At a press conference the morning after the 2013 ING New York City Marathon, Geoffrey Mutai was smiling. He was also rubbing his right quadriceps.
“I’ve never won a race as tough as this,” said the 32-year-old Kenyan, whose time of 2:08:24 is his slowest marathon since 2009. With no one showing any interest in surging with him into a headwind that flirted with 20 miles per hour, Mutai waited until the course did a U-turn at about the 20-mile mark to make his move.
“I tried to continue in the front, but no one was coming,” he said. “Everyone was waiting [for] me to lead. When I go back, everyone is waiting. I tried to go, but after your step, you lose your step again.”
The wind on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was so strong, said women’s wheelchair winner Tatyana McFadden, that it not only shook the wheels, it actually picked up the chair once and shifted it. Marcel Hug, the men’s wheelchair winner, agreed.
“The time for us, 1:40, is really slow,” he said. “I think it's because of the wind.”
But the wind wasn’t the worst of Priscah Jeptoo’s problems. By mile 15, the pack had fallen more than 3:20 behind breakaway leaders Buzunesh Deba and Tigist Tufa, a pair of Ethiopians who live and train in NYC. The 2012 Olympic silver medalist had to win the race to earn her half of the $1 million 2012–2013 World Marathon Majors title.
“For me, I can say it was a tough race of all the marathons that I've run because those two ladies took off fast,” she said.
The 29-year-old Kenyan not only caught them; she went right past them to win by 49 seconds and take home a whopping $625,000 for the race victory, time bonuses, and the World Marathon Majors championship.
And the challenging headwind certainly didn’t deter many of the record 50,740 starters: More than 99 percent of them covered all 26.2 miles. The 50,304 finishers were the most ever in a marathon—almost 3,000 more than the 47,340 who finished the 2011 New York race.
“I think this race maybe meant a little bit more to everybody,” said Mary Wittenberg, president and CEO of New York Road Runners, on Sunday afternoon, referring to the memories of Superstorm Sandy and the bombings at the Boston Marathon. Even the number of spectators, she said, struck her as larger than ever. “I was absolutely floored by the crowds,” she said.
For McFadden, who on Sunday became the first wheelchair athlete in history to win the “Grand Slam” of marathons in Boston, London, Chicago, and New York in the same year, the wind has turned into a whirlwind: She had to catch a flight back home to the University of Illinois at Champaign, where she has a human development exam at 7:00 a.m. on Tuesday.
“It’s definitely really sunk in today,” she said of her accomplishment. “Yesterday when I crossed that line, I just couldn’t even believe what happened because it’s been such an incredible season going from World Championships on the track, sweeping six for six and a world record, and then sweeping all of the marathons. I won every single event I did this year…. Last night I just had tears of joy. It’s a moment to never forget because you don’t know if the moment’s ever going to come back again.”