2013 NYC Marathon thoughts and preview

 

I have a number of fairly disparate thoughts, most at least semi-related to this weekend’s NYC marathon, so a bit of an arbitrary e-mail this week.  I also have a bunch of Ryan Hall thoughts, but there’s already a bunch to chew on below (including the really interesting WMM section towards the bottom, which is required for those who like to follow/watch major marathons), so those may come by later this week, or sometime next.

 

Note that the NYC Marathon is being televised on ESPN2 on Sunday Morning, if you’re interested.

 

  • Money, Money, Money:  Both the NYC and Boston marathons talk about being larger than ever in terms of runners, and I’d guess that a lot of this has to do with money.  The financial statements for fiscal 2012 don’t seem to be out yet, but the previous year’s shows that New York Road Runners (NYRR) takes in ~$50M of revenue yearly.  Simple math dictates that well over 1/4 of this comes from Marathon entry fees (Fee is ~$220, and there are ~65,000 entries — about 25% of those entered don’t run).  According to a recent Runner’s World article, of the entrants in 2012, ~32,000 took a refund, and 22,000 deferred to the 2013 race.  What this means, essentially, is that NYRR has expenses for 2012 and 2013, but revenue only from 2013.  (Note that most of their expenses probably still had to be paid — the biggest being race appearance fees.  I’m not exactly sure how these work, but the purpose of them is largely to pay for Pros’ opportunity cost of not entering another race — if they had hung out their pros to dry last year, I think they’d have been blacklisted.  Therefore, I think they still paid appearance fees, or at least a large % of them.  I don’t know this.).  Anyhow, it’s pretty clear to those who run/watch New York and Boston that more runners isn’t better for racers — it gets crowded.  The races need the money, though, and since the race makes all the marginal profit, and the individual runners bear most of the burden of the extra runners (think Tragedy of the Commons), it’s not surprising to see the races trumpeting that they must come back “stronger than ever”.  (Side note:  I was on a governing committee at Amherst College as a student when the economy went south, and simply taking more students was suggested as a very real solution to budget issues.  Same reasoning:  $$ goes to the school, burden is on students (crowded dorms and classes) and professors (more advisees, bigger class sizes, etc.))
    • Also, the NYC Marathon signed a new head-sponsor agreement early this month — after 10 years of being sponsored by ING, the marathon will now primarily be sponsored by Tata Consultancy Services (starting with the 2014 race).  The details haven’t been released (it’s richer, though), but I wouldn’t be shocked if there was impetus to sign the extension due to liquidity issues.  (all speculation)

 

  • Who’s going to win the NYC Marathon?:  Great question, and I’m guessing your asking because you recall that I accurately predicted both the men’s and women’s winners of Boston last spring (it’s okay, I’ll wait as you look through your framed collection of my e-mails to confirm…).  The answer is… I’m not sure yet — let’s talk it out.  First, worth noting that the weather looks perfect for the race — high 40’s, no rain.  Should be fast (for NYC).  Also, we have a collection of great tactical racers — Mutai, Kebede, and Kiprotich (and Meb) are all really smart runners I think, so it should be fun:
  • Men worth following:
      • Geoffrey Mutai:  Probably my personal favorite marathoner — in part because I saw him run his 2:03:04 in Boston live.  He won Boston and the following New York, so is a strong racer, particularly when there aren’t pacers.  He’s probably the favorite, and not a bad pick.
      • Stephen Kiprotich:  The Olympic and World champion — also a great tactical racer.  Reasons why he may not run all that well:  1)  He’s more of a warm weather runner, and has never run all that fast (P.R. in the 2:07 high region, I think), 2) I think he’s in it for the appearance money too.  Neither of those two races pays well (at all?), so the economic benefit to winning is that you can charge a high appearance fee after victory.  I think Kiprotich is eager to capitalize financially on his success, so is willing to run even if he’s not 100% ready.  Keep in mind he won the world championships in August, so the turnaround is fairly quick.  That said, he has 500,000 reasons to run well (see below)
      • Tsegaye Kebede:  You’re right, he’s my favorite (male) marathoner.  The diminutive Ethiopian has been a consistently great marathoner for 5-6 years, and I’d always back him to place highly in a race.  He’s also coming in straight off the back of the World Championships (4th, I believe), after winning London in late April.  He races more than most marathoners anyways, though, and doesn’t ever seem to be injured.  I’d never count him out, but it feels like more of a 3rd/4th place finish for him this time. (see below, as well)
      • Peter Kirui:  This guy has speed, but it’s unclear if he can sustain it.  He is probably most famous as a pacemaker, having paced Patrick Makau and Wilson Kipsang to the two fastest official times ever in 2011 (in races 1 month apart).  He’s had mixed results on his own, but could be poised for a break out race.  I’m not sure I predict it here.
      • Stanley Biwott:  Biwott has been slowly improving, and had a great 2012 season, winning Paris, Philadelphia Half, Beach to .Beacon, and Falmouth Road Race, and followed it up with 2nd in a major half marathon in UAE.  He’s 27 years old, so should just be reaching his peak shape for the marathon distance.  I’m a bit torn, but I kind of like him in this race.  Nah, too much pressure.
      • Meb Keflezighi:  More on him below, but in a fast race in good conditions, I don’t think he quite has the speed.
      • How do I see the race going?:  I’m not sure who will win, but my prediction is this:  A lead group will form, from which Biwott and Mutai will be the last survivors — Biwott will seem to be leading or in control, but will fade late in the race, giving Mutai the lead, and allowing Kebede and Kiprotich to catch back up.  In the end, I think they catch him, but not Mutai, so:  Mutai, Kiprotich, Kebede, Biwott (though at mile 19, people will think Biwott has a great shot).  (Though, after reading the below, it’s highly possible that Biwott has actually been hired to run largely as a pacer by Kiprotich.  Just possible.)
    • Women worth following:
      • Should be a straight race between Priscah Jeptoo and Edna Kiplagat — not unlike the London marathon, where Kiplagat broke away, then Jeptoo caught her, and ran right by: It’s hard to root against someone with that running form.
      • Firehwat Dado and Buzunesh Deba are the two Ethiopians who decided the last race (2011).  You may remember that sort of bizarre race where Mary Keitany set out at World Record pace, and just died at the end.  I don’t expect these two to win.
      • Kim Smith:  She’s usually good for a “leading at mile 11”.  Bostonians will know her as the winner of the BAA medley winner (which is a great deal — all she has to do is have the fastest combined time in a 5K, 10K, and Half, and she gets a 100K bonus.  If you’re a fast runner, and there are plenty faster than Smith, you’re silly not to do this, I think.)
      • Joan Benoit Samuelson:  Despite having the third-fastest PR in the field, the 56 year-old is not a major favorite to win.  Still, if I were a good marathoner, I’d love to run next to her for a while (she’s still much faster than I am — she’ll finish in 2:52ish, I bet)
      • How do I see the race going:  Again, I’m basically going chalk here — I think the lead group will slowly winnow itself down to Jeptoo and Kiplagat, and it’s a bit of a coin flip between them.  Again, I’m a sucker for that running form, so let’s say Jeptoo gives Kiplagat the slip and wins it.  If this were a horse race, I’d probably bet the exacta box (and on the men’s side, Kebede to show)

 

  • So the goal is to win the race?:  Kind of.  This is complicated, but helps figure out who will care about winning.  The World Marathon Majors is a competition that accounts for a runner’s 4 best “major” races over a two year period (NY, Chicago, Boston, London, Berlin, Tokyo, plus either Olympics or World Championships).  The prize ($500,000 each to the top man and woman) is given annually, so obviously each year’s race counts in two competitions.  NYC Marathon is the last race of the 2012-2013 competition, so it’s fairly clear what incentives there are:
    • Men’s standings (and placing in races that count — points given is 25, 15, 10, 5, 1):
      • Kebede (65):  1, 1, 3, 4
      • Kiprotich (50): 1, 1 (only two qualifying times)
      • In the event of a tie score (e.g., 75-75, if Kiprotich wins and Kebede is second), Kiprotich will be the champion (because of head-to-head wins).  So basically, if Kiprotich wins, he wins, and if he comes 2nd, Kebede needs to come 3rd.  (4th does Kebede no good, since only 4 races count, and 4th is already his worst result).  So:  Expect to see Kebede stay right next to Kiprotich, and certainly not attack the field. 
    • Women’s standings (same)
      • Rita Jeptoo (65) (Not Racing)
      • Edna Kiplagat (55) (1, 2, 2)
      • Priscah Jeptoo (50) (1, 2, 3)
      • Now, pretty clearly one of the 2nd two should win the title, and if either wins the race, she also wins the WMM title.  If Kiplagat beats Priscah Jeptoo to 2nd, Kiplagat wins.  If Jeptoo comes 2nd and Kiplagat comes 3rd, there’s a three way tie on points, and Rita Jeptoo (the one not racing), gets the $500,000, based on the tiebreaker of needing fewer races to amass 65 points.  What does that mean?  –> Collusion. 
        • It’s unlikely to happen, but… if somebody runs away from Kiplagat and Priscah Jeptoo to win, and the two of them are battling for second, they should by all means have a sort of under-the-table agreement whereby Kiplagat is assured of 2nd, wins the $500K prize, and gives some portion of it to Jeptoo.  Keep in mind that this would be for 2nd place, so there wouldn’t be a ton of lost prestige or prize money (as there would be for missing out on first place)
    • Cool, right?  There’s a lot more there than meets the eye.  Onto the racers (note, the below section was written first)
    • Shout if you have any questions on the above!  I know it’s complicated.

 

Predictions:

  • Men:  Mutai, Kiprotich, Kebede, Biwott (Kebede wins WMM)
  • Women:  Jeptoo, Kiplagat (Jeptoo wins WMM)
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