Ethiopian Tamirat Tola and Kenyan Hellen Obiri ran masterful races to win the New York City Marathon on Sunday morning, but they earned their victories in decidedly different fashion.
Tola, the 2022 marathon world champion, pulled away from countryman Jemal Yimer with a quick surge near mile 19 and went on to win in a course record 2:04:58, while Obiri outlasted a strong pack of women bunched together through mile 24 to win in 2:27:23.
But one of the biggest stories in the race was how well American women Kellyn Taylor and Molly Huddle ran in their postpartum return to the marathon. Taylor, less than 11 months after giving birth to daughter Keegan last December, led a large contingent of runners in the women’s race through the 23rd mile mark, en route to finishing eighth in 2:29:48. Huddle, who gave birth to daughter Josephine in April 2022, finished ninth in 2:32:02.
Both runners, who are still breastfeeding this fall, will be running in the 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon on February 3 in Orlando, Florida, in an attempt to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team that will run in the Paris Olympics next summer.
A field of 50,000 runners ran the point-to-point race through New York City’s five boroughs amid ideal fall running conditions with temperatures in the mid-50s. (For complete results or to track a specific runner, visit the New York Road Runners results page.)
Tola Breaks Away
The men’s race was fast from the start, as a small pack at the front stretched out the pro field before the first several miles. By the halfway point, five men were on course-record pace, (1:02:43), but soon Tola, Yimer, the 2023 Los Angeles Marathon champion, and Albert Korir, the 2021 New York City Marathon champion, were alone at the front as they crossed the Queensboro Bridge and entered Manhattan near the 16-mile mark.
From there, Tola and Yimer surged away from Korir during the long straightaway on 1st Avenue with a 4:28 mile. The two Ethiopians ran stride for stride for about two miles, but Tola looked much more comfortable and seemed intent on breaking the race open as they ran through the 30K (18.6-mile) aid station. He gained a few strides over Yimer by mile 19 and then definitively gapped him on the short, hilly section through the Bronx.
From there, the 32-year-old Tola, a two-time fourth-place finisher in New York, was untouchable, continuing to push the pace to the finish line in Central Park. He broke the longstanding course record of 2:05:06 that was set in 2011 by Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai.
Tola finished third in the London Marathon (2:04:59) back in April, but then he dropped out of the 2023 World Athletics Championships marathon in Budapest in mid-August because of stomach problems.
“I am very, very happy today,” Tola said. “Through 20K, there were some very good runners with me, but I continued to work on the up and down parts of the course. I knew the pace was not too hard for me, so I continued to run as fast as I could.”
After being dropped from the lead pack, Korir didn’t fade, but instead rallied over the final five miles en route to a runner-up finish in 2:06:57. Shura Kitata, a two-time New York City Marathon runner-up, was third in 2:07:11, while Abdi Nageeye, a Somali-born Dutch runner, was fourth in 2:10:21.
Edward Cheserek, a Kenyan athlete who was a record-setting high school runner in New Jersey and a 17-time NCAA champion for the University of Oregon, finished eighth in his debut marathon in 2:11:07. Futsum Zienasellassie, a member of the HOKA NAZ Elite team based in Flagstaff, Arizona, was the top American in the race, finishing 10th in 2:12:09.
Obiri Pulls Rare Boston-NYC Double
The women’s race started at a relaxed pace with a dozen runners in the lead pack through the halfway split (1:14:20). Taylor and Huddle were consistently in the mix along with Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey and a deep contingent of Kenyans that included Obiri, Viola Cheptoo, Mary Ngugi, Edna Kiplagat, former world record holder Brigid Kosgei, and last year’s winner Sharon Lokedi.
Although Huddle, 39, fell off the lead pack near mile 20, Taylor, a 37-year-old mother of four, who was sixth in New York City in 2021, ran stride for stride with the lead group through mile 23 at a 5:18-mile pace after it had dwindled to just nine runners. From there, Cheptoo pushed the pace—running the 24th mile in 5:09—and only Obiri, Gidey, Kosgei, and Lokedi could keep up.
With a mile to go, Obiri was in a battle with Gidey and Lokedi, and it looked like any of them could win it. But as the runners passed through Columbus Circle on the way back into Central Park, Obiri began to surge. She and Gidey broke away in an all-out sprint over the undulating final 400 meters, while Lokedi fell a few strides behind.
As Obiri began to open up a lead, she kept looking over her shoulder, but Gidey couldn’t respond, and Obiri broke the finish tape to win with a six-second margin over Gidey (2:27:29). It was the reversal of their final sprint in the 10,000-meter run at the 2022 World Athletics Championships in Eugene, where Gidey outkicked Obiri for the win.
Lokedi was third in 2:27:33, followed by Kosgei in fourth (2:27:45) and Ngugi in fifth (2:27:53), making it one of the closest finishes in New York City Marathon history.
A year after making her marathon debut in New York—she finished sixth in 2:25:49—Obiri, 33, has emerged as the top women’s marathoner in the world. She won the Boston Marathon in April in 2:21:38. She became the fifth woman ever to win Boston and New York in the same year, the first time since Norway’s Ingrid Kristiansen did it in 1989.
“I knew it was going to be difficult because Gidey and Lokedi are both very fast,” said Obiri, who trains in Boulder, Colorado, as part of the On Athletics Club and coach Dathan Ritzenhein. “But the marathon is all about patience, and so I kept saying, Let me be patient. Then with 400 meters to go, I tried to sprint and get away and it worked.”
Five of the top ten women finishers are mothers, including Obirri, Ngugi, Kiplagat, Taylor, and Huddle.
Switzerland’s Catherine Debrunner, 28, won the women’s wheelchair race in a course-record 1:39:32, while 37-year-old countryman Marcel Hug, a 12-time world champion and six-time Paralympic champion won the race for the fifth time in 1:25:29. The U.S. Paralympic marathon team was selected from the New York City results, as Daniel Romanchuk (second, 1:27:38) and Aaron Pike (fourth, 1:39:58) were the top American men, while Sussannah Scaroni (third, 1:48:14) and Tatayna McFadden (sixth, 1:53:31) were the top two U.S. women.