Kenyans Geoffrey Mutai and Priscah Jeptoo lived up to their prerace billing as the favorites in the 2013 New York City Marathon, but their wins -- 2:08:24 for Mutai, 2:25:07 for Jeptoo -- came in vastly different races than expected.
Jeptoo, who also won the London Marathon in April, didn't take the lead until the 24th mile. Bronx resident Buzunesh Deba had seized the lead early, with fellow Ethiopian and training partner Tigist Tufa in tow.
Deba and Tufa were nearly two-and-a-half minutes up on a big chase pack at the halfway point, not because they were running particularly fast (1:12:38) but because the pack was being overly cautious (1:16:00) running primarily into a head wind.
Jeptoo ran a 1:05:45 half marathon in September and put that speed to good use when she started pushing on the Queensboro Bridge in the 16th mile. While Deba maintained miles in the 5:30 range, Jeptoo ran a sub-5:10 pace.
Deba had no response when Jeptoo sped by in Central Park, closing her win with a 1:09:07 second half that would be good enough to win many top-class half marathons.
Deba, who also finished second in 2011, held on well to finish in 2:25:56. Latvia's Jelena Prokopcuka, 37, survived the best of the women's chase pack once Jeptoo started pushing. Prokopcuka finished third in 2:27:47, seven years after the second of her two New York City wins.
Colorado resident Adriana Nelson -- a native of Romania and now a U.S. citizen -- was the top American woman, finishing 13th in 2:35:05. Amy Hastings, who had the fastest personal time among Americans in the field, visibly suffered over the last several miles and finished 19th in 2:42:50.
The men's race had no early aggressor like Deba, with a pack of 20 passing halfway in 1:05:06. Mutai and Ethiopian Tsegaye Kebede did most of the pushing past that point, until Mutai and Stanley Biwott broke away in the 21st mile.
Biwott, winner of many shorter U.S. road races this year, briefly looked like he might challenge Mutai to the finish. The Kenyan, however, ran a 4:39 in the 23rd mile to dispatch Biwott.
Kebede, always a strong finisher, moved up to finish second in 2:09:16. After his win in London in April and placing fourth at the world championships in August, Kebede's runner-up spot in New York won him the 2012-13 World Marathon Majors title and the $500,000 purse that goes with it.
Jeptoo also won the WMM title, meaning she took home not only the $100,000 New York City prize but an additional $500,000. Jeptoo also won a $25,000 time bonus for breaking 2:25:30, the same amount Mutai got for breaking 2:08:30.
Portland, Ore., resident Ryan Vail was the top American man, finishing 13th in 2:13:23. Meb Keflezighi ran with the leaders through halfway before fading to finish 20th in 2:23:47, by far the slowest marathon of his career. The 38-year-old Keflezighi, who won here in 2009, had battled a calf injury and a fall that resulted in a gashed knee during his buildup.
Behind the leaders, perhaps a more significant race was collectively run by the 50,740 starters. After the cancellation of the 2012 New York race in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and the bombings at the Boston Marathon in April, the 2013 race in New York served as a return to normality and a testament to the uplifting power of running after a long year in the sport.
The 50,000-plus starters are a world record, and should this year's field break the record of 46,795 finishers set in New York in 2011, it would be a fitting end to a positive week in New York.