Get your shoes (or your signs) ready: The TCS New York City Marathon kicks off on Sunday morning—fully stocked with 50,000-plus runners from all over the world this year, after last year’s COVID-limited run of 30,000 or so (mostly American, due to COVID-related border restrictions). The legendary five-borough race will, as per usual, start on the other side of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in Staten Island before winding its way through Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Manhattan, finishing 26.2 miles later in Central Park.
What to expect? The usual triumphs, sufferation, spontaneous street happenings, traffic disruptions, celebrations, rivalries, parties, and epiphanies, of course, amidst unusually warm (60s and 70s) weather—so get out there and cheer on your partner, your sister, your cousin’s new boyfriend, your friend from accounts payable. Make a damn sign!
What’s new this year? Expanded facilities supporting breastfeeding mothers. Prize money, for the first time, for non-binary runners.
Who’s going to win the thing? (Probably not Ashton Kutcher, for starters, though he’ll be running, as will Ellie Kemper, both of them raising money for charities.) The women’s elite runners include current world champion Gotytom Gebreslase of Ethiopia, Israel’s Lonah Chemtai Salpeter, and 2010 winner Edna Kiplaget of Kenya. On the men’s side, reigning champion Albert Korir is returning to defend his title, as will last year’s runner-up, Mohamed El Araby of Morocco, and 2020 London Marathon champion Shura Kitata.
But there’s a new contender in the women’s field this year as well: Hellen Obiri, also of Kenya, who has already pulled off the rare feat of winning 11 world championships—in outdoor track, indoor track, and cross-country—and will be running her very first marathon in New York with an eye to winning it.
“It’s my first marathon, but I’m so excited to race after preparing so well,” Obiri told us at last night’s On Running dinner at MoMA PS1, part of On’s ambitious and very cool Point2 programming at the museum this weekend. (Obiri is sponsored by and has been training with the Boulder, Colorado-based On Athletics Club.) “It’s a strong field—but I’m also strong.”
When I ask Obiri about her strategy for the race, though, she simply laughs. “You know, in a race you can’t say ‘I’m going to do it this way or that way.’ Everybody has their own race. But New York is a hard course—I just want to run smart and run well. I’m going to see how fast I feel in that first 5K and after that, maybe around 12K, we’ll see how I’m feeling.”
Obiri, now 30 and with a 7-year-old daughter, grew up in a small tribe in Kisii, southwestern Kenya, and—almost unbelievably—didn’t start running seriously until she was 21. “I didn’t discover that I could run when I was in school,” she says. “I liked to do volleyball, basketball. . . I didn’t know that I could run fast. And then I started doing 400 meters, 800 meters, and then [gold-medal-winning Kenyan Olympian] Noah Ngeny told me I could run the 1500, and then cross-country. He told me that it’s all about your mind—it’s about believing in what you do. Everything’s possible.”