NEW YORK, NY – Mary Keitany is back for another bolt through the boroughs.
Facing a thin field, the 37-year-old Kenyan will try for her fifth title in six years at the New York City Marathon on Sunday. A year ago, she finished 17 seconds off the course record. Another victory would still leave her well behind Grete Waitz's record nine New York titles.
"It will be great for me to see if I can try to catch up with her," Keitany said.
She'll be followed by roughly 52,000 racers a year after a world marathon record 52,813 runners crossed the finish line in Central Park after winding through New York's five boroughs.
It's a path dominated by Keitany since her first victory in 2014. She followed with two more consecutive titles, including a dominant conquest in 2016 when she won by more than 3 ½ minutes.
She slowed in 2017, opening the door for Shalane Flanagan to become the first American woman to win in New York since Miki Gorman in 1976-77, but returned last year with her fastest mark yet, in 2 hours, 22 minutes, 48 seconds — not far off Maraget Okayo's 2:22:31 course record from 2003.
Keitany's priority, however, is the race, not the record.
"I'm not saying I won't run with time," she said. "But I'm ready to try to defend my title."
If anybody can push Keitany, it will be Ethiopian runner Ruti Aga. She has been a top-two finisher at four straight major marathons, including a victory at Tokyo this year. Her personal best is 2:18:34 at Berlin in 2018; Keitany's top mark was a then-world record 2:17:01 at London in 2017. No one else in the women's field has cracked 2:22.
"I know I'm not alone," Keitany said. "For me, I don't have any pressure. I'm ready to run my own race."
Three weeks after Kenya's Brigid Kosgei set a world marathon record in Chicago, her footwear has become as big a storyline as her performance. Kosgei wore the same Nike shoes that Eliud Kipchoge sported when he completed the first sub-2 hour marathon — a feat accomplished under conditions so tightly controlled it didn't qualify for the record books.
The shoes — which stack carbon-fiber plates with lightweight foam — have raised calls for track and field's governing body to adapt rules regarding equipment. They've also forced other brands to play catch up.
"It's an arms race, and it should be a foot race," said American runner Desiree Linden, who has a shoe deal with Brooks.
A few Nike athletes are expected to contend Sunday, including defending men's champion Lelisa Desisa and 2017 winner Geoffrey Kamworor, who trains with Kipchoge.
Linden, a two-time Olympian and the 2018 Boston Marathon champ, has worked with Brooks to develop a similar sneaker. At 36, she's hoping the technology can help lengthen her career.
"I hate the concept," she said. "But I love the shoe."
She is irked by the fact that at the six marathon majors, four course records have been broken in the past two years — two each among the men and women.
"It's a little frustrating to see people in the past who are just getting bumped off lists, but they just didn't have access to that," she said, adding, "It's super frustrating that someone has an amazing race and you go, 'What were they wearing?'"
A few of the top American marathoners hope the race serves as good practice for the U.S. Olympic team trials in February. It's a group that includes 2016 Olympian Jared Ward on the men's side and Sara Hall, Kellyn Taylor and Linden among the women.
With its many bridges, the New York course should run similarly to the hilly trials course in Atlanta.
"New York is a tactical race," Taylor said. "And that's how the trials is."
Both of last year's men's and women's wheelchair champions are returning to defend their crowns. Daniel Romanchuk, then 20, became the first American and youngest competitor to win the men's division, and Manuela Schär is seeking a third straight title.
Former New York Giants running back Tiki Barber is set to run his sixth straight NYC Marathon. "Orange Is the New Black" actor Uzo Aduba will run for the second time, and Luke Kirby from "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" will run for the first time.
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