Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times
By MARY PILON
Published: November 3, 2013
Priscah Jeptoo of Kenya sprinted on the last leg to win the New York City Marathon women’s race on Sunday and take the World Marathon Majors series title.
Uli Seit for The New York Times
Around Mile 24, Jeptoo, 29, overcame Buzunesh Deba of Ethiopia, who had dominated most of the race. Jeptoo’s victory, in 2 hours 25 minutes 7 seconds, came with $600,000 in prizes for winning the race and the world majors title.
Deba, who finished 49 seconds behind Jeptoo, was seeking to become the first New York City resident to win the marathon since the race expanded to all five boroughs in 1976. After crossing the finish line, Deba was met by her husband and trainer, Worku Beyi, and knelt at the barrier, draped in the Ethiopian flag, visibly disappointed. She also finished second here in 2011.
“The crowd, they really helped me a lot because they were cheering, joyful, and also they were helping me, telling me, ‘You are closing the gap,’ ” Jeptoo said. “ ‘Go, go, go, move.’ So they helped me a lot.”
Deba added, “I’m so happy.”
But that was not necessarily the case during the race, as Deba coped with a chilly wind and stomach pains.
“She told me she was good from the beginning,” Beyi said at the finish line as Deba was escorted out of Central Park, flanked by security. “And there were no problems, but I think in those last two miles, she got tired. There was a lot of wind.”
Deba, 26, has called New York City home for eight years. She is from Asella, in the central region of Ethiopia, which has produced several distance-running titans. Many of her peers on the road Sunday had traveled to higher altitudes to train. Deba went to Albuquerque but soon returned to New York, citing homesickness.
She now lives in the Bronx, not far from the marathon course, and runs on the paths of Van Cortlandt and Central Parks. She opted to stay in a hotel in Manhattan over the weekend to be closer to race-related events.
Kenyan women were the prerace favorites, including Edna Kiplagat, the current world champion, and Jeptoo, the runner-up in the 2011 world championships and the 2012 London Olympics. But from the start, the race belonged to Deba and her training partner, Tigist Tufa, another Ethiopian.
To make ends meet in the United States, Deba worked as a babysitter and ran in her free time as she learned English, sometimes by watching the news on television. Beyi said that they still enjoy Ethiopian food with friends, but that Deba noshed on macaroni and chicken Saturday night and had bread and a banana for her race-day breakfast. She began to compete in marathons in 2009.
Using a bold strategy, Deba and Tufa led the race from the start, running miles at a 5-minute-40-second pace and creating a two-minute gap from the main pack by Mile 5. It was all according to plan, Deba said, for the two to lead strong and stay close to each other. The rest of the women ran at a slower pace, an indication of the headwinds on a crisp morning.
Deba and Tufa extended their lead as they blazed through Brooklyn and reached the halfway point, snaking toward Queens.
Later, Jeptoo said she had realized she was more than three minutes behind them.
“I knew, and I was having confidence that I will make it,” she said.
The Kenyan Mary Keitany used a strategy similar to Deba’s in the 2011 New York City Marathon. She held a significant lead at the halfway point but slowed drastically in the second half and was overtaken by Firehiwot Dado, the eventual winner, and Deba, four seconds behind. Keitany finished third.
On Sunday, however, Deba and Tufa ran slower than Keitany’s 2:23:38 in 2011. By the time Deba and Tufa crossed the lonely and quiet stretch over the Queensboro Bridgearound Mile 16, the race looked as if it belonged to them, with Jeptoo in third place about four minutes behind.
Although Deba said she started to feel persistent stomach cramps around Mile 8, she ran along First Avenue in Manhattan looking calm and collected. Jeptoo continued to push ahead and ultimately overtook Tufa at Mile 22. Tufa faded, finishing eighth in 2:29:24.
As Deba entered Central Park, she noticed Jeptoo over her shoulder, a few seconds behind. Deba’s face tightened, and Jeptoo bounded past her around Mile 24 and maintained the lead with her distinctive stride, legs splayed, flying in the face of what most biomechanists consider ideal for distance runners. But Jeptoo’s gait worked for her as she sprinted toward the finish line to a roar of cheers.
Jelena Prokopcuka of Latvia, who won the race in 2005 and 2006, was third in 2:27:47. It was a strong showing for Prokopcuka, 37, who had not run here since 2007.
“I’m really happy because my dream has come true,” Prokopcuka said. “I really wanted to be on the podium.”
The top American woman was Adriana Nelson of Colorado, who finished 13th in 2:35:05.
Deba’s next goal, Beyi said, is to run the Boston Marathon in April. Although her second-place finish Sunday was not exactly what she had hoped for, Deba said she felt good about the race over all.
“Bronx is my home, and I’m so happy,” Deba said. “I want to say thank you, Bronx.”