000 for places three through five. And battle they did.

Abdirahman and Biwott ran several miles together, hunting for the third spot on the podium, before a tight hamstring began to worry Biwott. “I had to decide, should I risk everything and keep pressing, or back off to make sure I finished?” he explained. “I decided there was too much at stake, so I relaxed and concentrated on getting to the end.”

Abdirahman said that he expected to finish fifth, sixth, or seventh. But he kept plugging away, and found himself running up to and past a spent Delisa at 22 miles. “When I passed Lelisa, my eyes just … I don’t know what hit me, but I said: I’m in third place, and I’m going for it,” said Abdirahman.

Pennel had pulled away from Grey, and passed Patrick Smyth, Llano, and Ryan Vail on the long run down First Avenue into the Bronx. When he got there, he found it difficult to maintain his momentum. “There were fewer people, more turns, and my energy was getting lower,” he said. “The last six miles were tough. I couldn’t keep the energy going.”

Abdirahman appears to be launching a career-extension plan like frequent U.S. teammate Meb Keflezighi and Bernard Lagat, one of his occasional training partners. Both are now over 40, and sill running strong. Abdirahman was definitely down, and it looked like he was out, but now he’s back. His age is a bit of a puzzle. Official track sites list his birth date as January 1, 1977, but at the post-race press conference he said he was 38.

Whichever, he’s clearly got the right attitude toward running. That could be enough to keep him going through another Olympic cycle. “If you want to have a long career, you have to enjoy life,” he said. “Live in the moment. Do one or two marathons a year, but not three. Make sure you’re doing the right training. Stay with the same coach. Have a good routine. That’s my advice.”

This Articcle was originally Published in the Runners Worl

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