NEW YORK CITY, March 17—Though he has the credentials of an elite runner, Belay Tilahun was not part of the invited field in the United Airlines New York Road Runners Half-Marathon. But the 23-year-old Ethiopian stole the show with a late charge to take the victory on a chilly morning over a hilly course that traversed from Brooklyn to Manhattan. He was joined in the winners’ circle by Kenya’s Joyciline Jepkosgei, who topped the women’s race as part of a buildup to her upcoming marathon debut.
The men’s race appeared to lack much drama once Eritrea’s Daniel Mesfun surged to the lead after 2M and ran clear of the field past the 20K point. He had sailed through the 5K (14:43), 10K (29:09) and 15K (43:49) markers with his lead steadily growing. American Paul Chelimo, making his debut at the distance, tried to maintain contact, but couldn’t match the pace. He eventually ran with Tilahun as they worked their way up Manhattan towards Central Park.
Mesfun started to fade in the closing miles and led Tilahun by just 2 seconds at 20K (58:53). From there the Ethiopian blasted into the lead and sprinted to the tape in 1:02:10, with Mesfun (1:02:16) able to hold off the hard-charging Chelimo (1:02:19). “I thought with about 2 kilometers to go I could catch him,” said Tilahun, who wasn’t far off his PR (1:01:51). He was not on the elite start list (his bib only had his number and not his name, confounding broadcasters), but instead was part of the first wave of runners who went off the line just behind the featured professional men. The US $20,000 first prize isn’t even his biggest payday to date. He took home nearly US $25,000 for winning the São Silvestre 15K in Brazil on December 31. He previewed his potential three years ago in the Ethiopian Olympic trials 10,000 race, clocking 27:11.83 to finish 4th.
Chelimo, a medalist in the 5000 at both the ’16 Olympics and ’17 Worlds, made the jump up in distance to build strength for the track, and announced after the race his plans for a 5000/10,000 double in Doha later this year. He spent the winter putting in 100M weeks in Colorado Springs, but didn’t feel quite strong enough for Mesfun’s early tempo. “At some point my legs were dead, but then I recovered, came back into it,” Chelimo said. “I feel like I can do well in the long distances, it’s just that I have to get that mileage in and get used to it so that my legs can handle that pace.”
The elite women’s field went off 12 minutes ahead of the mass start. Jepkosgei, who set the WR in the half (1:04:51 in Valencia, Spain in ’17), started slowly due to the cold weather before beginning to pull away in the sixth mile. Her lead ballooned from 4 seconds at 10K (33:51) to 39 at 15K (49:55) and 1:09 at 20K (1:06:28). She cruised home comfortably in 1:10:07, still a minute ahead of the next finisher.
Kenyan Mary Ngugi, Ethiopian Buze Diriba and Americans Des Linden and Emma Bates formed the main chase group, running together through 20K. Ngugi narrowly outkicked Diriba for 2nd, with both timed in 1:11:07, while Bates (1:11:13) was 9 seconds ahead of Linden for 4th (and top American). “I didn’t wear a watch so I just wanted to feed off the other runners’ energy and try to compete as best I could,” said Bates, who won the USATF marathon title in December.
Jepkosgei is scheduled to make her much-anticipated debut over the full 26.2 miles in Hamburg in late April. “The marathon is a new chapter to me,” said the silver medalist from the 2018 world half marathon championships. “I feel good because I have learned more today about my preparation for the marathon.”
NYRR HALF-MARATHON RESULTS
New York City, March 17—
1. Belay Tilahun (Eth) 62:10; 2. Daniel Mesfun (Eri) 62:16; 3. Paul Chelimo (US) 62:19; 4. Jared Ward (US) 62:33; 5. Noah Droddy (US) 62:39; 6. Brogan Austin (US) 62:41; 7. Tim Ritchie (US) 62:51; 8. John Raneri (US) 62:51; 9. Parker Stinson (US) 62:55; 10. Ben True (US) 62:56.
1. Joyciline Jepkosgei (Ken) 70:07; 2. Mary Ngugi (Ken) 71:07; 3. Buze Diriba (Eth) 71:07; 4. Emma Bates (US) 71:13; 5. Des Linden (US) 71:22; 6. Birtukan Fente (Eth) 72:17; 7. Beverly Ramos (PR) 72:33; 8. Kellyn Taylor (US) 72:43; 9. Samantha Palmer (US) 72:52; 10. Lindsay Flanagan (US) 73:13. □